Who Is James Turrell And Why Did Kanye West Just Give Him $10 Million?

Florian Holzherr/Getty/Uproxx

If you’re like anyone who uses the internet, you’ve likely heard that Kanye West just donated $10 million to James Turrell, which probably led to you immediately exclaiming, “Who the f*ck is James Turrell?!”

Backing up a bit… Kanye had quite the 2018, it led many of his once loyal fans to wonder if all the great art he’s given us is really worth the shenanigans. Rushing the stage and stealing a young Taylor Swift’s moment is one thing, but can we really stand for the MAGA-hat-wearing Kanye? The jury is still out on that one for a lot of us, so Kanye making a sizable donation to anyone has us all giving Mr. West the side-eye treatment.

On one hand, James Turrell might just be some young designer trying to make his way in the fashion world, or he could be involved with some sort of Super PAC and this is related to Kanye’s future Presidential run, he might even just be some legendary 20th century pornographer — the point is, when it comes to Kanye West, this can be anyone.

Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief — because James Turrell’s hat is placed pretty firmly in the world of fine art, which might come as some surprise since Kanye seemed to be drifting further from that world with each passing year.

Turrell is an American artist best known for his work within the Light and Space art movement, particularly his Skyspaces and the sensory overloading Ganzfelds — named for the German word used to describe the phenomenon of a total loss of depth perception.

Looking at a Turrell Ganzfeld might bring something else to mind though — the once-inescapable Hotline Bling video.

Florian Holzherr

Hotline Bling owes a lot to Turrell (it’s a straight rip), but he had nothing to do with it aside from his work being such a big influence that he had to release a statement clarifying his lack of involvement. Aside from his Ganzfeld’s, for over 40 years Turrell has been hard at work trying to make his biggest project — The Roden Crater — a reality. Now, thanks to West’s $10 million donation he may actually finish it.

The Roden Crater project seeks to transform the Flagstaff Arizona crater into an observatory and is described on Turrell’s website as “a distinct set of changing experiences of light, Turrell’s intervention in the natural form of Roden Crater consists of a series of chambers, pathways, tunnels, and openings onto the sky from within and around the crater’s surface.”

Sounds pretty future to us, or at the least from a galaxy far far away because we’re pretty sure they’re describing Tatooine. A description is one thing though, seeing is believing, and after Turrell took West to visit the work in progress last month he seemed instantly won over, relaying his experience via Twitter.

While we don’t yet know just what exactly Kanye experienced at the Roden Crater, we can at least confidently say it left a pretty profound effect on him, worth 10-freaking-million dollars. If you’re not familiar with James Turrell’s work, get on it now — the man didn’t receive the genius-grant in 1984 (and $10 million of Kim Kardashian-West’s money) for being only so-so.