It is three-dimensional artwork that glows in the dark. Neon combines craftsmanship with design and a bit of science. We visit the Neon and Light Museum to find out if it’s truly lit.
Marc Vitali: There’s a work fashioned after a drawing by John Lennon.
There’s a famous piece by the artist Bruce Nauman titled “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths.”
And there are some “how-did-they-do-that?” works with strobe light effects. And others that seem tailor-made for the Instagram age.
Ken Saunders, Neon and Light Museum: The celebrity here is neon. We have the very best international and local artists working in neon, but the material itself is so seductive, so lovely, so calming.
If you’re of a certain age, neon is retro. You remember the neon signs in front of every store, bar, pizza parlor, but if you’re younger the work has almost a utopian, steampunk quality, a sense that there’s a better place, an opportunity even for a transcendental experience just based on flashing colored lights.
Vitali: Most works are contemporary but also temporary — this pop-up showroom is in the River North gallery district through October.
Saunders: Artists who work in neon are bending glass. The big technical challenge is to learn how to bend glass and make it do what you want it to do. You can think you’re designing something in script but if it’s illegible, you aren’t designing anything, and so there are certain basic skills that come into play.
Once the the glass tubes are bent they are filled with gas — neon, argon, xenon — and each one of those glasses creates its own color, and then the tube is closed off, a vacuum created and an electrical charge is sent through the tube and activates the gas, excites the gas, and the gas turns a color.
We have got fun, exciting pieces. Clever things that will make you laugh, and we have artists who are dipping into philosophical, sociological, even deeper issues.
Some artists want to be very serious and some artists will use means that are perhaps a misdirection to make an impression on you, to get you to look twice and consider.
Vitali: And some of their works are available for purchase.
Saunders: I am an art dealer. I’ve been a gallerist for 30 years and so I make my living selling artwork.
This effort reflects a change in how we’re viewing art these days. And the interaction with art goes beyond purchasing things and collecting them and bringing them home and now we’re trying to diffuse culture in different and maybe even radical ways.
It is what it is.
The Neon and Light Museum just opened at 325 W. Huron St. in River North. It is open through October.