Manhattan private school to unveil James Turrell work

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A Quaker school adjacent to Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Park called Friends Seminary has announced that its ongoing campus renovation will include a James Turrell Skyspace slated to open in early 2023.

Although Friends Seminary is a private school, there will be a public visitation schedule so that viewers can experience the Skyspace, which will be free of charge. Aside from Turrell’s installation Meeting (1980-86/2016) at MoMA PS1—which is presently closed indefinitely—this will be the only public Skyspace on view in the greater New York City area.

Turrell himself was raised in a Quaker family and often cites this religious influence as a driving force behind his Skyspaces. During his time as a New York City resident, he visited and worshiped at the Fifteenth Street Meetinghouse just steps from this forthcoming installation, and in 2001 he built a Skyspace for the Live Oak Friends Meeting House, a Quaker space of worship in Houston, Texas.

“In working with light, what is of interest to me is to make the quality of light itself the revelation,” Turrell said in a statement about the forthcoming New York installation. “It has to do with what we value. I want people to treasure light.”

Rendering of James Turrell’s forthcoming Skyspace at Friends Seminary. Kliment Halsband Architects.

Robert “Bo” Lauder, the head of Friends Seminary, invited Turrell to the school in 2014 to discuss a commission, expecting to do an interior light installation, but upon seeing the roof Turrell thought a Skyspace would be more fitting.

“The Skyspace honours the significance of light as an integral element of our environment, but also a shared spark of life and equality within each of us, with which we each are equally imbued,” Lauder told The Art Newspaper. “Quakers believe that external light is the manifestation of the Inner Light within everyone. This Inner Light shines brightly in all and transcends religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else people might use to define or divide people. We’ve all got it and James, through his work, wants everyone to understand and appreciate that.”

Designs for the Friends Seminary Skyspace were first reviewed and approved by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2015, who reaffirmed their approval earlier this year. The skyspace will occupy a roughly 20-by-22 ft room with a 20 ft-high ceiling and it will have the capacity to fit 22 viewers at a time.

Rendering of James Turrell’s forthcoming Skyspace at Friends Seminary. Kliment Halsband Architects.

Lauder adds that, once open, the public can make free reservations to view the Skyspace, and that arrangements will be made for neighbouring public schools to have access during regular school hours Monday through Friday.
“My hope is that the Skyspace will be a place where students, faculty and welcomed guests can go for silence and quiet reflection. I hope they can experience the interplay between external light and their own Inner Light,” Lauder says.

He believes it “will become a physical manifestation of the spiritual mission of the school, offering its source of light as a means by which those who seek time within its space can find inspiration in helping ‘to bring about a world that ought to be,’ as our mission states.”

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