Yesterday President Obama awarded James Turrell the National Medal of Arts, which goes “to individuals or groups who are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States.”
Turrell was honored along with architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, whose American Museum of Folk Art building is in the process of being demolished by the Museum of Modern Art, Linda Ronstadt and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, among others.
In its list of honorees, The White House said of Turrell, “Capturing the powers of light and space, Mr. Turrell builds experiences that force us to question reality, challenging our perceptions not only of art, but also of the world around us.” Hiram Butler, who represents Turrell, told the Houston Chronicle, “When Fred Sandback died in 2003, James said ‘I feel like I’ve lost my audience.’ To go from feeling that you had an audience of one to receiving a medal from the president has got to feel like a great leap in recognition.”
“Moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow, they add texture to our lives,” President Obama said at the ceremony yesterday, of all the honorees. “They are not incidental to the American experience, they are central to it. They are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement.”