Light art

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Site-specific installation by Dan Flavin, 1996, Menil Collection
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.
Light art
Robert Irwin Scrim Veil Black Rectangle Natural Light Whitney 2013.jpg
Robert Irwin Scrim Veil—Black Rectangle—Natural Light, Whitney Museum Of American Art

Light art is an applied arts artform art where the main medium of expression is light or the light art has been created by a designer, architect, Architectural lighting designer, product designer or creative industries . It usually exhibited in an outdoor environment. Light ar t can be Light sculpture and site-specific light installations using the urban and natural environment. It can be reliefs, suspended, ground based, temporary or permanent.

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 art and the Constructivists and Bauhaus.[1] "Prounenraum (Proun room) by El Lissitzky 1923 is considered by many art historians to be the first time an artist incorporated architectural lighting elements as a component that is integral to his work"[2] The first object based light sculpture called Light-Space Modulator, 1922-1930 by László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946).[3][4] Experimentation and innovations in theatrical light have often influenced other areas of using light such as Light art. The development of Modernism and the electric light go hand in hand you can not have one with out the other, the idea of the Modern city with High rise and electric light epitomizes this development.

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."[5]

21st Century Smart city LED revolution and light sculpture[edit]

Light festivals[edit]

Light art
Vivid Sydney 2011.jpg

With the outdoor LED low energy revolution, light artists have created new paradigms of exhibition spaces outside the control of commercial art institutions and Art establishments. Light art as an International movement though exhibition spaces at festivals can be dated to the 2009 by the Vivid Smart Light Festival in Sydney and has instigated a global movement for Light Festivals. Light artist working in outdoor urban environments it requires specific skills crossing architecture, industrial design, architectural lighting design and rigging.

Light festivals have created the biggest shift in Light art as a art genre by taking it to site specific out door environments away from the traditions, controllability of space and safety of the of the gallery/museum institutions. Traditional art centers such as Berlin, France and New York have been very slow in responding to this international shift in exhibition space for artists. The three most influential Light Festivals are listed below. They attract large art audiences with 1.4 million attending Vivid 2014.

Light sculpture[edit]

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 sculptural. 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.

Architectural Facades, Projection, Flood lighting, Interactivity, New media-based, Video artist and Photography[edit]

Architectural 3d bit mapping has been popularized by large Light Festivals and events. These genres require content from creative industries, artists and graphic designers.

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.

20th century History light Art[edit]

Neon art (1980's)[edit]

The mid to late 1980s was a period of resurgence in neon production. Sign companies developed a new type of signage called channel lettering, in which individual letters were fashioned from sheet metal.

While the market for neon lighting in outdoor advertising signage has declined since the mid 20th Century, in recent decades neon lighting has been used consciously in art, both in individual objects and integrated into architecture. Frank Popper traces the use of neon lighting as the principal element in artworks to Gyula Košice's late 1940s work in Argentina. Among the later artists whom Popper notes in a brief history of neon lighting in art are Stephen Antonakos, the conceptual artists Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman, Martial Raysse, Chryssa, Piotr Kowalski, and François Morellet[6] in addition to Lucio Fontana, Dan Flavin or Mario Merz.

Several museums in the United States are now devoted to neon lighting and art, including the Museum of Neon Art (founded by neon artist Lili Lakich, Los Angeles, 1981), the Neon Museum (Las Vegas, founded 1996), the American Sign Museum (Cincinnati, founded 1999), and the Neon Museum of Philadelphia (founded by Len Davidson, Philadelphia, 1985).[7] These museums restore and display historical signage that was originally designed as advertising, in addition to presenting exhibits of neon art. Several books of photographs have also been published to draw attention to neon lighting as art.[8][9][10] In 1994, Christian Schiess has published an anthology of photographs and interviews devoted to fifteen "light artists".[11]

Photograph of a sculpture of a trotting horse. The sculpture was made using a series of horizontal bands. Each band is made from a glass tube that glows blue. The bands are stacked to indicate the form of a horse; the separation between the bands has about the same width as the glass tubing. The sculpture is inside a large glass box that has been placed on the plaza between some office buildings.
Zwei Pferde für Münster (Two horses for Münster), neon sculpture by Stephan Huber (2002). The second sculpture in the pair is not visible in this photo.
Six words are spelled out using neon tube lights. Each word is spelled in a different color of light; the words are roughly laid out like six spokes of a wheel. The six words are NEED, HUMAN, HUMAN, DESIRE, HOPE, and DREAM.
Human/Need/Desire. Neon sculpture by Bruce Nauman (1983), who has been characterized as a conceptual artist.[6]
Photograph of a long tunnel illuminated by neon lighting in the ceiling and by glowing, colorful wall panels. The tunnel is about 10 meters (33 feet) wide, and there are four moving walkways in the center of the tunnel. There are several people on each walkway; far down the tunnel there are some staircases leading up.
A subterranean walkway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is illuminated by Michael Hayden's neon installation (The Sky's the Limit, 1987).[12]

List of neon light artists

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

Lumino Kinetic art involves, as the name suggests, light and movement. It is a subset and an art historical term in the context of the more established kinetic art, which in turn is a subset of new media art. The historian of art Frank Popper views the evolution of this type of art as evidence of "aesthetic preoccupations linked with technological advancement" and a starting-point in the context of high-technology art.[13] László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), a member of the Bauhaus, and influenced by constructivism can be regarded as one of the fathers of Lumino kinetic art. Light sculpture and moving sculpture are the components of his Light-Space Modulator (1922–30), One of the first Light art pieces which also combines kinetic art.[14][15]

List of Lumino Kinetic and Op Art artists

Minimalism and Op Art[edit]

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, Bauhaus, and Applied Arts (1920–1935)[edit]

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.[4] 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.

Pre 20th century[edit]

Detail of a 13th-century window from Chartres Cathedral
Beam in the dome of the Pantheon

The uses of light and art in which Stained glass can be used to colour 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.

The interior of the Pantheon dome was possibly intended to symbolise the arched vault of the heavens.[16] The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. This architecture was very influential on James Turrell.

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.

Light artists[edit]

Distinguished light artists[citation needed] include

Light Show curated by Hayward Gallery (London UK)[edit]

European artists

American artists

Artists working in light and New Media, Photography and Projections[edit]




Theatrical lighting[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. ^ "light matters a closer look at the ideas behind their work" author Glen Shum
  3. ^ cgroupid=999999961&artistid=1649&page=1&sole=y&collab=y&attr=y&sort=default&tabview=bio "László Moholy-Nagy, Tate bio". 
  4. ^ a b "Light Art". Kunstlexikon. Hatje Cantz Verlag. February 5, 2005. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  5. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. "Waves of Light." ARTnews Mar. 2007: 131-33. ARTnews. Print. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.
  6. ^ a b Frank Popper (2007). "The Collection: Neon". Grove Dictionary of Art. Museum of Modern Art website. 
  7. ^ "Davidson Neon and Neon Museum of Philadelphia". 
  8. ^ Cite error: The named reference Stern was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ Davidson, Len (July 1999). Vintage Neon. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7643-0857-4. 
  10. ^ Sprengnagel, Dusty (1999). Neon World. ST Publications. ISBN 0-944094-26-0.  A collection of photographs of neon signs from cities around the world, most unannotated.
  11. ^ Schiess, Christian (1994). The Light Artist Anthology: Neon and Related Media. ST Media Group International. ISBN 978-0-944094-00-6.  Schiess' anthology includes Stephen Antonakos, Valerij Bugrov, Chris Freeman, Peter Freeman, Michael Hayden, Craig Kraft, Dante Leonelli, Cork Marcheschi, Bill Parker, Alejandro & Moira Siña (Sinha), Keith Sonnier, and Willem Volkersz.
  12. ^ Stern, Rudi (1990). Contemporary Neon. Retail Reporting Corp. ISBN 978-0-934590-37-2. California artist Michael Hayden was selected to design a lighting sculpture synchronized with music and orchestrated with architecture. Hayden's solution, Sky's the Limit, uses 466 neon tubes and extends 744 feet. 
  13. ^ Popper (1993)
  14. ^ Tate bio Retrieved January 17, 2011
  15. ^ [1] Retrieved January 17, 2011
  16. ^ Wilson-Jones 2003, The Enigma of the Pantheon: The Interior, pp. 182–184
  17. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. Illuminated Void. Comp. C. Grimaldis Gallery. Baltimore: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 2011. Print
  • 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.

External links[edit]