10 Artists Who Use Light as a Medium

by - Thursday, April 10, 2014


from  luminapolis.com

Louis Vuitton Store in Las Vegas- from  wmagazine.com

from qompendium.com
10. James Turrell- Turrell is one of those artists that every doushey art historian guy loves. He is very in right now, and people love him, as if he is the only guy working with light. I don't entirely get it, though I have to admit the 3-D spaces made purely with light are pretty amazing. I saw the bottom image I think at the Carnegie 5+ years ago, and I remember the most notable thing about the experience being that it had an incredibly calming effect on the room. There is something spiritual or zen about his work, those with light and the other more architectural spaces. This list will now offer nine other artists who also work with light to many other (more interesting to me) effects.

from moca.org

9. Lucio Fontana- Fontana actually works often in sculpture and paper, but I love his light sculptures, this one is called Neon, as the neon lights seem to swirl above the viewers' heads.

Light Sentence, 1992- from friolenta.tumblr.com
Hot Spot from www.artvehicle.com
8. Mona Hatoum- Hatoum was born in Lebanon (her family were Palestinian refugees), but now is a very well-known international conceptual artist. She is one of my favorites, but she isn't what you would consider medium-specific. Her materials change from project to project, but she can use projection and light like it is no one's business.  In the installation Light Sentence, Hatoum's wire walls were lit by one light which was slowly raised and released, causing the grids to move up and down the walls. The effect was described as unsettling and disorienting. Much of Hatoum's work is about exile or global displacement, and by doing this, she creates a space that should be familiar, but is instead extremely alienating and uncomfortable. Go look up Mona Hatoum if you don't know her work, you can thank me later.

from  blog.tate.org.uk
7. Cornelia Parker-This work, Cold Dark Matter, from 1991 shows the genius of light and shadow in London-based Parker's work. Inspired by bomb films (has everyone seen that hilarious one from the Cold War where you can save yourself from an atomic explosion with a well-manicured lawn? I love that thing), Parker asked the army to blow up a garden shed she had (under some controlled conditions, I would imagine). The pieces were collected and arranged in this way, but the work still emits the violence of the explosion with a single light bulb at the center of an arrangement. Honestly, I have seen this sculpture before (there is a very similar piece at the deYoung), but the single light buld and amazing cast shadows take it to such a spectacular and scary place. Who knew light could seem so violent?
from highlike.org
6. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Room, 2006.- this work, from almost 10 years ago now has spawned a large number of other "pulse" works from this artist. I kind of love Pulse Park, which lights a park at different intensities. It plays on this original installation, in which a room is filled with 300 light bulbs. A visitor grasps a sensor, and the lights flicker based on their pulse. This viewer's body becomes the center of the whole room, which is manipulated by their physiological responses.

from 7while23.tumblr.com

5. Thomas Glassford- Glassford is actually a Texan artist, and he started out using materials you might expect someone from Texas to use- natural things like leather and wood- but he eventually moved into more industrial materials like these fluorescent bulbs. And who can complain when it looks this magical?

from  steg.tumblr.com

from designboom.com
4. Jenny Holzer- Holzer is a pillar of feminist and conceptual art. I would say her primary medium is text, playing on the various ways that we consume text in public spaces (billboards, advertising, etc.). Her messages are often difficult, veiled, or openly critical. She uses a lot of LED lit signs (she's even had work up in Time's Square), which have an especially impersonal and imposing presence. She also does a lot of projection, which kind of works for this criteria, but let's say it's not nearly as relevant as these sculptures and public installations that use LED's.

Uno from Pierre Massé
from  massimouberti.it

from productfind.interiordesign.net
3. Massimo Uberti- This artist, from Italy, makes these gorgeous architectural forms out of fluorescent lights. By creating these limits, even out of something you wouldn't expect, Uberti encourages his viewers to fill in the missing pieces to make complete spaces. Don't you just want to look through that window? Even though you know it isn't real? These rooms are show stoppers, but I also love the smaller construction equipment, like the horses in the bottom picture. So funny!

from blog.art21.org
Manipulating a Fluorescent Tube, 1969- from blog.art21.org

2. Bruce Nauman- I personally think that Bruce Nauman is grossly underrated. I would like to assume there was a time briefly before I got really involved in art history where people wouldn't shut up about him. Nauman worked in many mediums as a conceptual artist who seems particularly invested in the art which came before him, but you might recognize him for one of his neon light signs (one hung in the Carnegie for the majority of my childhood, which might be why I am so attached. Another neon sign used to hang in SAM, but I don't think it is on display right now.  You could pick so many great Nauman works that use light, but I think my favorite is when he did a video performance with a long lightbulb and his body, basically swinging it around like a big dick, queering the super macho history of minimalism, especially my man Dan Flavin.


1. Dan Flavin-While his Minimalist peers in the late 50's, early 60's were making work out of industrial material so hardy that it transformed the architecture of the space around them, Flavin chose a material that was both densely industrial and magically ethereal. Flavin was the master of having it both ways- despite the fact that the majority of his sculptures were "untitled", they featured pointed and thoughtful dedications. This work is dedicated to Piet Mondrian (who would never have used green or diagonals). His works genuinely transform the spaces around them in a way that other artists have been mimicking since (I'm looking at you, Turrell). They also cause all sorts of issues for museums as the lights burn out. These works, though seemingly simple and straightforward, carry both the kind of deep rhetoric that can keep you busy for a long time and the immediate magic that makes art so much more fun than writing. Light art might seem like a one trick type of aesthetic, but there is so much here.

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