January 31, 2018

Stephen Antonakos: Proscenium
Bending Light: Neon Art from 1965 to Now

Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, SUNY

Stephen Antonakos, Proscenium, 2000. Neon and painted raceways, 20.5 x 189 feet. Collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY. Photo: Jim Frank.

Neon signs are an iconic part of the urban American landscape; they have been illuminating brands for nearly a century. But neon also has attracted artists who have realized its potential as a vehicle for expression and commentary. Beginning January 28, 2018, the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College will shine a new light on neon as an art form, presenting two illuminating exhibitions: Stephen Antonakos: Proscenium + Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now.

Proscenium, curated by Helaine Posner, Chief Curator, features a monumental, site-specific work, originally created in 2000 for the Neuberger Museum’s vast Theater Gallery. Named for a type of Greek stage, Proscenium wraps and brilliantly illuminates the Gallery's perimeter walls, animating the darkened space with vibrant color, glowing light, and calligraphic line. A pioneer in the use of neon as a fine art material, Antonakos (1926-2013) created “luminous environments that are both tangible and transcendent,” notes Ms. Posner. “His neon installations are classic studies in light, space, and form.” She points out that the formal radiant beauty of Proscenium “evokes a mystical relationship, for the essence of this experience is light, which from time immemorial has been associated with spirituality and the divine presence.” As Antonakos once described it: “For me, neon is not aggressive but it has certain powers. I simply thought so much more could be done with it abstractly than with words and images. I had a feeling it could connect with people in real, immediate, kinetic and spatial ways.”

Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now presents the work of twelve artists who explore the use of this versatile medium as well as their close collaboration with skilled glass-benders. The exhibition will focus on the oft-blurred lines between commercial and fine art, and consider the complicated interplay among light, chemistry, and artistic vision. Featured are iconic works from the Neuberger Museum’s permanent collection as well as works on loan from public and private collections. Curated by Avis Larson, Assistant Curator, the exhibition highlights the work of Stephen Antonakos, Sarah Blood, Chryssa, Agnes Denes, Tracey Emin, Cerith Wyn Evans, Glenn Ligon, Kadir López, Ivan Navarro, Paul Seide, Keith Sonnier, and Rudi Stern. Works on view include Chryssa’s Ampersand V (1965), Keith Sonnier’s Chila (2016), Stephen Antonakos’s Untitled (For Sally Yard) (1985), Tracey Emin’s The Kiss Was Beautiful (2013), and Glenn Ligon’s Warm Broad Glow (2005).

In Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now, artists use neon to expand concepts of language and message, light and line, technology, and the ethereal materiality of the trapped gas. Beginning in the 1960s, artists and fabricators alike experimented with traditional techniques in new and inventive ways. Whether capturing the gesture of a handwritten word, the precise geometry of a drawing, or a sketch drawn on a napkin, the benders helped transform neon from an advertising tool into an art form. The exhibition includes work fabricated by the following studios: Let There Be Neon, Lite Brite Neon, Spectrum on Broadway, and by the artists.

Stephen Antonakos: Proscenium + Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, and curated by Avis Larson, Assistant Curator and Helaine Posner, Chief Curator. Generous support for this project is provided by the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art and by the Purchase College Foundation.

Special events:

February 14, 4:30 to 7:30pm
Love the Neuberger on Valentine's Day. Join us for the opening of three new exhibitions: Proscenium, Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now, and From Motherwell to Hofmann: the Samuel Kootz Gallery

In conversation
Wednesday, February 28, 4:30 to 6pm

In conjunction with NEON: Stephen Antonakos: Proscenium + Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now, the Neuberger Museum of Art will present “In Conversation: NEON”, a discussion with Thomas Rinaldi, author of New York Neon; Jeff Friedman, owner of Let There Be Neon studio, and Sarah Blood, contemporary mixed-media artist. Avis Larson, Assistant Curator at the museum will be the moderator. This event is free for Neuberger Museum Members, Purchase College Students, Faculty, & Staff.

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