AO On Site: Neon Neon: Bright Lights at the Armory 2008

March 29th, 2008

Martin Creed; Brass & Chrome in front; Multi-Colored Neon in back; Hauser & Wirth

Commentary and Photos by Faith-Ann Young

In the 1950s, neon represented the light of the American Dream- a technological innovation that emblazoned a company or brands’ success and riches into the starry skies. In the 1980’s art world, neon signs were omnipresent, signifying cool kitsch. At this year’s Armory Show in NYC, neon was back and bold- flashing flamboyantly in at least seventeen exhibitions- whether in traditional form or L.E.D. However today’s neon, rather than to flaunt the obvious (like typical commercial signage), most artists employed these glow rays to reveal the hidden, secret or censored.

Joseph Kosuth W.T.F. #1; Sean Kelly

At Sean Kelly, a powerful installation by Joseph Kosuth - a white neon family tree – contrasted starkly against a black-painted wall. The lights glowed of the various derivative language roots of the word “light”- lacing together the various Germanic, Greek, Latin, and Indo-European inter-connections. Entitled W.F.T. #1, it typifies Kosuth’s fascination of the symbolism of words and tautological statements (remember his “One and Three Chairs” or “5 Words in Neon Blue”). It was one of the most impressive gripping pieces in the fair for its visual splendor as well as its…………….complex simplicity.

Tracey Emin; Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Tracey Emin I Promise To Love; White Cube

The ballsy Brit Tracey Emin used neon to flaunt sensual and likely autobiographical (read: self-indulgent) pieces. Emin being trendy of the trendy, it seemed oh-so-appropriate that she had two pieces of bold neon represented at two of the top galleries. Lehmann Maupin seeks $200,000 for Emin’s neon piece “Her soft lips touched mine and everything became hard.” London’s revered White Cube boasted Tracey Emin’s “I Promise to Love.” The written chicken-scratch style of the text made each piece especially scintillating. Looks familiar? The scrawl is strikingly similar to the 1980s’ movie posters: “Say Anything” or “Dirty Dancing.” Tut tut….

Jill Magid I Can Burn Your Face; Yvon Lambert Gallery

Lastly, neon was used as it typically is on today’s streets: to shock one’s attention. The messages? Politically motivated. At Yvon Lambert, Jill Magid piece grabs onlookers: “I Can Burn Your Face.” Symbolic of her manipulation of the Dutch Secret Service, it holds unique clout- especially when drawn in raw red.

Cheim & Reid Exhibition Space with Jenny Holzer’s work

Jenny Holzer’s L.E.D. Display

Holzer’s political message clarified in an accompanying poster

Finally at Cheim & Reid, Jenny Holzer’s exhibit occupied most of the space- including series of oil on linen paintings from 2005 and 2006 as well as a L.E.D. (light emitting diode) display. Flashing text shot out words from declassified and sensitive United States government documents. The text? Current government’s covert operations, ghost detainees, Guantanamo and Iraq. Streaming deliberately at a quick pace- it challenged the reader to make sense of each phrase.

Bottom Line? Even in today’s are world- the use of neon has not changed; it’s meant to catch the eye. However, this time, various artists used Neon as a medium to highlight the private, censored or forgotten.