Close your eyes and picture yourself strolling into a chapel. You’re immediately wrapped in a sense of peace. Perhaps it’s the silence, possibly the smell, maybe the knowledge that you’ve entered a sacred space. Now imagine opening your eyes and being greeted with a ray of light that swims in through the cathedral’s windows. We’ve all experienced this goosebump-inducing moment. While it could be a calming stir of the church go-ers around you or the waxy scent of the candles melting in the corner, light is the main culprit for producing this special feeling.
But who controls that light? Maybe it’s just by chance, but often it’s architected to make you experience it in a certain way. Over centuries, artists have been involved in the design of countless religious spaces. Even contemporary artists have actively participated in the creation of magnificent structures with spiritual intent. This enables us to see and experience sacred spaces in, quite literally, a whole new light. That’s why Art Fix has curated a list of the most magnificent chapels designed by artists that use light as a medium to create unique spaces for contemplation and introspection. From Italy to Japan, these are our favorite chapels that light up the world.
James Turrell: Dorotheenstädtischer Graveyard
In the summer of 2015, James Turrell completed a project in a small chapel at Dorotheenstädtischer Graveyard in Berlin. Twice a week during the hour before sunset, visitors are able to wander into the chapel and experience the changing cycle of colored light. The hour-long presentation is not only incredibly beautiful and hypnotic but also, in the words of those who have experienced it first hand, allows plenty of time for thought and reflection.
James Turrell: Red Shift in a former chapel in Kanaal
If you find yourself in Antwerp, pay a visit to the uber cool Axel Vervoordt Gallery. This cultural hub is located at a site called “Kanaal”, a converted industrial distillery. In a former chapel you’ll find a work from 1995 called “Red Shift”. Created by the famous American light artist James Turrell, this work causes visitors to only start seeing anything after 10 minutes. If you’re curious about how this works, watch Episode 10 to hear from the artist himself the effect that is at play.
Sol LeWitt & David Tremlett: The Barolo Chapel
La Morra, Province of Cuneo, Italy
Tucked away in between the Maritime Alps, in the southwest of the Piedmont region, you’ll find an odd little rainbow building called Capella delle Brunate (Barolo Chapel). This unique project was brought to life by none other than American artist Sol Lewitt and English sculptor David Tremlett over a glass of Barolo. The artists restored the building, previously used as a shelter, and split the work between themselves; LeWitt worked on the exterior while Tremlett focused on its interior. The end result? A collision between a colorful chaos and a pervasive sense of calm all wrapped around this little place of wonder.
Dan Flavin: Santa Maria Annunciata in Chiesa Rossa
In 1996, following an invitation from Italian priest Giulio Greco and sponsored by Fondazione Prada, light artist Dan Flavin created his last and final artwork. This spectacle was not on his home turf in America, but rather in Milan at the Santa Maria Annunciata in Chiesa Rossa church. Inside the church, the site-specific artwork Untitled, spreads green, blue, pink, golden and ultraviolet light through the entire space. It is the sole source of illumination. Walking through the entryway, the succession of different colors up to the altar emulates the natural ‘night-dawn-day’ progression of light. In electrifying majesty, Dan Flavin’s ephemeral art may just (with the wink of an eye) shine for eternity. A must-see for any Flavin fan. Tip: if you’re planning a trip, make sure you go in the afternoon as the light will only be turned on later in the day.
Anish Kapoor: Aime at Castello di Ama
Localita’Ama, Gaiole in Chianti, Siena
In 2004, Anish Kapoor opened up the floor of the chapel at Castello di Ama. Walking into the chapel in the village, there is no light except the glowing red circle in the floor. Visitors will see a glimpse of the altar when the door opens.
Standing against the wall of the small, dark chapel, one is forced to wait for their eyes to adjust. Visitors can feel the color and the light, but it is hard to grasp — a real mystery made of color and space. Ama is a work that must be experienced in real life, so be sure to weave this into your travel plans. Tip: grab lunch at Castello di Ama’s fabulous restaurant before catching the art in the afternoon.
Studio Drift: Shylight in the Paterskerk
In Eindhoven, you’ll find the Dutch duo’s amazing “Shylight”. Studio Drift aimed to recreate a natural phenomenon called ‘nyctinasty’, referring to the closing of flowers at dusk. “Shylight” mimics this delicate movement with programmable lamps that can be controlled to the millimetre. With silk flowers descending while ‘blooming’, and closing when retreating, its movement resembles a subtle choreographed dance. Interested to learn more about the Drift duo? Time to watch our tenth episode: Spot on!
Jan van Munster: 50.000 WATT
Jan van Munster is considered one of the most influential artists in the Netherlands today. He’s known for working with varied sources of energy and creating contrasts. His primary aim is to show spiritual powers as a metaphor for life. “I’m looking for short circuits,” he says. Van Munster’s distinctive bright works can be found in many cities in the Netherlands and Germany. Our favourite is Vleeshal, a historic building and center for contemporary art, which is home to Munster’s colossal installation “50.000 WATT”. Here van Munster uses glowing wires to create a magnificent image in space, almost like it’s raining Van Munster’s lights.
Kimsooja: To Breathe
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Previously shown at the Venice Biennale in 2013, “To Breathe” is now part of the old chapel at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Combining light, mirrors, diffraction films and sounds of the artist’s breath, this enchanting installation explores the meditative qualities of space. Here, visitors can experience a myriad of colors as light enters through the windows and reflects on different surfaces. “Space is always there in a certain form and fluidity, which can be transformed into a completely different substance. My interest in void lies in the relationship between Yin and Yang, as a way of inhaling and exhaling, which is the natural process of breathing, as a law of living,” explains Kimsooja, the South Korean artist. If you’re looking for a little balance in life, then Kimsooja’s “To Breathe” is the exhibition for you.
Tadao Ando: Church of the Light
You might recognize the name Tadao Ando, François Pinault’s go-to architect who has been responsible for renovating major contemporary art spaces like Palazzo Grassi, Punta Della Dogana and Bourse de Commerce. Let Art Fix introduce you to another one of the Japanese architect’s signature works: the Church of the Light. In the small town of Ibaraki, a few kilometers outside of Osaka, there’s a concrete structure where visitors can witness how Ando creates new spatial perceptions through the interplay between nature and architecture.
Daniel Buren: Donjon de Vez
Love a little art history? About an hour’s drive outside of Paris lies an important landmark of the chronicles of Le Valois, a region known for playing a critical role in the life of characters like Joan of Arc and Alexandre Dumas. This place embodies a thousand years of history, architecture and contemporary art: from the Middle Ages to the present day. Imagine a medieval castle with a library designed by Jacques Garcia, frescoes by Sol LeWitt, windows by Daniel Buren and touches by Picasso. Need we say more? This place is every art lover’s dream. Not to miss if you’re traveling in northern France.
Ann Veronica Janssens: Chapelle Saint Vincent
The Chapel of Saint Vincent is the oldest monument in Grignan, a small village located in the South of France. Its 11th-century Romanesque style proves to be a beautiful shell for the light installation of contemporary visual artist Ann Veronica Janssens. The light effects occur over a 24-hour period and gleam through the chapel’s colored windows. If you’re interested in discovering more about the inspiration behind Belgian artist Janssens’ works, make sure to check out our episode, Spot On. If Janssens work isn’t enough to convince you, then perhaps the town’s wonderful “smell” might entice you. Grignan is known as a “village botanique” thanks to its magnificent amount of roses and lavenders.
Tado Ando & Othoniel: Chateau La Coste
Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, Aix-en Provence
Longing for the South of France? Look forward to visiting the beautiful chapel by Tadao Ando at Chateau la Coste. Set amidst the hills just north of Aix-en-Provence in southeastern France, La Coste has a world-class open-air museum featuring major works by the hottest names in art and architecture. When you take the Promande Art & Architecture you walk across 200 hectares of vineyards, chestnut forests, and olive tree fields spread as far as the eye can see into the Provençal horizon. The path will take you to the top of the hill, to the chapel of Tadao Ando. The modernist chapel in glass and steel envelopes a restored 16th-century stone structure that once welcomed pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela and presents three openings for daylight to enter the darkened interiors.
Next to the chapel is the great red Murano glass cross, by Jean Michel Othonel.
Henri Matisse: The Chapelle du Rosaire
If you needed one more reason to visit the French Riviera, here it is: the Rosary Chapel in Vence. Designed by the one and only Henri Matisse at the age of seventy-seven, this building is an artistic gem, and was regarded by the artist himself as his “masterpiece”. Matisse designed every detail: from the flooring and the wall decoration to the lighting and even the priest’s robes!
Ellsworth Kelly: Austin
This igloo-esque building is embellished with rainbow-colored glass windows that bend the light in different ways. It is not (technically) a chapel, but rather a site for joy, contemplation and creativity. However, its roots do seem to lie in religion. Jack Shear, the late artist’s partner, explains that its form stems from Kelly’s love of the Romanesque churches in France. We love the little colorful windows, an ode to mastery of stained-glass windows.
Commissioned by the de Menils (also known as the Medicis of modern art), Rothko painted 14 large-scale black canvases for this project in Texas. Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry were the architects of the Houston landmark, which has become a center for civil rights activists and a sanctuary for people of all faiths. The chapel itself is an octagonal building with gray stucco walls, which are covered in Rothko’s monumental paintings. This magical place opened its doors in February 1971, a year after Rothko committed suicide. While the artist never lived to see this project finished, his memory continues to live through his poignant fields of color. A true must-see for all fans of the legendary Rothko.