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Spaces of Wonder: Experiencing Art Outdoors Celestial Vault, James Turrell, 1996, The Hague

Spaces of Wonder: Experiencing Art Outdoors

Museums in the Netherlands have been closed since December. Although virtual tours and talks compensate for the lack of museum visits, the feeling of experiencing art in real life cannot fully be imitated in virtual form. To escape the technical realm, I went on a quest to find art outside.

My search led to the dunes outside The Hague. After making my way through the layers of the urban cityscape, I arrived at a parking lot framed by little hills. I made my way up and was struck by a view of the ocean. The horizon seemed never-ending; I could make out the tiniest ships in the distance. In the middle of the dune landscape, I found a tunnel-like entrance. Following this tunnel, I ended up in a crater with a bench formed as an altar in the center. I lay down on the bench and gazed up at the sky. This time the sky was not as endless anymore; suddenly, the sky seemed so close, almost tangible. It felt as if I went through a passage into my own little globe.

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Celestial Vault, James Turrell, 1996, The Hague

This special encounter with the sky was developed by artist James Turrell with his artwork Celestial Vault (1996) located in Kijkduin. Turrell is known for art installations that investigate light and space. Because he often creates his artworks in outdoor space with natural materials, he is commonly referred to as a Land art artist. The remodeled landscape, however, is not the artwork; rather, it is a medium that discloses the actual artwork, the spatial and luminous features of the sky. The form of the crater engenders an optical illusion that makes the sky appear as a dome. Thus, Turrell’s artwork does not exist of any objects; it is an experience, a phenomenon, which makes it inherently difficult to describe with words.

The entire Netherlands is a paradise for Land art enthusiasts. A full inventory of all artworks can be found here. The little town of Emmen, for example, accommodates the only work of famous Land art artist Robert Smithson in Europe.

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