Friends Seminary announces construction of James Turrell Skyspace
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Friends Seminary announces construction of James Turrell Skyspace
Cutaway from Southeast - Roof opened.

NEW YORK, NY.- Head of School Robert “Bo” Lauder today announced that a new Skyspace is being constructed at Friends Seminary, a K-12 Quaker school in Manhattan, with an expected completion in early 2023.

Complementing the nearby Fifteenth Street Meetinghouse on campus where artist James Turrell worshiped when he resided in New York City, the Skyspace will provide a spiritual setting conducive to silence and contemplation—a Meeting Room in the sky.

“Friends Seminary is honored to have the work of James Turrell, an internationally acclaimed artist, as the final element of our multi-year project to redevelop our campus to better serve our students for decades to come,” Lauder said.

Turrell, who often refers to the influence of Quakerism on his life and practice, designs his Skyspaces to invite light from the ‘heavens’ down through an aperture in the ceiling.

“In working with light, what is of interest to me is to make the quality of light itself the revelation,” Turrell said. “It has to do with what we value. I want people to treasure light.”

The School's Skyspace will be a relatively small, modular room, on the roof of the new Upper School, measuring approximately 20' W x 22' L X 20’ H with a capacity of 22 viewers at one time. The height of the Skyspace will be of similar height to other elements atop the School’s building at 218 East 16th Street, which was recently redeveloped to maximize programmatic space for its students and to provide 100% ADA accessibility. The architect of record is Kliment Halsband Architects.

Upon completion of the project, the School will share a public visitation schedule and hours, along with the system by which neighbors, neighboring schools and members of the public may reserve time to experience the Skyspace. Access to the Skyspace will be free of charge.

A Skyspace Many Years in the Making

In 2007, Turrell delivered the School's annual Peace Week Lecture, and spoke about attaining peace through environmental justice and equity. In the following years, Lauder and Turrell maintained a friendly relationship. In 2014, Lauder invited Turrell to Friends to discuss the possibility of an art installation.

“I was anticipating an interior light installation,” Lauder said, “but the moment James arrived he said, 'Take me to the roof!' Once he saw the unobstructed view of the sky above our buildings, the vision for the Friends Seminary Skyspace began.”

In 2015, the Skyspace was reviewed and approved by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, as part of the School’s Campus Redevelopment Project, which began in 2016 and was completed in 2019. In 2020, the Department of Buildings reviewed and approved the Skyspace’s design and installation plans, and in 2022, the Landmarks Preservation Commission reaffirmed approval.

The cost to develop and construct the Skyspace, and to establish an endowment for its care and maintenance, is approximately $4.5 million. Funding was raised by donors within the Friends community with a special interest in supporting this installation. In addition to donating the design of the Skyspace to the School, Turrell donated a hologram, which was sold, with the proceeds going directly to the construction of the Skyspace.

“I am grateful to the special group of parents and alumni for their steadfast enthusiasm and passion for making James Turrell’s brilliant work accessible to our students, community and city. They have made a lasting contribution to not only Friends Seminary but also to the City of New York,” Lauder said.

James Turrell

Beginning his art career in the 1960s, James Turrell’s work is primarily an exploration of light and space. By making light the subject of the revelation, Turrell’s work challenges the very nature of how and what is perceived and, in particular, how what is perceived affects and forms the reality lived. One part meditative and another confounding, Turrell’s works heighten the viewer’s very sense of seeing and places the viewer in a realm of direct experience.

Residing in Flagstaff, Arizona, Turrell is working on Roden Crater, an artwork of large scale within a volcanic cinder cone in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona. Representing the culmination of the artist’s lifelong work in the field of human visual and psychological perception, Roden Crater is Turrell’s magnum opus. It is a work that, in addition to being monument land art, functions as a naked-eye observatory of celestial and planetary events in the setting of our galaxy.

Turrell’s work has been exhibited in art institutions across the world, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; MASS MoCA in North Adams; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg; the National Gallery of Art in Canberra; and the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima Island.

Turrell is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1984) and the National Medal of Arts (2013).

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