Road Trip to Phoenix to see James Turrell’s Art


I’d been planning my Land Art Road Trip for 3 months…

…ever since I got up early on February 1st to make a reservation to see a project called The Lightening Field,” which is near a little town in New Mexico called Quemado.

I couldn’t decide between a route through Flagstaff, or a more southern route through Arizona to the Phoenix area.

Headed south because I wasn’t going to get in (or even anywhere near) James Turrell’s Rodin Crater.

Hope to see it someday, but at present you need to be a museum director, or someone able to shell out $6,600 for dinner in the crater.

Phoenix had 3 Turrell’s; a Skyspace I’d seen when it opened in 2002, a wall aperture piece at the Arizona Museum of art, and a fairly new SkySpace in Tempe.

As with the rest of the trip, I was impulsive. Just used PriceLine app to find a room the night before I headed to the next place.

I ended up at The Moxy, an almost tragically hip new hotel. in Tempe. 67% off, and actually it was quite nice, with a playful lobby and very friendly staff. Everything but the bed, just hangs on the wall.

My favorite thing was being 2 blocks from the Turrell’s Air Apparent.

Surprisingly, I was there by myself.

I’m really interested in developing a contemplative state of mind when I view art. Spending more than an hour inside “Air Apparent,” by myself after sunset might get me into a flow state; calm me down after 2 hours on the freeway with wobbly trucks getting too close during a hot wind storm.

Now in a state of bliss.

Here’s a few other Turrell pieces. Amazing how much the artist has accomplished in just 74 years.


That’s the stair in the (forbidden) Roden Crater Project, the canopy I was sitting under at Air Apparent  in Tempe, and the stairs up to one of the Ganz Field pieces. No, you don’t usually get to go in naked. But one of my students was allowed to sing an opera aria inside the Ganz Field at the LA County Art Museum, which was amazing!

I had been at the opening of Turrell’s “Knight Rise” which was part of a retrospective of his work at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. That’s when I became a fan. When I was inside the space with the ellipse open to the sky on this trip, a dad told his son that they were lucky to see this piece with rapidly moving clouds.

At the 2002 show, I waited in line for 2 hours to be pushed into a claustrophobic 8’ metal sphere while laying down in a coffin sized drawer.

The one person light show, was well worth my wait!

You enter “Knight Rise” from the museum building, passing a spectral wall painted my an artist. The partition separating the SkySpace from the street, was a beautiful design by James Carpenter Design Associates, collaborating with Turrell, & the architect, Will Bruder, who turned what was once a multiplex into the Contemporary Museum. Bruder also designed the architectural shell of the Tempe SkySpace.

A recently opened James Turrell SkySpace on the ASU Campus in Tempe, AZ.

My last Turrell for this visit was an illuminated wall aperture at the Arizona Museum of Art. I thought the vast modern building was too large for what feels like a small, random, and lowish quality of artworks. It feels like all the money got spent on collector’s and museum director’s Edifice Complex. Oh well. Next time I’ll go to the Heard Museum across the street, said to be the best collection of American Indian Art anywhere.

Back on the road, although my route was different than this plan. It was my first improvised trip in years, so I skipped things, and rerouted based on suggestions of interesting people I met along the way.

I enjoyed my visit to Tempe. A great town with wonderful amenities, and full of creative design. That’s because of the sprawling Arizona State University campus contains a well regarded School of Architecture. Off to Springerville, Arizona… the closest town with a motel on my way to The Lightening Field.


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