Artist Designed Spiritual Spaces

download (1).jpeg


In 2014, Canadian artist Koh left the New York City art world behind and moved to the Catskills. “What can you do sitting on a mountaintop as an artist, as a human being, as a person that’s conscious about what’s happening today?” he asked upon arriving at his new home. Inspired by the writings of Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, who taught that to change society you must first start on a small scale, with the single self, Koh and his partner decided to build a “bee chapel” between two apple trees. Essentially, the structure was a large-scale hive able to fit a single person at a time, and bring them in close communion with the bees—a seldom experienced proximity.

To share the experience with others, Koh debuted a version of his bee chapel at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York in 2016. He created seven spaces within the gallery, each corresponding to one of the the seven days of the week. The rooms were covered in raw earth and lined with a layer of metal mesh that separated bees from humans. From this immersed vantage point, viewers could watch the bees’ constant activity, while being reminded of their precarious condition in the environment with the ongoing threat of colony collapse. By drawing attention to the fragility of nature and our place within it, Koh created a space with both spiritual and political undertones.

Sound was an important sensory element of the show. Not only was the bees’ perpetual humming mic-ed to amplify their presence, the gallery also included a sound recording of two black holes colliding a billion light years away. From the smallest scale to the largest, Koh’s work suggested that we are all “living in a vibration.”

More information here.



Sound and community were the vehicles of spirituality for Gates’s first U.K.-based installation, Sanctum (2015). The site of this intervention was the medieval Temple Church in Bristol, originally designed by the Knights Templar, which had been bombed out during World War II in 1940, leaving only a shell of the building behind. Gates used salvaged material from nearby sites to create a structure inside the hollow walls of the former church, including doors from a former chocolate factory and bricks from demolished houses.

The space housed an ambitious 522-hour-long program of non-stop performance, featuring local musicians and DJ’s, spoken-word poetry and gospel choirs as well as artists who were just visiting the city temporarily. “This project was attempting to make space inside of a sacred space that people might connect with another,” Gates noted at the opening. “Sanctum is primarily a platform on which the people of Bristol have an opportunity to hear each other.”

More information and photos here.


The Chapel Of The Good Shepherd, LOUISE NEVELSON

For American sculptor Nevelson, spirituality was closely linked with creativity. When she was commissioned to design the Chapel of the Good Shepherd within Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s Saint Peter’s Church in Midtown Manhattan, she saw it as an opportunity to create a complete sculptural environment, in the language of her abstract, layered wall-mounted works.

Nevelson intended the space to be abstract enough to be universal, for people of all denominations to experience a sense of peace and joy. The result was an intimate room measuring only 28 by 21 feet, washed in pale tones. She translated religious iconography into complex sculptural works made of wood and painted it white—the only color elements in the room are the altar, which is gilded in gold, and the pews, made of pale ash wood. “My focus is a celebration of the contemplative in a space that is not defined by walls or time, but only the limitation of the spirit itself,” she explained.

More information and photo here.


La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, HENRI MATISSE

In 1941, Matisse put an advertisement in a newspaper looking for a young, attractive night nurse to help him in his recovery from intestinal cancer (which he never fully recovered from). Monique Bourgeois, a nursing student, became the artist’s aid and helped him continue working and develop his now famous cut-out works, despite being confined to bedrest. Later, in 1946, when Bourgeois was in the process of becoming a Dominican nun (she became Sister Jacques-Marie), she called on Matisse to help her design a chapel for her sisterhood in the hills of Vence, France. Matisse, who had been born Catholic but was an atheist, was more interested in spirituality than religion, and he proceeded to design a space inspired by natural forms and vibrant color. “I think it is better to pray in beauty,” he would say.

Despite the severity of his illness—at this point, he could barely stand—Matisse worked on the chapel for the next four years, until it was opened in 1951. He had his hands in nearly every area of the design—from the building itself to the cut-out-inspired stained glass windows, mosaics of the Stations of the Cross, candlesticks shaped like anemone flowers, and even the vestments that the priests would wear. For Matisse, the project was a culmination of his life’s work. “This work required me four years of an exclusive and entiring effort and it is the fruit of my whole working life,” he once said. “In spite of all its imperfections I consider it as my masterpiece.”

More information and photos here.


Convent of Sainte Marie Tourette, LE CORBUSIER

Le Corbusier's Dominican monastery in France is considered one of his most important works. Sainte Marie de La Tourette is built on a steeply sloping site near Lyon in France and was one of Le Corbusier's last completed buildings in Europe.

More photos and information here, here & here.


Notre Dame du Haut Chapel, LE CORBUSIER

Notre Dame du Haut is a Catholic religious site – near the village of Ronchamp, eastern France – world-renowned for its chapel designed by Le Corbusier in the ’50s.The Swiss architect’s intention was “to create a place of silence, prayer, peace, and inner joy”.

More photos and information here & here.


Rothko Chapel, MARK ROTHKO

The Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas, founded by John and Dominique de Menil. The interior serves not only as a chapel, but also as a major work of modern art. On its walls are fourteen black but color-hued paintings by Mark Rothko. He would say that bright colors limit your vision to the canvas, while dark colors allow the viewer to glimpse beyond the canvas and toward the infinite. Three walls display triptychs, while the other five walls display single paintings. Beginning in 1964, Rothko began painting a series of black paintings, which incorporated other dark hues and texture effects. The shape of the building, an octagon inscribed in a Greek cross, and the design of the chapel was largely influenced by the artist.

More information here.


HealthCare Chaplaincy, TOBI KAHN

Commissioned by the HealthCare Chaplaincy of New York in 2002, the EMET meditative space by Tobi Kahn was built to the artist's specifications to house nine sky-and-water murals and a set of sculptural furniture of his own design. Conceiving it as a nondenominational space for contemplation, he integrated three kinds of lighting to allow the space to breathe and immerse visitors in the horizon, sea, and sky of his paintings. "I'm very passionate about art and healing," said Kahn. "What any artist, at least any artist like me, wants is to bring people comfort."

More information and photos here.


Santa Maria Annunciata, DAN FLAVIN

The name "Chiesa Rossa" derived from the old church of "Santa Maria" near the "Naviglio Pavese" canal called also "Santa Maria ad Fonticulum". Muzio has designed the church in plan as Latin cross, the central nave is covered by Barrel vault and ends in the Apse. The Baptistery, in the left in a lateral chapel, has an octagonal shape and contains San Giovannino a sculpture by Giacomo Manzù. In 1996 the church hosted Untitled, the last installation of Dan Flavin. The design was completed two days before Flavin's death on November 26, 1996 and installed a year later. The installation is made with green and blue neon lights for the main nave, red in the transept and yellow for the apse.

More photos and information here



In January 2015, the renowned American artist Ellsworth Kelly gifted to the Blanton the design concept for his most monumental work, a 2,715-square-foot stone building with luminous colored glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture, and fourteen black and white marble panels. The structure is the only building the artist designed, and will be his most lasting legacy. Envisioned by Kelly as a site for joy and contemplation.

The chapel is intended to be an open public space for contemplation. “I conceived this project without a religious program. I hope visitors will experience Austin as a place of calm and light.”

More information and photos here, here & here


Dorotheenstadt Cemetery Memorial Chapel, JAMES TURRELL

In late 2016, Turrell took over the memorial chapel of the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery in Berlin with one of his signature light installations. The project was an immersive light show timed with sunset each day. Hidden LED lights filled the space with deep blue light as the sun started to set, then changed color every two minutes according to a pre-programmed pattern, from blue to magenta. The entire space was suffused in the changing hues, through which Turrell aimed to connect the natural world with the spiritual one. As the fading sunlight filtered through the chapel’s opaque windows, it would appear amber when the chapel was lit in blue, and green when it was magenta.

The installation was a continuation of Turrell’s longtime concerns with space and light, particularly as they relate to spiritual sites. As a Quaker, Turrell has outfitted many Meeting Houses with his skylights—apertures that open these contemplative spaces and allow light to flood in.

More information and photos here.