An aerial view of the Roden Crater. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

James Turrell, a contemporary artist best known for his groundbreaking exploration of light, color, and space, has announced that he will allow a select group of people to visit the Roden Crater -- his unfinished land art masterpiece. Turrell conceived the project in 1974, and in 1977, he acquired the 400,000-year-old extinct volcanic crater located near northern Arizona’s Painted Desert. Turrell has spent decades transforming the inner cone of the Roden Crater into a monumental work of art and naked eye observatory that will, according to Turrell’s website, “link visitors with the celestial movements of planets, stars, and distant galaxies.”

The Roden Crater will be open to a limited number of people from May 14, 2015, to May 17, 2015, as part of a fundraising event. Intended for “serious patrons of the arts,” attendees are required to donate $5,000 to Turrell’s nonprofit, the Skystone Foundation, which is responsible for the fundraising, administration, and realization of the Crater project. Visitors must pitch in an additional $1,500 for an onsite dinner, a tour of the Crater, and lodging. Turrell will allow twenty people into the Roden Crater per day, which will net nearly half a million dollars for the Foundation.

The Roden Crater is not currently open to the public, and according to Turrell’s website, exceptions will not be made for students, artists or museum professionals. “It is the same as an artist showing an unfinished painting,” he explains. “Not something that is desired.” However, supporters who have helped finance the construction and those who have acquired artworks from Turrell have been welcomed to the Crater as they are directly involved in the completion of the project. Major Roden Crater donors include Leonard Riggio, the founder and Chairman of Barnes & Noble, Inc., and his wife, Louise; the Annenberg Foundation, which was founded by the publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg and is dedicated to encouraging the development of more effective ways to share ideas and knowledge; and the Jay and Kelly Sugarman Foundation, the philanthropic organization established by interior designer Kelly Behun and real estate mogul Jay Sugarman. 

Turrell, who was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2014, often creates immersive works that push the boundaries of human perception and create all-encompassing sensory experiences. According to the exhibition catalogue for Occluded Front, which was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1985, Turrell said, “My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing. I’m also interested in the sense of presence of space; that is space where you feel a presence, almost an entity — that physical feeling and power that space can give. Roden Crater has knowledge in it and it does something with that knowledge. Environmental events occur; a space lights up. Something happens in there, for a moment, or for a time. It is an eye, something that is itself perceiving. It is a piece that does not end. It is changed by the action of the sun, the moon, the cloud cover, by the day and the season that you’re there, it has visions, qualities and a universe of possibilities.”