The Frist Art Museum presents Light, Space, Surface: Works from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an exhibition of sculptures, paintings, and immersive installations by a loose-knit group of artists working in Southern California from the 1960s to the present. Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Light, Space, Surface will be on view from June 3 through September 4, 2022.
Featuring 50 works by 22 artists that range from small sculptures to walk-in experiential environments, this visually alluring exhibition explores how the properties of light and space as well as highly polished surfaces can themselves be art forms. “This show challenges us to rethink what art can be and the materials that artists can use to create their work,” said Carol S. Eliel, Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA. “Although these works might evoke Southern California for visitors-its sunshine, open spaces, and glossy surfaces on surfboards and cars-the roots of Light and Space and ‘finish fetish’ go much deeper.”
The renowned “light and space” and “finish fetish” artists are united by an interest in manipulating the medium of light, projected or reflected, to alter the perception of form, architectural space, and surface qualities. Going beyond the tradition of representing light through paint or photography, artists like Robert Irwin, James Turrell, and Doug Wheeler create installations in which the actual light takes a form that seems to exist between presence and absence, providing a means of entering a mysterious immaterial world.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, various Southern California artists began to create works that investigate perceptual phenomena: how we come to understand form, volume, presence, and absence through light, seen directly through other materials, reflected, or refracted,” said Eliel . “Many of the artists used newly developed industrial materials such as cast resins, fiberglass, neon fixtures, and sprayed paint to link art and technology in a cool aesthetic that echoes the emotional detachment of pop art and minimalism of the period.” Their glossy surfaces and intense light are often thought of as characteristic of Southern California’s identity, with its car and surfboard culture and bright oceanside environment, though the artists in fact drew on many different experiences in developing their practices.
The most widely recognized figure in the exhibition is James Turrell (b. 1943), whose work directly addresses light’s power to create illusory space. In one of his works in the exhibition, Afrum (White), projected light generates the appearance of a radiant cube floating in the corner of the room.
As Frist Art Museum audiences may remember from a 2014 solo exhibition in our Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery, Helen Pashgian (b. 1934) has been fascinated by the complex relationship between light and surface since early childhood. In Untitled, one of two works by Pashgian in the exhibition, she set a bent acrylic rod within a cast resin object, complicating the way her almost transparent sculpture reflects and refracts light.
Mary Corse (b. 1945) has explored various ways to bring light to the medium of painting through the use of glass microspheres-the tiny beads used for highway lane lines and signage, which reflect and refract the light from car headlights. This led to Corse’s signature White Light paintings, which she continues to make today. The microspheres transform ordinary paintings into light-responsive canvases that shift in appearance depending on the viewer’s position. Such works exist as ever-changing perceptual experiences in which the viewer is an active participant.
Peter Alexander (b. 1939) believed only perfectly polished finishes-as seen in his wedge sculptures in the exhibition-would fully immerse the viewer. He came to polyester resin as a sculptural material through surfing, intrigued by the translucent, moldable nature of the liquid resin he used to glaze and repair his surfboard. Larry Bell (b. 1939) also considers the surfaces of his works to be paramount and was attracted to the surface properties of glass. Through a process of vacuum coating, he modifies the way glass absorbs, reflects, and transmits light, allowing him to create infinite variations in color, transparency, and reflectivity.
To further enhance the multisensory experience in the galleries, the Frist has collaborated with the Nashville Ambient Ensemble, who composed new music inspired by select works in the exhibition that will be featured on the audio tour instead of verbal commentary. Organized and led by electronic composer Michael Hix, the ensemble’s lineup is made up of some of the city’s most creative and innovative artists, including Belly Full of Stars, Diatom Deli, and Jack Silverman. While Hix says he normally opts for warm, analog synth sounds in his music, for this project he chose to create a “clean, digital palette to complement the show’s focus on industrial materials, light, and electricity.” As an additional resource, a behind-the-scenes video of the Nashville Ambient Ensemble recording the audio tour at Club Roar in Nashville will be accessible via a QR code in the gallery and on FristArtMuseum.org. The Ensemble’s debut album, Cerulean, was released in 2021 on the Nashville record label Centripetal Force.
Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Judy Chicago, Gisela Colon, Ron Cooper, Mary Corse, Ronald Davis, Guy Dill, Laddie John Dill, Fred Eversley, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, Bruce Nauman, Helen Pashgian, Roland Reiss, Roy Thurston, James Turrell, De Wain Valentine, Doug Wheeler, and Norman Zammitt.
Curator’s Tour: Light, Space, Surface: Works from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Thursday, June 2nd
Ingram Gallery; free to members; admission required for not yet members; registration required
Learn more about the immersive installations, paintings, and sculptures on view in Light, Space, Surface on this tour of the exhibition with organizing curator Carol S. Eliel, Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA.