Mel and Dorothy Tanner

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Dorothy Tanner
Dorothy Tanner looking at the light sculpture, Logo, by Dorothy and Mel Tanner.jpg
Born(1923-01-30)January 30, 1923
DiedJuly 23, 2020(2020-07-23) (aged 97)
Aurora, Colorado
OccupationLight Artist/Installation Artist
Known forLumonics Installations
Mel Tanner
Mel Tanner (1973).jpg
Born(1925-09-26)September 26, 1925
DiedOctober 21, 1993(1993-10-21) (aged 68)
OccupationLight Artist/Installation Artist
Known forLumonics Installations
MelTanner Signature.jpg

Dorothy Tanner (January 30, 1923 - July 23, 2020) was an American light sculptor, installation artist, musician, videographer, and spoken word artist based in Denver, Colorado. Her husband, Mel Tanner (September 26, 1925 - October 21, 1993), was an American light sculptor, painter, installation artist, and videographer. The couple worked very closely for over 40 years. Their main project was the creation of Lumonics[1] that consists of their light sculptures, live projection, video, electronics, and music as a total art installation. Author and art historian, Michael Betancourt, described this conceptual art as a Gesamtkunstwerk in his book, The Lumonics Theater: The Art of Mel & Dorothy Tanner, published in 2004.[2]


Dorothy Tanner studied woodcarving with Chaim Gross at the Educational Alliance, sculpture with Aaron Goodleman at the Jefferson School of Social Science, life drawing with Gabor Peterdi and sculpture with Milton Hebald at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. She met Mel Tanner while they were both students at the Brooklyn Museum School, and married in 1951.

Mel Tanner was a World War II veteran and attended art school under the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill. He first attended Pratt Institute and then the Brooklyn Museum School, studying painting with instructors including Max Beckmann, John Ferren, and Reuben Tam. When Dorothy first visited Mel Tanner's basement studio in Brooklyn in 1950, he painted in a pointillist style, using a palette knife rather than a brush, and mixing paint with beeswax to give the paintings texture and dimensionality. He later painted on raw canvas, creating big loose shapes in the action painting style.

Career in art (1951-1969)[edit]

The Tanners moved to Syracuse, New York in 1951 and founded the Syracuse Art Workshop where Dorothy taught sculpture and Mel taught painting.[3] They taught art to children in a summer program at Syracuse University. The residence in Syracuse had a carriage house in the rear where Dorothy set up her studio, working with materials including wood, clay, plaster, and polyester, and the high ceilings enabled her to build large metal sculptures. She exhibited her new metal sculptures in a solo show at the Key Gallery in New York City in 1962, and Mel Tanner exhibited his new paintings which combined calligraphy and geometric shapes at Key that same year. Their exhibitions stimulated them to return to Manhattan. Decades later, Ms.Tanner reflected on her view of the New York art of the early 1960s:

"The art scene in New York was in turmoil. Abstract expressionism was in the late days of its heyday. Op and pop art were coming up strong, and minimalism was just around the corner."[4]

In 1963, the Tanners returned to New York City, where they founded Granite Gallery, an artist cooperative. They formed the Granite Art Association, which organized seminars, forums, and exhibitions, including The New Face in Art Forum and Exhibition in 1964 which took place at the Loeb Student Center at New York University.[5] Participants included artists Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms, Norman Carton, and art critic Gordon Brown.[6] The Tanners co-curated The New Face in Art Exhibition and showed their work with artists that included Louis Schanker, Murray Hantman, and Leo Quanchi. In 1965, they closed the Gallery and traveled extensively in Europe.

The Tanners returned to the U.S. in 1966, and on their way to San Francisco, they stopped in Miami to visit family members. Weary of traveling, they opened an art studio that they named Grove Studio, where they began to create their first lighted geometric shapes. This was the same time period as the Light and Space movement in Los Angeles that included Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, and James Turrell, who were also experimenting with light as an art form. The Light and Space movement had affiliation with art schools and industry, whereas the Tanners were very isolated from the art world in Miami at that time. Yet it provided them with freedom to develop their art form.

Their new medium became acrylic, an industrial material that they first began to use in sculptures when living in New York and that were commissioned by corporations including Air Products and Chemicals Inc., Raytheon Corporation, and General Electric in 1963 and 1964.

Intrigued by acrylic's light transmitting qualities and color, the Tanners made cubes and pedestals that were internally lighted at their studio in Miami.[7] Their first exhibition of the new work was at Hi-Fi Associates[8] in Miami in the spring of 1969 when high-end stereo components were being introduced to the public. The announcement referred to it as a "new direction in sound, new directions in environment, and a new direction in art."[9]

Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery, Denver, Colorado

Lumonics (1969-present)[edit]

The light sculptures became their main focus and collaboration. In 1969, they converted the studio into a theater, and acquired the technology (a color organ) that made it possible to synchronize the light sculptures with music. Slide projectors using their hand-painted slides, overhead projectors, strobe lights, and the color organ were their new artistic toolbox. Blow-up furniture, water beds, mylar (a reflective material) on the walls, and the light sculptures created a powerful setting. Lumia art was part of the projection as well as an element in several of the light sculptures. The three main elements of lumia, defined by light art pioneer, Thomas Wilfred (1889–1968), are "form, color, and motion in a dark space." The Tanners were not familiar with the Wilfred art work, yet began their lumia art in the time period when Wilfred died in 1968. Originally called Afterimage, the name Lumonics was originated by Dave Robbins in his review, 'Lumonics' A Completely New Art Form in the September 18, 1970 edition of the University of Miami student newspaper, The Hurricane.[10] This was the beginning of the Lumonics Light and Sound Theatre, chronicled in the Michael Betancourt book.[11] The Tanners and a team of helpers presented Lumonics in Miami (1969-1979),[12][13][14][15][16][17][18] San Diego, California (1980-81),[19] Bangor, Maine (1981-82),[20][21][22] and Fort Lauderdale, FL (1988-2009).[23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] From 1986 to 1987,The Tanners mounted an exhibition at the Patricia Judith Gallery in Boca Raton, Florida, their first exhibition of their light sculptures outside of the Lumonics Theatre. A new wing at the Gallery was added to house their art works.[31][32][33][34][35]

After Mel Tanner died in October, 1993, Dorothy collaborated with long-time team member Marc Billard on her light sculptures, video, and music to further the Lumonics expression.[36][37][38][39] Tanner curated the exhibit, "The Art of Lumonics", at the Coral Springs Museum of Art, Coral Springs, Florida from March 4th to May 14, 2005 that featured both her work and that of her late husband, and the Tanner/Billard video art and music.[40] Michael Mills, the art writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, wrote in the Museum introduction, "The exhibition is something of a departure for Lumonics in that it takes the art out of the gallery/studio/theater context and into a museum environment."[41]

Enigma (2014) by Dorothy Tanner, Lumonics Mind Spa, 2018, McNichols Civic Center Building, Denver, CO

The team relocated to Denver in 2009 and operates Tanner Studio/Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery.[42][43][44][45] Ms. Tanner has had several art exhibits in Denver, including VERTIGO Art Space, the Museum of Outdoor Arts, the Gallery at the Denver International Airport (2014) [46][47][48] and the Lakewood Cultural Center (2015). While her Creatures from Left Field [49][50] exhibit was taking place at Lakewood, Tanner was one of three senior citizens, aged 82-102 and still active in the arts, interviewed by Ryan Warner on Colorado Matters, Colorado Public Radio. The title of the program was Staying Vital As Time Marches On: Art Can Hold The Key.[51]

The Museum of Outdoor Arts presented Lumonics Then & Now: A Retrospective of Light-Based Sculpture by Dorothy & Mel Tanner [52][53][54][55] from January 13 to March 24 in 2017, and published a book about the exhibit [56] and produced a documentary.[57] On February 10, 2017, artist and art critic, Todd Siler, discussed the exhibit at the Denver Art Museum at the Exploring the Denver Art Scene Forum,[58] and wrote a review for the Museum of Outdoor Arts web site, Luminous Art inspiring Our Hearts-n-Minds To Dream With Wonder: Experiencing the Art of Mel and Dorothy Tanner. Mr. Siler wrote that the Tanners and their art form brought to mind other "innovative artists exploring new media and aesthetic experiences" including James Turrell, Otto Peine, and Gyorgy Kepes. [59]

Dorothy Tanner was invited by Denver Arts & Venues to create a site-specific art installation at the landmark McNichols Building in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver, beginning January 13, 2018. The exhibit, the Lumonics Mind Spa, was open at no charge to the public seven days a week through July 18, 2018. Dorothy Tanner and her studio continue as a Cultural Partner.[60][61][1][62] In August, 2018, Dorothy Tanner was nominated for the Arts & Culture Impact Award, presented to an individual or an organization that has made a significant and lasting impact on arts and culture in the City and County of Denver.[63] On Nov. 15, 2018, she received the Excellent in Arts & Culture Innovation Award from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock for "breaking new ground in the arts and whose contribution to innovation in the arts has been significant in 2018." [64][65][66][67]

The Lumonics School of Light Art[68] [69] was founded by Dorothy Tanner in Denver in October, 2018, and is co-directed by Dorothy Tanner and Marc Billard. The Lumonics School of Light Art is now part of 7 Healing Stars, a collective of artists, holistic healers, professionals, organizations, spiritual and community leaders creating an ever-evolving platform of self-discovery and empowerment at the individual and collective level, focusing on: Nutrition, Sustainability, Education & Research, Health & Wellness, Arts & Culture, Spirituality, and Community. The Lumonics School of Light Art touches on several of these aspects. 7 Healing Stars and the Lumonics School of Light Art opened a Gallery at 460 Gregory Street in Black Hawk from September, 2019 to Feb., 2020. Fundraising events through sales and donations went toward support of the School and 7 Healing Stars and a scholarship program to be enacted.

Thornton Arts & Culture Center commissioned Dorothy Tanner and associate Marc Billard for an installation, entitled, Lumonics Mind Spa: Thornton. It featured the light art of Dorothy and Mel Tanner, and video art and music by Marc Billard and Dorothy Tanner, and is intended for people to use for meditation and contemplation. The exhibit opened June 2, 2020 and ended Sept 26, 2020. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a maximum of ten people were allowed to enter at one time, and safety protocols will be enforced. It is "just the thing for folks who’ve been trapped in their houses for weeks." [70]

Dorothy Tanner died July 23, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.[71] [72]

The light art of Dorothy and Mel Tanner will be seen at the opening exhibit of Meow Wolf Denver‘s Convergence Street Gallery, planned for the fall of 2021.

The first commission awarded to Tanner Studio since the passing of Dorothy Tanner is for the Lumonics Mind Spa: Light Intersection. The exhibition takes place at the Understudy Gallery in the Denver Theatre District, and is funded by the District. The light art will be seen from several windows of the Gallery at the intersection of Stout and 14th Street, with each angle of gazing providing another perspective. Understudy Gallery is adjacent to the Convention Center RTD stop and viewable to all from the train. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is a “fishbowl” style installation you can view anytime from the outside only, but it is best experienced after dark. The exhibition will be  part of the Downtown Festival of Lights during the 2020 holiday season.

Transworld (1991) by Mel Tanner, Then and Now Tanner Retrospective, 2017, Museum of Outdoor Arts, Englewood, CO
Yess + Love = Bliss (2017) by Dorothy Tanner, Lumonics Mind Spa, 2018, McNichols Civic Center Building, Denver, CO
Directional by Mel Tanner (1987), Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery, Denver, CO

Select exhibitions and installations[edit]

  • Understudy Gallery, Lumonics Mind Spa: Light Intersection, Denver, CO Nov. 27, 2020-Jan 30, 2021
  • Thornton Arts & Culture Center, Lumonics Mind Spa: Thornton, Thornton, CO June 2, 2020-Sept. 26, 2020
  • The Storefront, Denver, CO, From the Beginning - A Lumonics Light Art Installation, Nov. through Dec. 2019, includes early light art by the Tanners and art works from students created at the Lumonics School of Light Art
  • Gilpin Arts, Central City, CO, Sept. 2019 - June 2020
  • Light sculpture installation on Eureka Street in Central City, CO commissioned by the Gilpin County Arts Association, June- August, 2019
  • Museum of Outdoor Arts - Paintings Sculptures & Snapshots: 37 Years of Acquisitions From the MOA Collection (group show), Englewood, CO, May 8- August 3, 2018
  • McNichols Civic Center Building - Lumonics Mind Spa, Denver, CO, Jan. 13 - July 15, 2018
  • Museum of Outdoor Arts - Then and Now: A Retrospective of Light-Based Sculpture by Dorothy and Mel Tanner, Englewood, CO, 2017
  • Museum of Outdoor Arts - Reinventing the Image (group show), Englewood, CO 2016
  • Lakewood Cultural Center - Creatures From Left Field - Lakewood, CO, 2015
  • Art Gallery at Denver International Airport, A Light Journey, Denver, CO, 2014
  • Museum of Outdoor Arts, Light Supply (group show), Englewood, CO, 2012
  • Gallery 910, Best of Santa Fe Art District Show (group show) Denver, CO, 2010- 2011
  • VERTIGO Art Space, The Light Fantastic, Denver, CO, 2010
  • Union Station Fund Raising Event, Denver, CO, 2009
  • 18th Annual Loveland Sculpture Invitational, Loveland, CO, 2009
  • Edge Zones Art Center, Wynwood Art District, Miami FL, 2007- 2008[73][74]
  • Coral Springs Museum of Art ,The Art of Lumonics, Coral Springs, FL, 2006
  • Museum of New Arts, Fort Lauderdale (group show), Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1989
  • Patricia Judith Gallery, Boca Raton, Florida, 1986
  • Hi-Fi Associates, Miami, Florida, 1969
  • Loeb Center at New York University, The New Face in Art (group show), New York, NY, 1964[75]
  • Key Gallery, D. Tanner, New Sculpture, New York, NY, 1962
  • Key Gallery, Mel Tanner, New York, NY, 1962

Special projects[edit]

  • Lumonics Gallery, Black Hawk, CO, Sept. 2019 - Feb, 2020
  • Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery, Denver, CO, 2009–present
  • Lumonics Mind Spa at The Scarlet, Central City, CO, 2016–17
  • Lumonics Light and Sound Theatre, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 1987-2009
  • Lumonics Performing Art Gallery, Bangor, ME,1980–81
  • Lumonics, San Diego, California, 1979–80
  • Lumonics Light and Sound Theatre, Miami, Florida, 1969–79

Additional projects[edit]

  • Zikr Dance Ensemble - Lady of the Lake - 2015[76]
  • WGBH-TV - Sets for Frontline and Nova - Boston, MA - 1983
  • WBZ-TV - World map - Boston, MA - 1983

Select commissions[edit]

Public television and radio interviews[edit]


Mayor's Award, City and County of Denver[edit]

Lumonics School of Light Art[edit]


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  3. ^ Keegan, Alice F. (27 August 1961). "Blow Torch her 'Brush'". The Post-Standard.
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External links[edit]