James Turrell

James Turrell

American, born 1943

The Color Inside

Black basalt, plaster, and LED lights 224 × 348 × 276 inches
Commission, Landmarks, The University of Texas at Austin, 2013
Photography not permitted
Location: Student Activity Center Rooftop GPS: 30.284792, -97.736327

More Information

Project History

Landmarks commissioned acclaimed artist James Turrell to create a Skyspace for the rooftop of the Student Activity Center at 22nd Street and Speedway. High above the center of the busy university campus, the Skyspace provides a quiet and airy chamber for contemplation.

Turrell’s Skyspace is an elliptical structure of white plaster with an oculus in the ceiling that allows light to penetrate the space. A black basalt bench surrounds the interior, providing a reclined seat from which to contemplate the sky. Custom LED lights illuminate the interior and exterior of the Skyspace. Daily, at dawn and dusk, the lights are programmed to change in intensity and color, simultaneously altering the appearance of the sky through the oculus.

Light is Turrell’s principal medium. His history as a Quaker, experience as a pilot, and education in perceptual psychology, mathematics, and astronomy all contribute to his exploration of light. By including Turrell’s work in the university’s public art collection, Landmarks presents the university community with art that can be experienced as a meditative and spiritual journey.

Lynn Herbert, former senior curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, contributed the artist essay, which provides greater detail about Turrell and his works.

Funding for the Skyspace was provided by the capital improvement project that included the Student Activity Center and the College of Liberal Arts. Numerous individuals lent their support to this project and Landmarks would like to give special thanks to the following: James Turrell, Ryan Pike, Cody Kukulski, Hiram Butler, the College of Liberal Arts, the Student Activity Center and University Unions, OFPC and project managers Andy Adkins, Michael Uyeda, and Paul Cornell, SpawGlass, and the architects, Overland Partners, especially James Lancaster and Rick Archer.

The Student Activity Center was designed by Overland Partners architects who also served as lead architects for the Skyspace. The green roofs that surround the Skyspace were initially designed by Walter Hood and implemented by Bender Wells Clark.

Press Highlights

Have You Seen This Colorful Surprise on UT’s Rooftop?
The Austinot
By Kelli McDonald, 20 August 2014

When a bird flew inches above our oval cutout, some of us gasped and then laughed at our response. Our slowly changing focal point had shifted suddenly and shot us out of a relaxed, contemplative state and back to the reality that we were staring at something ever-changing, yet accessible: the sky. Read more.

Go Toward the Light: James Turrell’s The Color Inside Will Warm You Inside
Austin Monthly
By Sarah Thurmond, 01 February 2014

If you have yet to venture to The Color Inside, you’re in for a real treat. Situated on the rooftop of the Student Activity Center at the University of Texas, this “Skyspace” by artist James Turrell is part meditation room, part art installation. Read more.

Van Ryzin: Public Art Takes a Leap Forward
Austin American-Statesman
By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, 04 January 2014

It was a single tree — a fairly average-size cedar elm that in any other Central Texas landscape wouldn’t have seemed remarkable. Read more.

CultureMap Austin
By Shelley Neuman, 24 November 2014

James Turrell’s Skyspace, The Color Inside, has found a happy home at UT’s Student Activity Center (rumor has it that the limited-audience installation atop the building, which is free but often requires advance reservations, is booked through the end of the month), and much credit for bringing the piece to campus is due to Andrée Bober, the founding director of UT’s Landmarks Program. Read more.

Texas's Love Affair with James Turrell
Texas Monthly
By Francesca Mari, 28 October 2013

“Terry Malick and James Turrell have been talking about doing a movie,” said Hiram Butler of the Hiram Butler Gallery in Houston, referring casually to the Austin director Terrence Malick. Butler, wearing a bowtie, has represented Turrell for 28 years and has been instrumental in establishing Turrell’s reputation, having sold more of Turrell’s art than anyone else—mostly to Texans. Read more.

The Color Inside: A James Turrell Skyspace at The University of Texas
By Hilary Pearson, 04 November 2013

As you approach The University of Texas at Austin’s Student Activity Center, you are immediately taken by its modern exterior – the great windows that cover the building allow light to stream through from within at any hour of the day or night. Read more.

Love Affair Between One Artist and Texas
The New York Times
By Francesca Mari, 26 October 2013

The morning before the opening of “The Color Inside” at the University of Texas, Austin, last week, James Turrell, the artist, was pushing melon around his fruit plate and holding forth on the psychology of perception. Read more.

Skygazing with James Turrell
The Austin Chronicle
By Anne Harris, 25 October 2013

We had read about artist James Turrell, the “sculptor of light,” last spring when his arresting Sunday New York Times Magazine cover story surfaced from under the pancakes. Read more.

Press Release - 23 September 2013


AUSTIN, TEXAS – James Turrell, one of the world’s most highly regarded living artists, will unveil The Color Inside, a permanent Skyspace on the rooftop garden of the Student Activity Center at The University of Texas at Austin on Saturday, Oct. 19th. 

Commissioned by Landmarks, the public art program of The University of Texas at Austin, the Skyspace is an elliptical structure of white plaster with an opening in the ceiling through which visitors, seated on a bench, can see the sky. The Skyspace features custom LED lights that unleash brilliant washes of color at sunrise and sunset.

In naming The Color Inside, Turrell said, “I was thinking about what you see inside, and inside the sky, and what the sky holds within it that we don’t see the possibility of in our regular life.” 

The saturation and vibrancy of colors is further intensified by the intimacy of the space, which seats up to twenty-five people. 

“I can’t begin to do the experience justice,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, after getting a sneak preview of the Skyspace. “As the hour-long program evolved slowly, the space was saturated with hues of gold and purple and green while the sky went from scudding, grey clouds to impossibly intense complementary hues of red, blue, purple. At one moment you’re seeing clouds, at another you're looking at a swirling sphere of hues that looked more like Jupiter than anything on Mother Earth.”

Andrée Bober, founding director of Landmarks, selected James Turrell for this site-specific installation. The university’s student body was developing the building program for the Student Activity Center, which opened in 2011. On the list of things the students imagined for the center was a “reflection room.”

“Beyond introducing an important example of contemporary art, The Color Inside offers beauty, grace, and inspiration to its visitors,” said Bober. “The Skyspace is accessible to audiences of many backgrounds and interests, even those who aren’t familiar with contemporary art. It encourages the kind of quiet reflection that cultivates attention.”

The optimal viewing times for experiencing Turrell’s art are at sunrise and sunset, during light sequences that last approximately an hour. The Skyspace is available for observation during other times of day as a quiet, contemplative space for the campus community and visitors.

The Color Inside opens Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. All viewings are FREE and open to all members of the university community and the general public. Hours of operation shift throughout the year.  Free reservations are encouraged around the opening of the Skyspace. For hours, reservations, and more information, visit www.turrell.utexas.edu.

Audiences are invited to join a FREE public conversation with James Turrell on October 18th at noon in the Student Activity Center Ballroom.  No reservations are required; limited seating is available. 

Special events surrounding the grand opening of The Color Inside:
Note: SAC stands for Student Activity Center
Friday, Oct. 18, 2013
Landmarks Conversation with James Turrell at SAC Ballroom

Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013
6:25 a.m.–10 p.m.
Public Opening of The Color Inside on SAC rooftop garden
2 p.m. & 3 p.m. & 5 p.m. 
Walking tours to the Harry Ransom Center and Blanton Museum of Art to view additional works by James Turrell; tours meet on SAC rooftop

3 p.m., 4 p.m.,
String quartet performs composition by music student Joel Love inspired by the Skyspace; performances on SAC rooftop
Please note: Free reservations are strongly encouraged for opening day of the Skyspace and the following few weeks. For hours, reservations, and more information, visit www.turrell.utexas.edu. No reservations are required for the 10/19 walking tours to the HRC and BMA.

About James Turrell

James Turrell, who is known for his use of light as a medium, is one of the world’s most highly regarded living artists. His work has been the subject of hundreds of exhibitions for which he has received prestigious awards from the Guggenheim, Lannan, and MacArthur foundations. In 2013 he became the first artist to have three concurrent solo exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Turrell’s most ambitious project is Roden Crater, an observatory created inside an extinct volcano in Arizona.

About Landmarks

Landmarks is the public art program of The University of Texas at Austin. In 2008, Landmarks was launched with the purpose of developing a cohesive collection of public art from a curatorial perspective. Its projects are located throughout the main campus and are viewed by thousands of people every day. The first initiative brought to the university twenty-eight modern and contemporary sculptures on long-term loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since then, more than thirty works of art have beautified the main campus, engaging visitors and the university community with art of the highest quality. Recent installations include works by Sol LeWitt and an architectural projection by Ben Rubin (see press kit for complete list of artists and projects). Growth of the university’s public art collection is supported by a policy that sets aside one to two percent of ongoing capital improvement projects for an acquisitions fund, one example being Turrell’s new Skyspace.

Download the press release.



The University of Texas at Austin
College of Fine Arts
2305 Trinity St., PAC 3.204
Austin, TX 78712

Press Office

Nick Nobel, External Affairs Coordinator
The University of Texas at Austin
College of Fine Arts
2305 Trinity St., PAC 3.204
Austin, TX 78712