The city San Francisco is center of creativity and innovations. The city has attracted the world’s most notable light artists like, well, moths to a flame. For a truly illuminating art experience, on your next visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the de Young and the Exploratorium, immerse yourself in these 15 brilliant works by some of the world’s most notable light artists.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Begin your visit at SFMOMA’s Floor 5 exhibition “Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art: The Fisher Collection,” which features works from the 1960s and beyond to provoke a dialogue about the nature of art and its position within American culture. This exhibition from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection includes three major light art works by Dan Flavin using his signature fluorescent light tubes: “Monument for V. Tatlin,” “The Diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi),” and “Untitled (to Barnett Newman) Two.”
While Flavin’s work is often contextualized with other Minimalist artists, his emphasis on light and its effects aligns him just as strongly with Op art, whose practitioners explored variations in color and shape based on differences in light. Also look for Bruce Nauman’s wry wordplay and playful use of neon tubing in “Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know.” The piece slyly subverts our expectations of neon signage, replacing the lexicon of commercial advertising with weighty but contradictory terms: life/death, pleasure/pain, love/hate — intersected by ambiguous sentence fragments that underscore the haphazardness of language itself.
Next, make your way to “The Campaign for Art: Modern and Contemporary” on Floor 4, an exhibition highlighting gifts that have been committed to the museum, including four electrifying light art works. “Wavelengths” by Jim Campbell consists of five very low-resolution LED panels on a 15-foot wall that go from a wide shot to an extreme close-up, offering viewers a penetrating visual impression rather than a specific narrative.
Contemporary Jewish Museum
The CJM selected renowned architect Daniel Libeskind in 1998 to design its intriguing new home, including the 36 diamond-shaped windows that light the top floor of the metal cube known as the “Yud,” and the allegorical light installation “PaRDeS” embedded in the wall of the Grand Lobby.
Suspended high over the heads of visitors in the museum’s soaring lobby space is the first major artwork to be commissioned by the CJM, “Lamp of the Covenant” by Dave Lane, a massive 90-foot long Illuminated sculpture suggesting the unfolding marvels of the cosmos.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Two stunning YBCA light art installations by Future Cities Lab can be seen from outside the museum.
“Lightswarm” activates the south-facing glass facade with playful patterns of “swarming” light that becomes a dynamic electro-luminescent composition after dark; see it up close in the Grand Lobby.Constructed out of a complex weave of steel, illuminated fiber optic rods and digital display, “Murmur Wall” can be viewed from the sidewalk near the stairs leading up to the museum.
The de Young Museum
Built into a hill within the museum’s Babro Osher Sculpture garden, James Turrell’s “Three Gems” is an exquisite “skyspace” in the form of a stupa, or dome, featuring a view of the sky altered by lighting effects that change with light and weather conditions outside.
“Buckyball” by Leo Villareal is a towering 25-foot illuminated sculpture inspired by the geodesic dome made popular by futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller.
Its two nested, geodesic spheres are comprised of 4,500 LED nodes arranged along a series of pentagons and hexagons. Through Sept. 11, 2016.
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