Light art

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Contemporary light art by Beo Beyond

Light art is a form of visual art where the main medium of expression is light. Light has been used for architectural effect throughout human history. However, the modern concept of light art emerged with the development of artificial light sources and experimentation by modern art.[1] One of the first to use this technique was László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946).[2][3]

Art critic Hilarie M. Sheets explains that "the interplay of dark and light has been a theme running from Greek and Roman sculpture to Renaissance painting to experimental film. But as technology advanced from the glow of the electric lightbulb to the computer monitor, artists have been experimenting with actual light as material and subject."[4]

A peak of activity in the 1960s saw important artists such as Dan Flavin, Bruce Nauman, François Morellet and Bill Culbert creating sculptures and installations using diverse types of light: neon tubes, diffuse lighting or fluorescence. In 1966 the American Light and Space group including James Turrell, Robert Irwin, was coming into prominence.

Contemporary artists have continued exploring the possibilities of the medium until the present day.


Detail of a 13th-century window from Chartres Cathedral
Chul Hyun Ahn, Visual Echo Experiment (2005). Plywood, mirror, lights, 9 parts, 104 x 104 x 5.5 inches

The uses of light and art in which Stained glass can be used to color transmitted light; examples of this go back to the 4th century. This art form is most prominently seen in churches and mosques with elaborate stained glass windows. The ecclesiastical effect is used in Chartres cathedral in France. Other religious uses of light include the temple of Abu Simbel and the Pyramids in Egypt, and Mayan and Aztec temples.

Another use of light in art is in shadow puppetry, where projections of shadows from puppets can be used to create moving images. A form of shadow puppetry is described as early as 380 BC by Plato in the Allegory of the cave.

All visual art uses light in some form, but in modern photography and motion pictures, use of light is especially important. However, with the invention of electrical artificial light, possibilities expanded and many artists began using light as the main form of expression, instead of just as a vehicle for other forms of art. László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), was a member of the Bauhaus who was influenced by Constructivism. Light sculpture and moving sculpture are components of his Light-Space Modulator (1922–30), which is one of the first light art pieces which also incorporates kinetic art.[3] Naum Gabo(1890 – 1977), a constructivist artist, experimented with the transparent materiality which light reflected on the object; an example is his Linear Construction No. 1 (1943). Marcel Duchamp's (1887 – 1968) Hat rack 1917, hanging from the ceiling and casting a shadow against the wall, was recorded in photographs of Duchamp's New York studio. In 1946, Gyula Kosice used neon lighting in art-works.


Light sculptures are an intermedia and time-based art form in which sculpture or any kind of art object produces light, or the reverse (in the sense that light is manipulated in such a way as to create a sculptural as opposed to temporal form or mass). Most often light sculpture artists were primarily either visual artists or designers, not having started out directly making light sculpture. The most well known contemporary light artists[citation needed] include, Chul Hyun Ahn, Olafur Eliasson, Meeli Koiva aka Mery Crystal Ra, Spencer Finch, Dan Flavin (in 1963), James Turrell, Bruce Munro and Leo Villareal. [5] in addition to Gyula Kosice (1946), Lucio Fontana (1949), Martial Raysse (1962), Chryssa (1962), François Morellet (1963), Joseph Kosuth (1965), Bruce Nauman, Piotr Kowalski, Mario Merz, Christian Wloch (1971) or Yann Kersalé.

Also included in the light art genre is the so-called light graffiti including projection onto buildings, arrangement of lighted windows in buildings and painting with hand-held lights onto film using time exposure. A unique project for light art can be found in front of the Osram headquarters in Munich, Germany: Seven LED stelae form as a platform for altering art projects (involving video artists such as Diana Thater and Björn Melhus, film makers such as Harun Farocki or media artists such as Art+Com.[6]].

The Neons Parallax Project[edit]

In Geneva, Switzerland, The Funds for Contemporary Art of the City and Canton of Geneva initiated in 2005 a project of public art. The Neons Parallax envisages the achievement of seven luminous installations, each one conceived by a different artist on the roofs of the buildings located at the edge of the Plaine de Plainpalais . The works will be built at the rate of two original creations per year (2007, 2008, 2009 and three for 2012). The project is subsidised by the city and the township and the buildings are graciously lent by their owners for 10 years.

There are already six installations by Sylvie Fleury (CH), Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (F), Nic Hess (CH), Christian Jankowski (D), Jérôme Leuba (CH) and Sislej Xhafa (AL). Three additional signs, one designed by Ann Veronica Janssens (BE) chosen as a result of a contest by invitation, one by Pierre Bismuth (F) chosen by public contest and the last one by Christian Robert-Tissot (CH) which is a direct order of Pierre Darier from the Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie Private Bank. As well as an exhibition, a symposium on public art and a publication will take place in March 2012. See below in the gallery, the works of Sylvie Fleury (Geneva) et Jérôme Leuba , Christian Jankowski , Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster , Sislej Xhafa (Kosovo) et Nic Hess (Zurich).

Artists in light[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Weibel, Peter; Jensen, Gregor, eds. (2006). Lichkunst aus Kunstlicht: Licht als Medium der Kunst im 20. und 21. Jahrhundert. ISBN 978-3-7757-1774-8.  Catalog for an exhibition "Light Art from Artificial Light: Light as the Medium of Art in the 20th and 21st Centuries" at the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany (November 19, 2005 - May 1, 2006).
  2. ^ cgroupid=999999961&artistid=1649&page=1&sole=y&collab=y&attr=y&sort=default&tabview=bio "László Moholy-Nagy, Tate bio". 
  3. ^ a b "Light Art". Kunstlexikon. Hatje Cantz Verlag. February 5, 2005. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  4. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. "Waves of Light." ARTnews Mar. 2007: 131-33. ARTnews. Print. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.
  5. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. Illuminated Void. Comp. C. Grimaldis Gallery. Baltimore: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 2011. Print
  6. ^ "SEVEN SCREENS". Osram. 
  • Jansen, J. (1991), 'Het Electrisch': van lamplicht tot lichtsculptuur, Museum het Princessehof, ISBN 978-90-71588-10-5 .
  • Tahara, Keiichi (2001), Light, Sculpture, Photography, Editions Assouline, ISBN 978-2-84323-262-6 .
  • JanLeonardo Woellert & Joerg Miedza - Painting With Light: Light Art Performance Photography, Rocky Nook; 1 Edition (April 10, 2011), ISBN 978-1933952741
  • Crisafulli, Fabrizio. 2013. Active Light. Issues of Light in Contemporary Theatre, Dublin: Artdigiland. ISBN 978-1494786922.

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