Before leaving for Miami and Turin I told you about the VMFA/VCU exhibition Artificial Light. The show will be on view at MOCA North Miami’s Goldman Warehouse during Art Basel Miami Beach. The travel interrupted my posting on the show, so here it continues…
Ivan Navarro makes neon black light appear to be modernist furniture. (A photo of his work accompanied my first post.) Of all the work in this show, Navarro’s comes closest to traditional light-and-space illusionism. Navarro’s Black Electric Chairs appear to be the real deal; instead they’re just tubes that would come crashing down if you tried to sit in them. There’s a fear component at play too — even now walking into a Turrell scares me a little bit because I don’t know the limits of the space. Navarro’s work has that same seductive mystery.
At the other end of the spectrum, as far from illusionism as you can get, is Nathaniel Rackowe. In much of his work Rackowe buries light in an object and allows it to spill or leak out. The effect is a kind of industrial optimism in which light seems to be a metaphor for emergence. Yeah, well… Rackowe’s VCU installation is nothing like that. He has filled a room with a giant, diagonal construction, through which a garage door-like track moves a solitary light bulb. Rackowe’s object is enormous, clunky, and thoroughly DIY, all of which somehow focuses a viewer’s attention on the meditative movement of the light.
None of these artists is more indebted to first-generation light artists than Spencer Finch, who studies the light in various locales (including Niagara Falls) and then translates it into art. He owes a debt to LA’s Laddie John Dill, who also turned light into luminous sculpture.
The Puerto Rican tag-team of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla — 2006 Hugo Boss prize finalists — make work that is clever, but not cleverer-than-thou. Their Artifical Light installation includes a Jenny Holzer installation that provides (artifical) light that sustains a growing plant. The work is both relentlessly smart (I couldn’t help but think that long-ago decayed plant matter was powering the Holzer that was nourishing the Allora & Calzadilla plant) and a twisting of post-industrial assumptions. Can artificially-lit structures save their own environment?
The last object in the show that I found amusing wasn’t exactly an object, it was sculptural object as projected ephemera. Ceal Floyer’s Overhead Projection is a remarkably simple installation: the placement of a clear light bulb on an overhead projector, the kind you probably remember from your high school biology class. Is Floyer’s gesture a little precious, a bit of a one-note? Sure. But I couldn’t stop looking at it. And something about the projection reminded me of Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror.)
Artificial Light isn’t a comprehensive look at artists mixing light and sculpture: Olafur Eliasson isn’t here, nor is Paul Chan, Mark Handforth, Carsten Holler, Erwin Redl, and so on. But that’s OK — it reminds us how many good light-based exhibits remain to be done.
Related light exhibits: Light/Art: Mystic Crystal Revelation at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum. And at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Valerie Cassel Oliver is working on a show called Black Light/White Noise, about African-American artists making work with light. Nadine Robinson, Camille Norment, Kianga Ford, Satch Hoyt, Kira Lynn Harris, Karyn Olivier, Arthur Jafa, Yvette Mattern, and Kambui Obijimi make up the roster.