Epic party with Grimes and $3-million gift boosts James Turrell’s Roden Crater

James Turrell lies near the center of his "Roden Crater" in 1984.
(Con Keyes/Los Angeles Times)

Nothing gets a party going like $3 million.

Thursday evening, just after surprise musical guest Grimes took the stage at a private party for light and space artist James Turrell, the news dropped: Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Pincus, founder of the online gaming firm Zynga, is the latest high-profile figure to pledge big money to Turrell’s Roden Crater project.

Announcing the $3-million donation was Marc Glimcher, chief executive of Pace Gallery, which is showing new work by Turrell along with L.A.’s Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair this weekend. Among the 300 or so people gathered at San Vicente Bungalows in West Hollywood were Leonardo DiCaprio and girlfriend Camila Morrone, tennis player Maria Sharapova, artist Mary Corse, billionaire collector Steve Cohen, Museum of Contemporary Art Director Klaus Biesenbach and Los Angeles County Museum of Art Director Michael Govan, who also is president of the Skystone Foundation overseeing Roden Crater.

Turrell has been working on the land artwork since 1977 in northern Arizona’s Painted Desert region. The artist is transforming a volcanic cinder cone into what he calls a “naked eye observatory.” The project is inching closer toward completion, he said, and he hopes to announce the public opening within five years.


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Feb. 6, 2020

Turrell canceled his appearance at the party but sent comment to The Times by email: “Mark’s support comes at a critical juncture,” he said. “The project is experiencing great momentum and this will further drive progress.”

The crowd sourced campaign Friends of Roden Crater is raising money not only to finish the project but also to operate and maintain it. The artist has given $6,500-per-person tours of the work to raise funds. Arizona State University has signed on to help Turrell raise $200 million. Last year Kanye West donated $10 million and shot his short film “Jesus Is King” inside Roden Crater.

Pincus visited the Roden Crater site a week ago and was touched by the intersection of science, nature and art.

“There’s so many things about it that really moved me,” Pincus said in a phone interview before the party, noting how long the artist has devoted himself to the work. “The project itself feels, to me, like modern-day pyramids. The ambition and scale and scope of it is something that has the potential to be something that people, many generations from now, will be able to experience and get something amazing from — maybe something beyond what we can imagine today.”

At Frieze Los Angeles, which opens to the public Friday, Kayne Griffin Corcoran is showing a single, immersive work by Turrell that’s not unlike his Skyspace works. Pace is showing smaller, geometric light works.

For Frieze Projects inside this year’s Frieze Los Angeles, curators Rita Gonzalez and Pilar Tompkins Rivas asked artists to examine the representation of Latinos and others in movies and on TV.

Feb. 7, 2020