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Neon Delight

Zentrum für Internationale Lichtkunst Unna, Unna

Maurizio Nannucci: NEVER MOVE FAR FROM COLOR, 2017/18, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nikolaus Ruzicska, Fotograf: Florian Reittner

With NEON DELIGHT, the Centre for International Light Art in Unna dedicates an exhibition to the material used most frequently in light art. From March 14 to August 16, the museum brings together the most well-known international artists working in neon-based light art in its unique, underground, raw spaces. Works from the 1960s to the present provide a representative overview of neon in light art.

The unique work Never Move Far From Color (2017–18) by Maurizio Nannucci shows that neon art is often language-based art in the form of text, writing, and its design. Tracey Emin lets us know in yellow-neon writing: You Never Should Have Loved Me The Way You Did (2014). Neon art is poetry, it reveals something personal—it gets close. Jeppe Hein’s work Who Am I Why Am I Where Am I Going (2017) also speaks directly to viewers. On the other hand, the work It Is Both A Blessing And A Curse To Feel Everything So Very Deeply (2016) by Olivia Steele does not pose any questions but relies solely on the power and opposition of just two words: “blessing” and “curse.” But neon art is also geometric abstraction entirely without words and is often highly fragile . François Morellet, Keith Sonnier and Anselm Reyle are artists in the exhibition who have created geometric-abstract, tangible neon art—in some cases in extremely complex, expansive ways. Several works presented in the exhibition—featuring immaterial light sources shimmering in various hues—are extremely subtle, such as those by Brigitte Kowanz or Bruce Nauman. Nauman’s work The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967) refers to the immaterial, mystical power of light, and the role of the artist. Others participating in the show are Bruno Peinado, Giny Vos, Jan van Munster, Bernardi Roig und Mario Merz.

Fluorescent tubes and neon lighting have fascinated both artists and the public for many years. The sensual, dazzling radiance and the intense signaling effect of neon art is what makes it so appealing—in addition to its proximity to the realm of the technical, the artificial, the world of products, pop, and advertising. Physics and metaphysics are rarely merged so closely in art. Initially, however, glass tubes filled with neon gas had a purely signaling character and were used in cities at night for advertising purposes beginning in the twentieth century; they illuminated Paris, New York, Berlin, or Las Vegas. The gas that creates the effect we know as neon light when electrically charged was discovered by the end of the nineteenth century. Since the 1960s in particular, neon has also been a theme of visual art. The production of such works of art has not changed since then: even today, each tube is individually blown by a glassblower and filled with gas.

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