We Have a James Turrell Artwork in Our School. So There.

Even in the buffet of amenities that New York City private schools offer — state-of-the-art gyms and science labs, black box theaters and greenhouses, bespoke college guidance and dream teacher-to-student ratios — having a museum-caliber James Turrell Skyspace on your rooftop is in a class of its own.

On the sixth floor of Friends Seminary, a Quaker school in Manhattan, Turrell, the internationally acclaimed artist who uses light to shape space, has created one of his perception-altering meeting rooms whose roof opens to the sky. Bathed in a spectrum of shifting radiant color, that slice of sky appears to float inside the installation, titled “Leading,” the only one of more than 85 Skyspaces by Turrell around the world attached to an active K-12 school. And it’s the first of his bold experiments in Manhattan that is accessible to the public, beginning March 1 on select Fridays.

Sam Lane, a sophomore, was already a Turrell fan from family visits to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which has nine of the artist’s installations. Since the fall, when students and parents have been welcome to experience “Leading,” Lane has dropped in for weekly meditation sessions each Wednesday, led by Denman Tuzo, the academic center director at Friends.

“When the door is closed, you smell the wood — it’s really cool,” said Lane, recalling that when the Skyspace was presented as a concept to the students in 2022, reactions were mixed. “Some people were excited, some people were a little weirded out by it — like what does it means to have an art installation at our school this significant?”

It was Robert Lauder, the head of the school, who invited Turrell, a practicing Quaker, to make a work for Friends and Lauder raised approximately $3.9 million for its construction. (Turrell donated his design and consultation time, and one of his holograms, which the school sold at Christie’s for $187,500, to help offset costs.)

A third-grade class visited James Turrell’s first public Skyspace in Manhattan, on the roof of Friends Seminary.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times
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