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Spencer Finch, Sunset (South Texas, 6/21/03), 2003 (detail)

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Light as a Medium
August 23 - September 5, 2006

Ever since Turrell built a frame around the sky and Flavin found transcendence in fluorescent tubes, contemporary artists have been seeing the communicative power of light. With new technology reinventing the field, results range from glowing abstractions to neon profanity. In this issue, Leo Villareal updates the bright lights of Vegas with blinking LED displays, and Cai Guo-Qiang explodes circles of fire over Manhattan. We interview Virginia Museum of Fine Arts curator John Ravenal about his upcoming Artificial Light exhibit, and learn about the evolution of the medium from its lo-fi modernist origins. And while the Burning Man festival ignites the Nevada desert, we pick not-to-miss summer shows that are closing soon, from David Hockney's portraits in LA to Daniel Richter's cryptic tableaux in Basel.

  For the first time, see Edward Hopper's most important paintings paired with their preparatory drawings — only at the Whitney. Ranging from his early years in Paris to his later iconic works, this full-floor presentation draws from both the Whitney's extensive holdings and collections across the country. Don't miss this unprecedented look at a legendary American artist.

Artists, Museums Turn to Billboards
(Guardian, August 12)
It's a surefire way to get your art seen: put it on a billboard. For 25 years, New Jersey guerrilla artist Ron English has been reimagining corporate advertising toward his own satiric ends. He has hijacked enormous displays of McDonald's, Apple (he placed the company's "think different" slogan over an image of Charles Manson), and Camel cigarettes. Having started the practice in Texas in the '80s, English is now the subject of a documentary by Pedro Carvajal, POPaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English. Perhaps taking a page (or sign) from English's book, the Getty Museum has begun placing "edgy" images and slogans on billboards around Los Angeles in an effort to convince art lovers that the institution is a vibrant, exciting entity.

Met Opera Preps New Gallery
(OperaOnline, August 16)
The Chagalls gracing the halls of New York's Lincoln Center will soon be in good company: on September 22, the Metropolitan Opera will open the doors of its new gallery, featuring works by a bevy of acclaimed artists, including William Kentridge, Richard Prince, John Currin, Barnaby Furnas, Sophie von Hellermann, Makiko Kudo, David Salle, Cecily Brown, Verne Dawson, George Condo, and Wangechi Mutu. Named Gallery Met, the 1,500-square-foot space formerly housed an underutilized box office. Vogue editor-at-large Dodie Kazanjian, who is curating the gallery's inaugural show, asked artists to contribute their interpretations of heroines from the Met's six upcoming productions for the new season.

Iconic Architecture Doesn't Come Easy
(Slate, August 9)
In a slide-show essay, architecture critic Witold Rybczynski examines what makes — or fails to make — an iconic building. With reference to Charles Jencks' The Iconic Building, Rybczynski points to structures that hold multiple or enigmatic meanings as ones that open the doors to favorable interpretation, citing Jørn Utzon's opera house in Sydney. Too-literal constructions, like Edward Durell Stone's Kennedy Center, on the other hand, seem overly focused in their intentions. The author betrays some subjectivity, especially when evaluating the Hong Kong skyline. While disparaging I.M. Pei's Bank of China, he exults the Foster Associates' nearby Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters as the city's "masterpiece."

LA Art an Inadvertent Smash at Pompidou
(Los Angeles Times, August 3)
A recent show of Los Angeles art at the Pompidou Center in Paris resulted in the destruction of two artworks and damage to a third. The exhibition, Los Angeles 1955-1985, featured 300 works by more than 80 artists, and was to have included Craig Kauffman's 1967 lacquered Plexiglas Untitled Wall Relief and an untitled 1971 resin piece by Peter Alexander. Alexander's work fell and shattered a few days before the show's opening, while Kauffman's did the same merely days before the closing. In March, a Robert Irwin painting was damaged while being installed at the museum. A related article traces the Pompidou's spotty record of harming borrowed artworks.

Rome makes room for contemporary art more »

Low funding postpones TRANS CAPE for six months more »

Master of underground manga comes to US more »

Denver curator brings art to Denver despite a nonexistent budget more »

American collector turns London home into an art-world hub more »

MASS MoCA offers retrospective of major Chinese avant-gardist more »

Objections halt plans for Foster's first religious building more »

Waiting list for Belgian artist's "turds" more »

Korean artist uses old paper to make new pieces more »

New developer steps in for US's tallest building more »

Questions surrounding Pollocks lead to a canceled show more »

Mexican neo-expressionist painter Julio Galán dies at 46 more »

Note: Some online publications require registration to access the articles. If you encounter a registration screen, try akreader1 as the username and password.

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[ Light Works ]


Rafael Lozano-Hemmer / Angela Bulloch / Jason Rhoades / Olafur Eliasson

Light is a scientific phenomenon, a metaphor, a state of being, and an encompassing entity without shape. In other words, it is the ideal art medium. It allows for endless play, and benefits from nearly universal familiarity.

Beginning in the '60s and '70s, light art emerged as a genre of its own. James Turrell's Skyspace projects, started in the '70s, and his current feat, Roden Crater, manipulate viewers' perceptions of natural light, providing spaces in which to ponder framed heavenly expanses. In contrast, Dan Flavin's minimalist sculptures, begun in the mid-'60s, pointedly use industrially produced fluorescent light tubes. Bruce Nauman, along with contemporaries Keith Sonnier and Joseph Kosuth, has often favored neon, using its sleaze value to highlight irreconcilable yet inseparable moral oppositions, as in Vices and Virtues. And Jenny Holzer's Truisms such as MONEY CREATES TASTE form a related textual critique with generic LED displays.

Evoking life's ephemerality, Felix Gonzalez-Torres strung lightbulbs into delicate curtains, piles, and sprawls in the years before his death. The medium's connection to darkness and mortality is explored by Alfredo Jaar, whose The Eyes of Gutete Emerita documents the eyes of a woman who has witnessed her family's murder, illuminated with simple lightboxes. Pulsating LEDs celebrate existential flux in Tatsuo Miyajima's interactive installations; newer to the scene, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's surveillance-inspired fluorescents also power a changing "light-space."

There are those who think cosmologically, going directly to the source. Olafur Eliasson twists Turrell, bringing both real and fake suns into gallery spaces — The Weather Project featured a virtual fiery globe in all its phases. Rather than envisioning or tracking the sun, Erika Blumenfeld records the effects of its rays on photographic paper, which proves to be an exercise in abstraction. Trained in science, Carsten Höller examines light's properties, a study that extends to the intangible retinal afterimages produced by sculptures like his blinding Light Corner.

Convoluting the quotidian, Iván Navarro's fluorescents depart from Flavin's, arranging themselves into a shopping cart or a chair, and Cerith Wyn Evans' neon works evolve into word games. The recently deceased enfant terrible Jason Rhoades used neon to create a catalogue of slang expressions for female genitalia. Tim Noble and Sue Webster's messages are either more or less subtle; Forever and $ flash wildly, flaunting an ironic instability.

At night, Siegrun Appelt acts cinematographically, bathing buildings in an ambient glow, while Leo Villareal turns their facades into digitized constellations. Inside, Martin Creed flips the switch on and off. (SK)

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Tabaimo: Yoroyoron Tabaimo

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
Now through August 27

  Tabaimo reinvents traditional ukiyo-e aesthetics to create lyrical, horror-inflected animations satirizing contemporary social ills. Among new works on display here, public conVENience is an encompassing three-channel installation set in a public bathroom haunted by desultory characters — a half-naked schoolgirl, a young dandy. Technology and nature collide in this uncanny twilight zone, where a turtle resides in a squat toilet and fluttering moths have camera shutters for eyes. A monochrome animation projected on the floor, midnight sea features a ghostly apparition winding through internal organs, only to be engulfed by tidal waves, while the frenetic guignorama, projected outdoors, is a bilious tie-dye motion study of wringing hands. Also included is Tabaimo's 1999 debut work, Japanese Kitchen. (AM)

David Hockney: David Hockney Portraits
Los Angeles

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Now through September 4

  Throughout his career, David Hockney has used portraiture to examine personal connections with lovers, family, and friends ranging from his own mother to art luminaries, including Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol. This massive retrospective presents a half-century's worth of portraits and studies in a dizzying array of media. In the large-scale canvas Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool, a former lover emerges nude from shimmering blue water, personifying Hockney's free-spirited and seductive California lifestyle. In Self-Portrait with Charlie, Hockney himself appears standing before his easel, staring out at viewers while his sitter waits in the background. Ultimately, this playful concatenation of subject, self, and would-be subjects eloquently underscores the portrait as a reflection of Hockney's specific reality. (CG)

The Eames Lounge Chair: An Icon of Modern Design
New York

Museum of Arts & Design
Now through September 3

  Celebrating the 50th anniversary of a design classic, this intimate exhibition examines the development and promotion of the Eames lounge chair. Arguably the most stylish and comfortable chair ever produced, it was designed by the husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames and first produced by Herman Miller in 1956. The highlight of the show is a dynamic, exploding display that breaks down the famous chair and matching ottoman into their components. Examples of the couple's early experimentation with molded plywood are also on view, including chairs that Charles Eames made with Eero Saarinen and an abstract sculpture by Ray Eames. Sketches, documentary films, advertising and promotional ephemera, and a comprehensive catalogue complete the exhibition — and there's even a chair for visitors to sample. (PL)

Albert Oehlen: I Will Always Champion Good Painting

Now through September 3

  Whitechapel's latest exhibition could easily pass for a group show, given the diverse and eclectic nature of Albert Oehlen's paintings. Dreamlike sequences in oil and acrylic on canvas, such as the psychedelic Scaffolding, abut monochrome collages incorporating paper to surreal effect, as in Woman in Tree II, which shows a dismembered head floating between branches. Elsewhere, Chucky grafts the face of the murderous doll star of cult '80s horror flick Child's Play onto a contorted adult body. Oehlen's construction is deliberately naive, revealing every stage of his process and adding texture to these already multifaceted pieces. Conveying both irreverence and gravitas, they make for a dark but strangely enjoyable experience. (LD)

The second leg of the exhibition, which focuses on Oehlen's computer-generated works, is on view at Bristol's Arnolfini beginning September 30.

Daniel Richter

Museum für Gegenwartskunst
Now through September 24

  In 2000, German painter Daniel Richter relinquished abstraction in favor of grand tableaux of ghostlike figures in ruined landscapes. This survey features 12 of these large-scale paintings alongside new works. References to World War II and Germany's subsequent division surface occasionally, but most scenes are mysteriously symbolic — a giant floats down a dark river or a monkey-man glares at viewers from his wheelchair. Influenced by abstract expressionism, Richter dissolves fragile bodies into dripping planes of color, while his proximity to East German painting inspires stylized architectural backgrounds. The new painting Captain Jack epitomizes this contrast: a bloodred officer terrorizes a crowd of skeletons against a backdrop of dramatic floodlights shining from crisply rendered barracks. (BR)

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[ Leo Villareal ]

Leo Villareal

The climax of the Burning Man festival — a tower blazing against the dark desert sky — inspired Leo Villareal to use light in his art. Villareal's video installations and light sculptures explore the power of a spellbinding light source. Having studied interactive television and virtual reality at New York University, the artist creates work that also layers the concept of hypnotic light with digital technology.

Villareal mixes LED light art with software to create geometric light installations. Bulbox 3.0, a large cube of white LED lights arranged in a grid, and Solaris, a hanging sculpture of colored LED lights arranged in concentric circles, are attached to circuit boards that pulsate the lights in complex mathematical sequences. His installations in galleries and at art fairs often incorporate seating to allow viewers to get lost in the lightscapes. He has also staged large outdoor pieces that transform their urban surroundings, such as Star, an 18-foot radiating light sculpture, and Supercluster, encompassing a wall outside the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City. Villareal's earlier work used technology to echo forms found in nature. In the video projection Megaparticle, he constructs a realm where thousands of glowing particles — which could be interpreted as stars, tadpoles, or snow — zoom across a dark, shapeless world. The pulsing rhythm of Bulbox 2.0, a light sculpture, evokes breathing or heartbeats.

In his recent installations Chasing Rainbows and Column 6, tubes containing thousands of LED lights form patterns of lines. Their shifting color bands suggest what might happen if a Rothko painting drank an electric Kool-Aid acid test. In short, Villareal's work creates a visual language whose abstract yet familiar quality hypnotizes the viewer. (SH)

Villareal is represented by Sandra Gering Gallery in New York, Galeria Javier López in Madrid, and Conner Contemporary Art in Washington, DC, where he will be having a solo show from November 3 through December 16.

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[ John Ravenal ]


Ceal Floyer / Douglas Ross / Nathaniel Rackowe / Ivan Navarro

Paul Laster interviews John Ravenal, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, about Artificial Light, an exhibition exploring the medium and theme of light.
AK: Light plays a key role in the making of photography and film. Early modernist artists such as Man Ray, Christian Schad, and László Moholy-Nagy used light to construct photograms, or camera-less photographs. Who are some of the earliest artists working with light as a medium in its own right?

JR: Light, both natural and artificial, has fascinated artists from the beginning. Think of its reflection off gilded backgrounds, its play on sculpted surfaces, and its depiction in oil painting. Its meaning has ranged from divine revelation to technological discovery. In the early 20th century, following the widespread availability of electric light, artists began using actual light as a medium. These early works consisted of dramatic presentations of changing colored light. They were inspired by 18th- and 19th-century spectacles projecting illuminated color and by 19th-century advancements in artificial theater lighting. One of the pioneers was Thomas Wilfred, a Danish American who in the '20s designed an organ, the clavilux, which played colored lights. Moholy-Nagy also designed a kinetic light sculpture in the '20s, Light Space Modulator, which sent reflections around the room cast by projected light on its shiny rotating surfaces.

A lot of this early light-based art took a painterly approach to light and shared a utopian perspective, growing out of constructivism and the Bauhaus, that celebrated new technologies and their impact on perception. One should also look at early avant-garde film for interesting abstract treatments of light. A fascinating artificial-light piece from the '60s is Yves Klein's Fire Wall, with 100 gas jets spewing International Klein Blue flames.

AK: A number of artists related to the Zero Group, which was active in Europe in the late '50s, the '60s, and the early '70s, directly engaged luminosity in their work. Do their experimental sculptures and projects still have an impact on contemporary art? Why are their light works so rarely exhibited?

JR: Zero Group artists did often use inventive materials and methods, including light and motion. The group was founded in mid-'50s Germany by Otto Piene, Heinz Mack, and Günther Uecker. Soon, they teamed up with other European artists: Arman, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Antoni Tàpies, and Arnulf Rainer. Their work reflected a postwar desire to start over, from "zero," rejecting figurative and expressionist styles that seemed loaded with historical baggage. Their minimalist aesthetic paralleled developments in the US and helped pave the way for kinetic art and op art. Other European groups — Gruppo T, Gruppo N, GRAV — also explored environments of moving light patterns in space.

Their impact on American art played out in various forms; for example, Otto Piene headed the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T. But in this country, the hallowed status of key minimalist and postminimalist artists — Judd, Flavin, Martin, Nauman, Serra — overshadows this European collective's history. Perhaps the noncommercial nature of some of the Europeans' experimental work has also inhibited serious art-world support for exhibition and re-evaluation.

AK: In the '60s and '70s, several artists living in the US, including Dan Flavin, Keith Sonnier, Anthony McCall, James Turrell, and Joseph Kosuth, began using light as a medium of expression. Have their works had a direct influence on any of the artists in your show?

keep reading the interview »

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  Light Cycle: Explosion Project for Central Park
Cai Guo-Qiang, Gary Garrels, Peter Eleey, and Melissa Chiu
Asia Society/Creative Time

Cai Guo-Qiang's Light Cycle project in Central Park was one of the most anticipated events of New York's 2003 fall season. Thousands of people gathered in and around the park to watch the computerized explosion of light in the darkening skies. The first stage was five massive towers of fire, exploding from south to north. The second part was the Light Cycle, consisting of three brief horizontal circles of fire, each 350 feet in diameter, followed by a gigantic vertical one, 1,000 feet in diameter, over the reservoir. For the finale, hundreds of signal flares turned the sky a dazzling white. Within five minutes, the whole event was a memory. But thanks to this book — and other documentation — the project remains somewhat more tangible. Handsomely produced in accordion style, the book unfolds in two directions: one side reproduces a series of the artist's gunpowder drawings that were exhibited at the Asia Society in New York; the other side documents the fiery installation, which was produced by Creative Time, and provides essays and interviews that reveal the symbolic nature of the project. (PL)

The artist's new, explosive black clouds can be seen over Central Park through October 29 as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument. He also has a solo show at the National Gallery of Canada in Shawinigan through October 1, as well as one at Berlin's Deutsche Guggenheim from August 28 to October 15.

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Cover Art
Spencer Finch
Sunset (South Texas, 6/21/03), 2003
Fluorescent lights and filters
16 x 40 ft./4.9 x 12.2 m
Courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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