The End of Tending (Blue)

My favorite sculpture at the Nasher Sculpture Center has always been Tending (Blue) by James Turrell.

When the Nasher first opened, I went down there with Lee. I wrote a journal entry that was later reworked into a magazine article and published in Richardson Living.

In 2004 I wrote:

My favorite piece might have been the installation Tending (Blue) by James Turrell. We walked into a little opening lit by odd, shifting colors into the wall at the north end of the garden. The passage made a right turn and opened into a small room lined with dark stone benches. The walls on the upper half were featureless and smooth. A gray skylight lighted the whole chamber. The effect was strange and very peaceful. I liked it a lot.

Lee and I left the chamber and walked back up the garden and inside the building. We wandered downstairs and into the auditorium where a film was showing. It told the story of Raymond Nasher and his late wife, how they started out building Northpark Mall, acquired a fortune, and then became premiere collectors of modern sculpture. Mr. Nasher talked about his life, his wife, and his passion for the new sculpture center. The film then showed the construction of the center, how a handful of visionary architects and a few thousand men in hard hats converted a grimy downtown parking lot (I’ve parked there many times, put my quarters or dollar bills into a rusty numbered slot) into a thing of great value and beauty. They talked a lot of how it will be there forever. The film was fun and interesting – it really helped me appreciate the place.

On opening day Raymond Nasher said, “I put Patsy (his wife, the collector, who had passed away a couple years before) in charge of the weather today, and, as you can see, it’s beautiful.

One thing was odd, though. On the part of the film that covered opening day, Nasher and Turrell themselves went into the Tending (Blue) chamber that Lee and I had walked out of only minutes before. The benefactor and the artist sat on the benches and looked around. The skylight rectangle in the ceiling wasn’t gray like we saw it, but a deep cerulean blue.

“What’s up with that?” I asked.

“Let’s go back and check it out,” Lee said.

We hiked back down and entered the chamber again. The skylight was still gray. Something didn’t look right, though. I stood under it, looking up, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how it could change colors so dramatically. I was halfway convinced that it was a rectangle of light projected on the ceiling by some hidden apparatus (the upper walls are washed in subtle changing color from hidden computer controlled LED’s) when I was suddenly struck between the eyes with a big, cold drop of water. I wiped my face in surprise and looked down at some small pools of water at my feet.

“That’s weird, Lee,” I said, “I can’t believe it, but this roof is leaking.”

I looked back up, trying to find the telltale discoloration of a water leak, when, with a sudden shock, I realized what the hell I was actually looking at. That wasn’t a skylight, that wasn’t a projected rectangle at all, it was simply a big hole in the ceiling. I was looking directly at the sky. Once my eyes and my brain were in sync I could see the subtle variation of the clouds passing by overhead. The edges of the hole must have been cut back like razors – there was no visible frame around the opening, simply a featureless rectangle of light. It was amazing.

That’s why the rectangle looked blue in the film – it was a cloudless day. Now I want to go back. I want to go at sunset… I want to figure out how to go at dawn. The city sky at night… will it be brown? I want to sit in there during a rainstorm. I especially want to go there on that rarest of Texas days, a snowstorm.

Tending (blue)

Lee standing in Tending (blue) in 2004.

Over the years I have gone down to sit in Tending (blue) as often as I could. It’s the most relaxing place in the world. Sunsets are incredible – the hole in the ceiling changed into unearthly, amazing colors.

Tending (blue)

The opening in the ceiling of Tending (Blue). A photograph does not do justice.

When I went back there with Lee not long ago, it was closed. This last Friday, I went back and it was still closed. I wondered what the problem was… does it need maintenance?

I did a web search and found the bad news. The skyscape has been ruined by a high-rise condominium tower going up next door. The building sticks up into the field of view of the installation – ruining the effect. The artist has requested the room be closed off until he can come and look at it. There is no timetable for this to happen.

They’ll have to move it… or give up. I am so disappointed and upset. I loved Tending (Blue). It was the best place in Dallas to watch a sunset. I never was able to visit it during a snowstorm, like I was hoping to.

Life itself is suddenly a lot less colorful.

A pole-sitting sculpture in front of a new Condo Tower going up.

The condominium tower going up next to the Nasher that has destroyed Tending (Blue).