about the exhibition
Glow: Aspects of Light in Contemporary American Art
July 25–October 06, 2002about the artists
While each of the artists address the subject of light in one way or another, only a few use actual illumination to achieve their goal. Jennifer Steinkamp projects her digitally rendered imagery onto a transom window, animating and softening the architecture with organic patterning. Charles LaBelle explores the quality of the nocturnal landscape in much of his work. Here, a sculptural hotel sign glows pink and distorted, mimicking the otherworldly light of night vision. Alex Lopez’s vanity mirror relief beckons viewers with its
reflective surface and illuminated lights. Upon approaching the piece, the viewer triggers an applause soundtrack, which reiterates the theme of absorption and adoration. Kiki Seror’s graphic texts, transcribed from actual web chat rooms and backlit by a light box, lure the viewer into participation.
Because of its ability to contain and alter light, plastic has a long history of use by California artists such as Craig Kauffman. In Terri Friedman’s work, plastic is transformed into an updated version of stained glass with the pouring of translucent acrylic colors on window-like sheets. Alicia Beach and Yek utilize shaped wooden supports and acrylic paint to create intense, atmospheric luminosity that literally glows.
Nancy Haynes pairs historical references—icons, gold leaf, and the cruciform—with the popular technology of glow in the dark paint. Another New Yorker, Christian Garnett, induces extreme illusions with spiritual overtones by relying on traditional pigments rather than specifically reflective materials.
The lack of light is an equally important theme in the exhibition. Alan Wayne’s dark monochrome paintings—so heavily pigmented that they absorb practically the artificial light illuminating them—are infused with the silent glow of resonating darkness. The absence and presence of light in the works in Glow represent a range of philosophical, symbolic and technological positions through which our changing world may at least be partially illuminated.
about the exhibition
Eleven contemporary artists, including Alicia Beach, Terri Friedman, Christian Garnett, Nancy Haynes, Craig Kauffman, Charles LaBelle, Alex Lopez, Kiki Seror, Jennifer Steinkamp, Alan Wayne, and Yek provide avenues for the re-examination of light. Light, necessary to vision, has almost always been a component of visual art, although certain eras have emphasized its significance more adamantly than others.
The tenebrism of Caravaggio and de la Tour for example, represents the use of light in the portrayal of spirituality. While the American Luminists used light to convey the majesty of nature, the Impressionists availed themselves of light in a much more scientific way. Conversely, much text-based conceptual art, in which content is more important than form, regards light as altogether unnecessary. Although the preeminence of conceptual art is waning, current debates over “theory vs. practice” or “meaning vs. form” are reminiscent of the Renaissance divide between disegno (appealing to the mind) and colore (appealing to the eye and body).
Working in a variety of media, the artists on view in Glow use real and illusionistic light in decidedly visual ways, examining the new use and understanding of light in our time. While light itself is immaterial, the viewer’s awareness of her or himself as an “embodied eye” is implicated in more recent works involving light. Illusion, out of favor since minimalism, is another concern for many of the artists in this exhibition. Works in the exhibition have been chosen in order to reference other relevant topics and include both abstract and representational approaches.
Glow: Aspects of Light in Contemporary American Art is curated by Frances Colpitt, Associate Professor of Art History and Criticism at the University of Texas at San Antonio and organized by the UTSA Department of Art and Art History. Colpitt is a corresponding editor for Art in America and the author of Minimal Art: The Critical Perspective and Abstract Art in the Late Twentieth Century. Among her numerous articles, reviews, and catalogue essays are many on contemporary abstract painting. An expanded version of Glow will be on view at UTSA from September 5 through October 4, 2002.