Features 22 October 2019

James Turrell Museum, Bodega Colomé

In the high desert valleys of Argentina, Bodega Colomé is home to the intense and vibrant light installations of James Turrell

Words by Laurel Bibby

Photography by Florian Holzherr

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At over 2,000m above sea-level, Bodega Colomé in the upper Calchaquí Valley is one of the world’s highest wineries. It’s also home to the world’s only permanent exhibition of the works of the American artist James Turrell, who aims to challenge perceptions with his vibrant light installations. ‘My work is about space and the light that inhabits it. It is about how you can confront that space. It is about your seeing,’ he says.

Turrell’s work, exhibited in 22 countries and 19 US states, is celebrated worldwide; this year marks the 10th anniversary of the museum at Colomé. He is perhaps best known for the work-in-progress Roden Crater, an installation of chambers, tunnels and apertures inside a dormant cinder-cone volcano in northern Arizona. Rapper Kanye West donated $10m to the project after visiting the space, which he described as ‘life-changing’.

Skyspace, ‘Unseen Blue’. Visitors can stand, sit or lie on the benches or on the floor in Unseen Blue, while the light changes in a 40-minute sequence, altering the perception of the sky’s colours and proximity. ‘The sky always seems to be out there, away from us. I like to bring it down in close contact with us, so you feel you are in it.’
An area of light shadow, Penumbra (1992) takes its name from the astronomical term for the area around the edge of a sunspot: not yet as bright as the sun’s surface, but already glowing.

The James Turrell Museum was opened by Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess, who owns wineries in California and Argentina, as well as a considerable art collection. He has been buying Turrell’s work for more than 30 years. ‘Donald started to collect him in the 1970s,’ says Christoph Ehrbar, Hess’s son-in-law and CEO of The Hess Group. ‘When he bought Colomé, he thought it would be the perfect place for the collection. There’s a particular light there that gives the work even more intensity and power.’

Turrell’s other work around the world includes Skyspace Lech (2018) in the Alpine village of Lech, Austria
Encounter (2015) in Culiacán, Mexico

Despite being four hours from the nearest city, Salta, itself a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires, the museum attracts some 8,000 visitors a year. An overnight stay is highly recommended, not only because of the bone-shaking drive to get there: many of the installations change dramatically as the day wanes and night falls. Rooms at Estancia Colomé, Bodega Colomé’s boutique hotel, can be reserved.

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