‘It Cost Me Two Marriages and a Relationship’: Watch James Turrell Explain the High Price of His Still-Unfinished Masterpiece

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

James Turrell. Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for LACMA.

Artist James Turrell has achieved a kind of rarely paralleled notoriety in the art world: not only is he a popular favorite with the public, but he is also able to count critics, collectors, and even Kanye West as some of his biggest fans.

Turrell, who has a show on now at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City that includes wall-mounted works alongside larger installations, was an early pioneer of the Light and Space movement.

His work is also informed by his studies of perception, psychology, and the cosmos, which inspire him to create light installations and sculptures that verge on the sublime.

For the past four decades, he has been hard at work realizing Roden Crater, an ambitious Land Art masterpiece that is transforming the site of a now extinct volcano in the remote Painted Desert of Arizona into a celestial observatory.

It has been a long and complicated project. “People often ask me how much this crater costs,” Turrell said in an exclusive 2001 interview with Art21. “It cost me two marriages and a relationship.” 

James Turrell's Roden Crater (ongoing). ©2017 Skystone Foundation, © James Turrell.

James Turrell’s Roden Crater (ongoing). © 2017 Skystone Foundation. © James Turrell.

A devout Quaker, Turrell is heavily influenced by his spirituality, and the slow, quiet contemplation that is integral to its practice.

Speaking to Art21, he recounts one of his earliest memories, of visiting a Quaker meeting house and asking his grandmother what he was supposed to be doing. Her response: “Just wait, we’re going inside to greet the light.”

You could say that from that moment, Turrell has been chasing the light.

I had this thought to just bring the cosmos closer down to the space we occupy,” Turrell says in the Art21 episode, which originally appeared in the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series. One of the ways he’s made that vision a reality is through a Quaker meeting house in Houston, Texas, which he outfitted with a Skyspace that opens up like a little window into the cosmos. 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. “James Turrell: Passages of Light” is on view at Museo Jumex through March 29, 2020. “JamesTurrell” at Pace Gallery London runs February 11 through March 27, 6 Burlington Gardens.  


This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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