james turrell's roden crater set to open after 45 years, following $10 million injection from kanye west

james turrell's roden crater set to open after 45 years, following $10 million injection from kanye west

update 29/01/2019: american light and space artist james turrel‘s most anticipated and significant work — roden crater — is set to open in the next few years thanks to a series of partnerships and new funding. additional funds include a $10 million donation from kanye west that would allow the project to expand and open. the completed work will comprise a series of 21 viewing spaces connected by six tunnels, creating ‘naked eye observatories’ for celestial objects and events. the site is managed by arizona state university, which is working with the artist to raise $200m to complete the project.



roden crater, located in the painted desert region of northern arizona, is an unprecedented large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space artist james turrell. in the early 1970s, turrell spent the night in the bowl of the extinct volcano and has since set about buying and turning the crater into a celestial observatory connected to a series of spaces and installations. the artist’s lifelong research in the field of human visual and psychological perception culminate into roden crater, with specially engineered skyspaces where the cycles of geologic and celestial time can be directly experienced. a controlled environment for the contemplation of light. it takes its place within the tradition of american landscape art that began in the 1960s, requiring a journey to visit the work in the remote desert with truly dark night skies.

roden crater
the east portal | images by florian holzherr © james turrell



in the sixteenth century, the great astronomer tycho brahe pioneered ‘naked eye observatories,’ of which the eighteenth-century jantar mantar in jaipur is perhaps the best example. turrell studied and adapted essential features of the naked-eye observatory in his designs for roden crater, where the natural formation recalled these man-made precedents.

roden crater
the roden crater is a gateway to the contemplation of light, time and landscape



 throughout the planning and construction, turrell consulted with noted astronomers including e.c. krupp, director of the griffith observatory in los angeles, and the late richard walker, an astronomer with the U.S. naval observatory in flagstaff, in order to calculate the excavation and alignment of the crater’s tunnels and apertures.

roden crater
the anticipated space will be a transformative sensory experience



in 1977, turrell acquired the dormant cinder cone and since then he has fashioned the crater into a site containing tunnels and apertures that open onto pristine skies, capturing light directly from the sun in daylight hours, and the planets and stars at night. the first major phase of construction included the movement of over 1.3 million cubic yards of earth to shape the crater bowl and the construction of the 854′ east tunnel. 

roden crater
the first major construction phase saw the movement of over 1.3 million cubic yards of earth to shape the crater bowl



6 spaces were completed, including two of the most difficult, the shaping of the crater bowl and the alpha (east) tunnel. the sun/moon chamber, east portal, and the crater’s eye, are joined by the alpha (east) tunnel and a connecting tunnel to the crater bowl. when complete, the project will contain 21 viewing spaces and six tunnels.

roden crater
the alpha (east) tunnel



in november 2015, the skystone foundation, a nonprofit organization responsible for supporting and administering the roden crater, named yvette y. lee (former senior project manager for the guggenheim UBS MAP global art initiative) to the position of executive director, who is responsible for continuing fundraising efforts to complete the final phase of the longstanding construction.

roden crater
image © EC krupp



the east portal, the alpha (east) tunnel and the sun/moon chamber act in concert as a monumental camera obscura, or pinhole camera.

roden crater
east portal

roden crater
the east portal

roden crater
crater’s eye

roden crater
the large-scale artwork is located in the desert region of northern arizona



see our previous coverage from 2013 of the roden crater by james turrell here.

  • First in my Bucket List!

  • This was supposed to open in the 1980’s. Turrell will not live long enough to see this open to the public and he is probably ok with that. Art snobs have been throwing millions at this project for decades. 11 years ago, The NY Times did an article on a handful of ordinary folks trying to get a peek at this project. I was one of those ordinary art geeks. To be clear, Turrell has little interest in letting the public see this “art installation “. I said in 2007, I’ll say it again. This is a hot ticket for art snobs and major museum directors. If you don’t bring bags of money, you are not getting access to the crater. Turrell feels quite comfortable giving elitist tours and taking their millions. Most of us will not live long enough to see the crater open to the public… Turrell probably started with noble
    intentions but this project has devolved into elitist idolatry…. It’s too bad…

    Ed says:
  • Totally agree with Ed
    I live within 5miles as the crow flies. This big injection of money recently has enabled him to buy up as much land as he can, making some of us mere islands in his big empire
    Community gone as no new families will be moving into the homes he is buying
    When you live off grid and this far from town it is nice to have neighbors
    Apparently the 5 houses nearest me ( that he has bought in the last 2 months most on 40 acres) will be student housing for ASU students
    Today on one of the hottest driest days of the year his crew are burning down one of the houses he bought endangrring us …again
    Love the art but so close to the Navajo Reservation where they do not have good drinking water or infrastructure all the talk of sooooo much money being dumped into this elite project is simply distasteful

    Lou says:
  • I also live in AZ and have for decades. I have to disagree with with some of the other commentators. This is an important project and Kanye’s involvement was essential to it’s success. Like many other ‘public’ artworks, it has a downside in effecting the status quo, but the status quo wasn’t going anywhere. I applaud the efforts to finish and maintain the piece. Thank you Kanye and James…

    david larson says:

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