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Light and Space Artist James Turrell ’65 to Receive 2013 National Medal of Arts

Photo by Florian Holzherr

Photo by Florian Holzherr

“Dividing the Light." Copyright James Turrell. Photo by Florian Holzerr.

“Dividing the Light." Copyright James Turrell. Photo by Florian Holzerr.

James Turrell ’65, an internationally renowned light and space artist, will be awarded the 2013 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony on July 28.

Known for his groundbreaking visual art, Turrell captures the powers of light and space, building experiences that force viewers to question reality, challenging their perceptions not only of art, but also of the world around them, noted yesterday’s announcement.

“Since his days as an undergraduate psychology major,” notes an article in Popular Science, Turrell’s “been carefully exploring and manipulating the ways people’s eyes and brains process light and space, reminding us that on a fundamental level, everything we see is illusion.”

Turrell’s Skyspace “Dividing the Light,” located on Pomona’s campus, gathers visitors beneath a canopy that frames a window to the sky. At dusk and dawn, a lighting program bathes the canopy in changing colors, altering the viewer’s perception of the sky as a shallow pool mirrors the daytime sky and reflects a dark echo of the night sky.

“Dividing the Light” is open to public viewing every day during the summer and Saturday through Monday night September through May. For more information on “Dividing the Light,” visit the Pomona College Museum of Art.

Turrell’s glowing ganzfeld “Breathing the Light” is currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which held a major retrospective on his work May 2013-April 2014.

A native of Southern California who grew up in Pasadena, Turrell received his undergraduate degree in perceptual psychology from Pomona College and an M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate School.

As reported in Pomona College Magazine last year, “Turrell traces his interest in light to an art history class at Pomona, where he began to see the beam of light emitted by a slide projector as something to look at, not just a means of illuminating something else. As his work evolved, light became his primary material and a path to perceptual discovery.”

Pomona College has a long history of educating prominent artists and art scholars. Alumni include photographer and video artist Judy Fiskin ’66, light and space artist Helen Pashgian ’56, performance artist and sculptor Chris Burden ’69, performance artist and sculptor Peter Shelton ’73, video artist Denise Marika ’77 and public arts sculptor and photographer Michael Parker ’00.

At the White House ceremony, Turrell will receive the Medal of Arts along with musician Linda Ronstadt; novelist, poet and essayist Julia Alvarez; arts patron Joan Harris; dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones; musical theater composer John Kander; DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; writer Maxine Hong Kingston; documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles; architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams (receiving individual medals); and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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