Light art

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Two separate shots side-by-side looking up toward the ceiling in the middle of the Guggenheim Museum in New York during James Turrell's light exhibition Aten Reign.
Robert Irwin Scrim Veil—Black Rectangle—Natural Light, Whitney Museum of American Art

Light art is an applied arts form in which light is the main medium of expression.


Light art can be sculpture, site-specific light installations using the urban and natural environment, relief, suspended, ground-based, temporary or permanent. There are two distinctive types of light art: work exhibited in a gallery indoors and light art exhibited outdoors. Closely associated art forms are projectors, 3-D map projection, multi-media, video art and photography in which light technology projects images (rather than light as the medium).

Light sculptures are an intermedia and time-based art form in which sculpture and object produces light, or the reverse (in the sense that light is manipulated in such a way as to create a kenetic or static sculpture. Its importance is urban renewal or instigating thought about dark places in the urban environment. Light and shadow interplay and exist together,there is a subtlety of using both to manipulate space and thought.

Large Light Festivals and events have helped develop the use of light on large canvases, in Architectural Facades, Building Projections, Flood lighting buildings with colour and Interactivity of media facades. These forms of light art have there antecedence in New media-based, Video artist and Photography which are sometimes classified as light art as light and movement is important to the work. 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.

Light Festivals[edit]

The Sydney Opera House during Vivid Sydney (2013).

[1] Light festivals and the smart city LED revolution was driven by outdoor urban light sculpture with low energy LED luminaires. Light artists were able to collectively created new exhibition spaces in the form of Light art Festivals. Light art festivals have continued to grow Internationally and help to high light ecological change. This LED low energy movement can be dated back to the 2009 by the Vivid Smart Light Festival in Sydney. Light festivals and LEDS have redefined Light art as an art genre.


Site-specific installation by Dan Flavin, 1996, Menil Collection
See also: Minimalism

1960's Minimalism and Op Art. A peak of activity in the 1960s saw artists such as Dan Flavin, François Morellet creating interior sculptures and installations using diverse types of light: neon tubes, diffuse lighting or fluorescence.

In 1966 saw the Californian Light and Space group including James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Bruce Nauman developing Light work using neon.

Modernism, Constructivism and the Bauhaus(1920–1935)[edit]

See also: Modern art and Bauhaus
See also: Constructivism

Light has been used for architectural effect throughout human history. However, the modern concept of light art emerged with the development of artificial electric incandescent light sources and experimentation by modern artists of the Constructivist and Bauhaus movements.[2] "Prounenraum (Proun room) (1923), by El Lissitzky, is considered by many art historians to be the first time an artist incorporated architectural lighting elements as a component integral to his work."[3] The first object-based light sculpture was the Light-Space Modulator (1922-1930), by László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946).[4][5] Experimentation and innovations in theatrical light have often influenced other areas of light use such as light art. The development of Modernism and the electric light go hand-in-hand; the idea of the modern city with high-rises and electric light epitomizes this development.

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, rather than solely as a vehicle for other forms of art. Constructivist Naum Gabo (1890-1977) experimented with the transparent materiality light reflects on an object; his Linear Construction No. 1 (1943) provides an example of this. Marcel Duchamp's (1887-1968) Hat Rack (1916 and 1964), hangs from the ceiling and casts a shadow against the wall.[6]

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 light bulb to the computer monitor, artists have been experimenting with actual light as material and subject."[7]

Lumino Kinetic and Op Art (1950–1970)[edit]

See also: Op art and Kinetic art

Neon art (1980s)[edit]

Main article: Neon art


Detail of a 13th-century window from Chartres Cathedral

Examples of the use of light and art, in which stained glass is used to color transmitted light, go back to the 4th century. This art form is most prominently seen in the elaborate stained glass windows of churches and mosques. The ecclesiastical effect is used in the Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral in France. Other religious use of light include the temples of Abu Simbel and the Pyramids in Egypt, and Mayan and Aztec temples.

In Shadow puppetry, projected shadows of puppets create moving images. A form of shadow puppetry is described as early as 380 BC by Plato in the Allegory of the Cave.

The interior of the Pantheon dome was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens.[8] The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. This architecture was very influential on James Turrell.

Beam in the dome of the Pantheon

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SuperLux: Smart Light Art, Design & Architecture for Cities" published by Thames and Hudson Author Davina Jackson
  2. ^ 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).
  3. ^ "light matters a closer look at the ideas behind their work" author Glen Shum
  4. ^ cgroupid=999999961&artistid=1649&page=1&sole=y&collab=y&attr=y&sort=default&tabview=bio "László Moholy-Nagy, Tate bio" Check |url= scheme (help). 
  5. ^ "Light Art". Kunstlexikon. Hatje Cantz Verlag. February 5, 2005. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  6. ^ "Hat Rack | The Art Institute of Chicago". Retrieved 2015-07-10. 
  7. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. "Waves of Light." ARTnews Mar. 2007: 131-33. ARTnews. Print. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.
  8. ^ Wilson-Jones 2003, The Enigma of the Pantheon: The Interior, pp. 182–184
  • 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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