The use of artificial light in the visual arts has a long history, dating practically to the beginning of the 20th century. The first experiments with light were done by the artists affiliated with the Constructivist and Bauhaus movements, such as El Lissitzky and László Moholy-Nagy, while light art as an autonomous field of artistic expression started developing throughout the 1950s along with the development of Lumino Kinetic and Op art.
The upcoming exhibition titled Neon Delight at the Centre for International Light Art in Unna will be focused on the ways the artists used neon in light art movements from the 1960s to the present.
The artists were fascinated by the light from the beginning of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that they started experimenting with the dazzling radiance and the intense signaling effect of neon to explore various potentials of this material.
The popularity of the neon was closely affiliated with the expansion of consumerist society and the usage of light sings to market various goods. Regardless of the technological shifts in electricity systems and accessible gadgets, neon is still being used and each tube is individually blown by a glassblower and filled with gas.
The visitors will be able to see the selection of text-based neon works such as Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue? by Maurizio Nannucci (a tribute to Barnett Newman’s iconic Abstract Expressionist piece from 1966), as well as another one titled Never Move Far From Color (2017–18).
Operating in a similar fashion will be the famous sign You Never Should Have Loved Me The Way You Did (2014) by Tracey Emin; on the other hand, Who Am I Why Am I Where Am I Going (2017) by Jeppe Hein will speak directly to viewers in participative manner - by gazing into a mirror, they read the questions that they can answer for themselves. On display will also be the work It Is Both A Blessing And A Curse To Feel Everything So Very Deeply by Olivia Steele that is based on the opposition of the words blessing and curse. Geometric-abstract neon art will be featured with works by one of the leading Minimal artists Dan Flavin, as well as by François Morellet, and Keith Sonnier.
On display will be several works featuring immaterial light sources shimmering in various hues such as the ones made by Brigitte Kowanz or Bruce Nauman. Alongside all of these mentioned artists, the works by Mario Merz, Bruno Peinado, Bernardi Roig, and Giny Vos will be also featured.
After all the mentioned details, it seems that this exhibition will definitely revisit the art phenomenon that is often misunderstood and not taken into account properly. The director of the Centre for International Light Art in Unna, John Jaspers, explains:
The neon tube, called the ‘living flame’ in the US, has a signifying and signaling character, plays with words and writing, is messaging and visual communication. At times these artworks have an industrial quality. Or they disintegrate, sensually, spiritually, spherically, from all solid forms and become fragments.
Neon Delight will be on display at the Center for International Light Art in Unna, Germany until 16 August 2020. The Museum remains closed until April 19, due to COVID-19.
Featured images: Brigitte Kowanz - Immersion, 2017. Neon, mirror, 80 x 80 x 19 cm. © Brigitte Kowanz, Bildrecht Wien, Foto: Studio Brigitte Kowanz; Jeppe Hein - WHO AM I WHY AM I WHERE AM I GOING, 2017 100 x 100 x 10 cm, powder-coated aluminium, neon tubes, two-way mirror, powder-coated steel, transformers, © KÖNIG GALERIE, Berlin, 303 Gallery, New York, and Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, Foto: Studio Jeppe Hein / Florian Neufeldt