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James Turrell: "Three Gems," 2005

Commissioned for the de Young’s 2005 reopening is an installation by California artist James Turrell (b. 1943), best known for his visionary work with light. Created specifically for a grass-covered hill in the de Young’s Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden, the installation is a gift of Bernard and Barbro Osher. This “skyspace,” entitled Three Gems, is the first Turrell work to enter the museum’s collections. It is a subterranean work of art that features a view of the sky altered by LED lighting effects, which highlight changing light and weather conditions outside.

Although Turrell has created other skyspaces, his project for the de Young is his first skyspace to adopt the stupa form. In the Osher Sculpture Garden, visitors walk through a short tunnel cut into the hill, and then enter a cylindrical space. At the center of this space is a rough-hewn black-basalt stupa, where, upon entering, viewers sit on a stone bench that runs around the circumference of the skyspace as they view the sky through an oculus in the chamber roof. The LED lighting system inside the chamber, along with varying light and weather conditions outside, subtly alter the perception of the sky’s color and consequently the viewer experience of the artwork.