Visitors to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton can look forward to seeing the best of modern and contemporary sculpture in a stunningly beautiful 500-acre setting. But visitors will also find among the park’s modern offerings an 18th century Grade II listed building – originally a deer shelter – that is not quite what it seems.
In 2006, internationally acclaimed American artist James Turrell realised a long standing dream to turn the neglected triple-arched deer shelter into something as cutting edge as the other contemporary works on display at the park. Los Angeles-born Turrell has a reputation as a “sculptor of light”. For more than 40 years he has been using light and space to create art installations, or what he calls Skyspaces – a chamber containing seating, lighting and an aperture in the ceiling, in which visitors can see the sky.
Turrell is best known for his Roden Crater project in the Arizona desert. He has spent more than 30 years transforming an extinct volcano into a series of skyspaces that will harness the light from sun, moon and stars.
In the Deer Shelter Skyspace, Turrell has preserved the original form of the listed structure and once inside the visitor is led along a floor-lit corridor which opens out into a bright, high room surrounded by benches. The visitor is simply meant to sit and look up through the square opening in the roof where they will be greeted by a heightened vision of the sky, one that is seemingly transformed into an ultra-realistic painting. With nothing else but the sky to view, the opening becomes a frame to the constantly changing light. The effect has transformed the Deer Shelter into a place of contemplation.
Visitors will notice that even on grey or rainy days the sky can look clear and blue when viewed through the Skyspace. At the time of the Deer Shelter Skyspace’s unveiling James Turrell said: “I haven’t changed the colour of the sky, I’ve just changed the context of vision. We give colour to the sky, we accord the sky its blueness, and just because we do that I can change it.”
The transformation of the deer shelter came about as part of the Art Fund’s centenary celebrations in 2003. For the first time the Art Fund commissioned a work of art and decided that the work should represent a living overseas artist in a British public collection.
At the time it was said to be the most significant contribution the Art Fund had made since 1911 when Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais was gifted to the UK public. The Art Fund paid outright for the Deer Shelter Skyspace commission at a cost of almost £800,000.
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The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for works of art. It campaigns, fundraises and gives money to museums and galleries to buy and show art and runs events and a membership scheme giving members free entry to more than 200 museums across the UK and 50 per cent off entry into major exhibitions.