Barnes architects, ‘Skyspace’ creator to be awarded National Medal of Arts

President Barack Obama will award the National Medal of Arts to 12 artists, including Bille Tsien and Tod Williams, architects of the new Barnes Foundation building in Philadelphia, and James Turrell, the designer of “Skyspace” in a Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill on Monday.

The Barnes Foundation is the most recently completed major building by the husband and wife architectural team of Williams and Tsien. They designed the galleries to change visitors’ perceptions of what a museum is.

“When we thought about making this place, we thought we didn’t need to have all the qualities of a conventional museum,” said Tsien, during the opening of the building in 2012.

“One of them being the Museum of Modern Art, or the [Philadelphia Museum of Art],” added Williams. “Just try the vestibule there. Or at MOMA, and see the mosh pit that occurs there. So we wanted to make sure this felt domestic in some way.”

Earlier this year the team was at the center of a controversy surrounding the Museum of Modern Art’s decision to demolish their American Folk Art Museum, which existed for just 13 years. “We feel devastated,” they wrote in a statement online.

The National Medal of Arts is given not for specific works, but in consideration of an artist’s entire career.

Another recipient this year is James Turrell, an artist based in Arizona who works primarily with light. His goal is to create 100 “Skyspaces,” skylights designed to alter your perception of light in the sky.

Turrell designed one of these Skyspaces at Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, a Quaker congregation. At the opening in October, he said it is an exploration of the mind’s impulse to impose its own perceptions on the environment.

“We think we live in a rational world, but in fact we live in a rationalizing world,” said Turrell. “Basically we are in these worlds where we superimpose our daydream state upon our ‘normal,’ rational life. I like to see light almost like we see it in a dream.”

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