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Light show

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


16 Apr 2015 to 05 Jul 2015


David Batchelor, Jim Campbell, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Bill Culbert, Dan Flavin, Ceal Floyer, Jenny Holzer, Ann Veronica Janssens, Brigitte Kowanz, Anthony McCall, François Morellet, Iván Navarro, Katie Paterson, Conrad Shawcross, James Turrell, Leo Villareal, Cerith Wyn Evans


Cliff Lauson, Hayward Gallery, London.

about the exhibition

Throughout history, artists have been fascinated by light and its nature, behaviour and peculiarities. But it is only in the last hundred years that actual light has become a medium for art. In the first half of the twentieth century, with the development of technology and increasing questioning of traditional art forms, artists began to experiment with the visual and sensory effects of artificial light. Often taking their cues from the theatre, these pioneering works included dynamic light displays which directly involved the viewer.

Light Show took up the story in the early 1960s. At that time, when new alliances were being forged within art, science, technology and industry, artists on both sides of the Atlantic were investigating light and its power to transform space, and to influence and alter perception. In America, Dan Flavin began creating ‘electric light art’ using off-the-shelf fluorescent tubes. In France, as François Morellet recalled, avant-garde artists ‘were passionate about modern materials that hadn’t yet been 'polluted’ by traditional art. Neon tubes struck me as an ideal material because I thought then that they had never been used in art.’ Also in France, in the mid-1960s, Carlos Cruz-Diez embarked on his series of Chromosaturation installations, creating optical environments that were animated by the spectator’s body. At the end of the 1960s, in England, Bill Culbert began making time-based installations composed of ‘walls’ or ‘carpets’ of light bulbs activated by phased electrical switching. Meanwhile, in California, artists including James Turrell were devising immersive environments that emphasised the sensory aspects of light and appeared to make that immaterial substance tangible.

Since then, as our ability to produce and manipulate light has continued to evolve, contemporary artists have been quick to embrace new technologies, while using old forms of light in ever-inventive ways. In Light Show, recent works composed of state-of-the-art computer-controlled LEDs (light-emitting diodes) were shown in the company of sculptures constructed from recycled lightboxes rescued from city streets, and works using the most modest means – a single theatrical spotlight for example – featured alongside highly complex installations.

Light Show explored how we experience and psychologically respond to illumination and colour, and also encompassed more conceptual and political concerns. Almost all of the works used artificial light to conjure a sense of sculptural space that directly called into play our individual perceptual responses. The exhibition invited viewers to wonder at, contemplate, investigate and, in some cases, to interact with, illuminated environments and sculptures. In doing so, it asked audiences to reconsider their relationship to their surroundings and how they see the world.

Light Show was organised by the Hayward Gallery, London in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Tour Itinerary

Auckland Art Gallery: 11 October 2014 – 8 February 2015
Sharjah Art Museum: 19 September – 5 December 2015