Sneak Peek at James Turrell's Highly Anticipated Rice University Skyspace

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Anticipation is building for Rice University's latest piece of public art.

The newest skyspace from renowned light artist James Turrell doesn't open until next month, but members of the press, Houston arts community, and Rice faculty and students got a sneak peek at the installation this past weekend.

Called "Twilight Epiphany," the 12-foot-tall high grass berm found on a hill to the east of the Alice Pratt Brown Hall looks like some sort of ultramodern, minimal Starship Enterprise. The pyramid-like work has two levels where visitors can sit. The lower level is made up of pink and gray Texas granite, the upper concrete benches. Both allow you to look up at the skyspace -- a square patch of open ceiling that gives you a view of the sky -- though the lower level seems to be most optimal, with a more direct view of the sky and slanted marble which you can lean back against. LED lights line the upper level, and are programmed to change colors.

You can stroll through the imposing installation now, though beyond the marble, concrete and white walls, there wouldn't be much to see. The skyspace doesn't officially open to the public until June 14, at which point there will be two light shows programmed a day, correlating with sunrise and sunset. A preview on Sunday for the media was timed to sunset, with the 40-minute show beginning a little past 8 p.m.

We were asked not to use our cell phones or take pictures, per the request of the artist, as that would disturb the light show. Now, it's not a light show in the rave sense of the phrase. If you were anticipating anything flashy, it'd be a bit anticlimactic, as the white ceiling very gradually changes colors, from pink to purple to orange to blue. As the lights change, so, apparently, does the color of the patch of sky in the ceiling, going from the normal blue to pink, purple and orange. It's not really changing, of course -- just your perception of it is. In fact, if you were to take a photo, your camera wouldn't capture the changing colors at all, like some chromatic vampire.

I used the word "apparently" earlier because, for whatever unexplained psychological fluke, I didn't see the colors change dramatically -- the square cut-out of the sky was mostly the appropriate shade of blue during the show -- though others in attendance did see it change. Still, the experience was unexpectedly serene. Minus the occasional sound of ambulance sirens at the nearby medical center and pesky bug bites (learn from my mistakes: bug spray is a necessity), there are few distractions. Thanks to the cell phone rule, you're not checking your e-mail every five seconds or desperately trying to take photos with Instagram -- it's just a nice calm. But if you do want to take photos, it's definitely worth venturing out of the skyspace during the show to witness the changing colors from a distance. It's quite stunning.

"Twilight Epiphany" is Turrell's 73rd skyspace, and his third major project here -- he's also the man behind the skyspace in the Live Oak Friends Meetinghouse and "The Light Inside," that artificially lit interior installation in the Museum of Fine Arts' underground tunnel. The Rice skyspace is free, though when it does finally open to the public, the university is anticipating so much interest, there will most likely be some sort of ticketing system in place, at least just for the beginning. The school will also launch a Web site, skyspace.rice.edu, so people can know what time of day the light shows will be, and if there are any additional events planned. So get ready.

James Turrell's "Twilight Epiphany" skyspace opens to the public on June 14. For more information, visit publicart.rice.edu.

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