''It's a little bit like painting the sky,'' says James Turrell, the renowned
American artist whose monumental Skyspace installation was unveiled yesterday at the National Gallery of Australia.
Within Without is the gallery's latest, and largest, acquisition for the national art collection and the only work of its kind in Australia.
The partly subterranean installation creates an immersive viewing experience that uses space, shape and light to affect the perception of the sky.
Gallery director Ron Radford said Within Without was one of Turrell's most complex Skyspaces.
''James Turrell is one the most visionary practising artists today and people understand his work it's really accessible,'' he said.
Mr Radford said the sculpture, prominently located in the Australian Gardens near the new front entrance, had been partly funded by profits from the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition held earlier this year and had taken 18 months to build.
''In a sense it's about sky worship and it's at its most dramatic at dawn and dusk when the light show created by James Turrell heightens the experience,'' he said.
Turrell's works are featured in cities around the world and in galleries and private collections throughout the United States.
He is best known for his ambitious work in progress, the Roden Crater, a naked-eye observatory in a dormant volcano in the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.
''My interest is working with light and space; I have always been fascinated with the range of light at different locations around the world,'' Turrell said.
The opportunity to create a Skyspace for the National Gallery of Australia in the clear light of Canberra was not to be missed.
Within Without offers an unhurried and unique perceptual experience.
''The light show is hard to explain it changes your perceptions of the sky. It gives the sky colours; I am able to change the colour of the sky. I am using the sky as a canvas,'' he said.
Entered via a sloping walkway, the threshold to Within Without opens onto a large square-based pyramid with red ochre walls. At the centre of the pyramid, a pool of turquoise water flows around a central chamber, a stupa, made from Victorian basalt.
The simple domed interior has a heated bench around the edge that seats 24 people. The roof is open to the sky which is framed by an oculus. A moonstone set into the centre of the floor echoes the aperture above. Movement and sound are intensified and the sky at times appears to descend into the space.
The Skyspace will be open for a preview period from today to Sunday from 10.30am to 4.30pm, before the opening of the gallery's Stage 1 building project next month.