In celebration of the opening of the de Young’s new building in 2005, California artist James Turrell created Three Gems, a skyspace for the museum’s Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden.
Turrell (b. 1943), best known for his visionary work with light, has created other skyspaces, but his project for the de Young is the first to adopt the stupa (dome) form. A gift of Bernard and Barbro Osher, the skyspace is also the first Turrell work to enter the museum’s collection.
Visitors walk through a short tunnel cut into a grass-covered hill, and then enter a subterranean cylindrical space. They sit on a stone bench that runs around the circumference of the space as they view the sky through an oculus (circular opening) in the chamber roof. The lighting system inside the chamber, along with changing light and weather conditions outside, subtly alter the perception of the sky’s color and consequently the viewer’s experience of the artwork.