It will cost millions. How many, nobody wants to say. But Thursday marks an important step for “Roden Crater,” the is-he-really-trying-to-do-that desert project that artist James Turrell launched more than 40 years ago.
Speaking this week by phone, Lee described her mission, in part, as reviving the buzz around “Roden Crater,” highlighted by a new, more dynamic Web site detailing progress — and future plans — and an Instagram account. These tools are meant to give the public a window into a project it can’t yet visit.
“These are all elements to signal to the world that we’re ready,” says Lee, 43.
She notes that big, potential donors will get a chance to visit the site.
“Once you’re out there, how can you not fall in love and become a supporter?” she says.
That happened to Lee in 2008, when, as part of her work on Turrell’s retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim, she flew to Arizona to see the then-just-completed first phase.
“At that moment, I thought, ‘This is something I want to be part of someday,’” she says. “I want to help James finish it.”
Turrell, affectionately described as the granddaddy of light for his perception-bending creations, bought the crater in 1979. Over time, he’s created an 854-foot tunnel with steel walls, installed a marble “sun” and carved out a viewing chamber in the crater’s bowl complete with bronze staircase. The work, so far, has cost more than $15 million.
But there’s plenty more to be done. Lee estimates that “Roden Crater” is no more than 35 percent complete, with a series of chambers and tunnels planned (now shown on the interactive map on the new Web site).
Lee declined to put a pricetag on finishing “Roden Crater.” The important part, for now, is getting people talking about the project, she says. The “Art + Film Gala” will be one opportunity, an event co-hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio and featuring a performance by Sam Smith. T Bone Burnett, the Grammy-winning producer who will introduce Turrell at Saturday’s gala, visited “Roden Crater” just recently. He compares what Turrell does with light to what an engineer does with sound.
“Great music opens our ears, and that’s what art does, it opens our eyes,” Burnett said in a phone interview. “It expands our vision, it expands our hearing. That is, ‘Roden Crater’ is an example of an artist doing that on a monumental scale.”
LACMA director Michael Govan, a member of Skystone’s board and the chief fundraiser for Turrell’s project over the years, called the hiring of Lee a historic moment for “Roden Crater.” He said the slowdown in the project the past five years was largely due to economic downturns and the focus put on organizing the Turrell retrospective exhibitions that opened around the world starting in 2013. Those shows introduced the artist’s work to a wider audience.
“It’s so hard for people to access an unfinished project,” Govan says of “Roden Crater.”
For now, Lee says, people can donate through the Web site. She’s also been batting around, with Govan, the idea of turning “Roden Crater” into the world’s largest crowd-funded art project. Right now, going on Kickstarter is just one possibility. And while she won’t put a timetable on completion of “Roden Crater,” she does offer a tantalizing prospect.
The construction plans are set. An opening completely depends on fundraising.
“Once we have the funds in place, we can start building,” Lee says. “If we had everything tomorrow, we could be open within five years.”