In preparing this feature, one of our team members recalled the sculpture studio at their university in which the gallery/critique room featured 3 dramatic skylights in the vaulted space. While this provided a wash of natural light over the staggered plinths, it eliminated any opportunity for the incorporation of directed light and deliberate shadow into the sculptures. This, not surprisingly, proved to be an immediate and almost inexcusable loss as light has the power to transform any artwork, any space, and any experience.
With this power in mind, let us introduce you to four incredible sculptures and installations that masterfully utilize light to transform the experiences of viewers.
In our humble opinion, few conversations on the use of light in art are complete without a prominent discussion of Dan Flavin. Flavin transformed gallery walls and corners by strategically placing florescent light bars into organized neon arrangements of staggering color. We love his Corridor installations that block off doorways to other rooms using florescent bulb bars to form deceiving curtains of light that lure us in like the bead curtains of Felix Gonzalez-Torres without the possibly of advancing through them.
In all his works, Flavin awakened otherwise darkened galleries by illuminating them with dramatic color that playfully framed and reflected against stark white walls. Because of their orientation, many of the pieces don't produce visual shadows off of the viewers, creating fully independent light sources that have little interaction with the audience—aside from serious pupil constriction!
In direct contrast to Flavin’s works is Olafur Eliasson’s Room for One Color. The Icelandic Artist lines the ceilings of rooms with golden yellow florescent lights that shower pedestrians in a dramatic glow of stark lemon shade. What makes these installations so impactful is the transformation that occurs in the presence of yellow light: the eye perceives everything within the space as black and white. That means every face, handbag, and fly away hair is immediately desaturated, standing in impressive contrast to the vivid yellow surrounds. The experience is highly cinematic, and, frankly, a little trippy!
Larry Bell’s Black Room is equally disorienting, although, it probably wouldn’t translate well