THE LIGHT AND SPACE MOVEMENT
Its no coincidence that international the race to understanding Outer Space would lead to developments and questions outside in fields outside of just science. After the 1960s, America took a major leap forward to understanding science on a much larger basis, and one of the many explorations of the development landed in understanding the relationship between art and science. Its components included a wide variety of artists, techniques, materials, and technological developments. All of these complemented a particular movement known as the Light and Space Movement during the 1960s and 70s on the West Coast and particularly in Southern California. At the time, artists began to shift to using radically new materials with emphasis no longer on art in the object, but taking a stance much further than its Minimalist predecessor. The movement sought to dematerialize the art object, and focus less on ideas and more on sensory perceptions. Museum director Hugh Davies recalls, “The work became ambient and was about environmental experience instead of focusing on an object.”
The name became a huge label for the West Coast, and perceptions about the environment were enlightened. Influenced by John McLaughlin, the movement spurred a change in how artists were representing geometric objects and using light. The movement of light became easily manipulative and much more complex. Historically, its should be noted by Sascha Crasnow “Light has a tradition in the history of California artwork. In the first half of the 20th century, the prevailing style was California Impressionism. These artists took the qualities and attention to light of the French Impressionists and transferred these sentiments to distinctly California landscapes.” thus proving that California should be expected to produce such monumental progress in scientific and artistic history.
Southern California engineering and aerospace industries experienced a technological boom and allowed a number of artists to create works where light could affect the environment and perception of the viewer. A major exhibition at UCLA provided the opportunity for a show entitled, ‘Transparency, Reflection, Light, Space” in 1971 to host artists Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, John McCraken, and Craig Kauffman who became some of the forerunners to the movement. They investigated the phenomena of sensory deprivation. With light, they could play with an experience beyond the tangible, and environment that becomes aware of the play of light, an experience that is cognizant of all its senses.
Material wise, many artists embed artificial light and used transparent or translucent materials. Director Davies states, “Here it was more handmade, with techniques borrowed from car culture or surfboard manufacturing or aerospace engineering. It was about translucence and transparence and this fabulous optical play that [Donald] Judd didn't get into until much later, when he started using Plexiglas.” This showed a huge difference in coast-to-coast ideals, because the Los Angeles aesthetic would have been described as “truth equals beauty” as distinguished from the “truth to materials” swagger dominating in New York. The N.Y. aesthetic took to impermeable industrial materials and toned down on the shadows and reflections in favor of the concreteness of the specific object. I would describe it as much more “in-your-face” and less tranquil. Its as if the materials not only influence how sleek and sheen the work was but they make us keenly aware that what you do affects what you see, and what you see affects what you do. They were technical geniuses and formal masters all with the powers of Shamans who indeed have the “uncanny ability to make the immaterial material and the material immaterial.” The push and challenge use to ask us what is ordinary reality when ambiguous forms seem to continually morph at every slight movement. The materials allow color to diffuse into space, entering a space incomprehensible to the viewer. They ask us to reconsider the space that we exist in and force us to realize the multidimensional aspects that exist between science and art and how science provided materials and technology and art helps us understand various perceptions that exist outside of human space.
After acknowledging the material aspects of a movement that helped the West Coast art scene to bridge the gap between art and science, its important to salute the artists that functioned as visual scientists, from the studio to the lab. Artists like Robert Irvin and DeWaine Valentine were just a few of the artists that set the bar for California arts. They developed materials and gained a greater understanding of how they could bring light greater perceptions. Valentine in his early eperiences polishing rocks and painting cars led to an almost not-so-ironic but deep interest in reflective surfaces, translucence, and industrial processes. He took notice of similar artists early in his career through an Artforum magazine, and shortly after moved to Los Angeles in 1965, with his first solo show happening 3 years later.
Robert Irwin was MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner, and reknowned among his peers in the 1960s. Supposedly he was the most influential artist of the time. Andrew Russeth of Gallerist NY decribes Irwins work as “paintings with only lines, then only dots, then simply discs that hover in space, their edges indistinguishable from the wall. He banished painterly marks, then the frame, then the painting itself. (“I painted myself right out of it,” he told me.) By the 1970s, he was producing installations composed only of light and subtle alterations to spaces.” Irwin is aware of nature and the nature of things, and at Pace gallery during an interview with Russeth, Irwin stated that his work was about sensibility, which he felt was applicable to everything, but also more importantly, the face that “seeing” is such an important factor when confronting any work. He’s presented aesthetic inquiries, all within the realm of painting, installation, and landscape projects.
It’s fascinating that art movements in the same linear fashion as scientic exploration, and America in its pursuit to define itself as a limitless nation internationally had found a way on the West Coast to bridge the gap between art and science. Its seem that that responsibility fell into the hands of the Light and Space Movement, and its artists managed to manipulate the brilliance of light to inform the viewers of the intangible realm of light and space.
1. Crasnow, Sascha. "WTF Is Light and Space?." Hyperallergic â€” Sensitive to Art and its Discontents. http://hyperallergic.com/38827/wtf-is%E2%80%A6-light-and-space/ (accessed February 24, 2013).
2. Finkel, Jori, and Los Angeles Times. "Pacific Standard Time: Doug Wheeler on Light and Space and 'Phenomenal' in San Diego - Page 2 -Los Angeles Times." Featured Articles From The Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/18/entertainment/la-ca-pst-hugh-davies-and-doug-wheeler-20110918/2 (accessed February 24, 2013).
3. Russeth, Andrew . " Blink and You’ll Miss It: Robert Irwin Brings His Mind-Bending Art to New York | GalleristNY ." GalleristNY . http://galleristny.com/2012/09/blink-and-youll-miss-it-robert-irwin-brings-his-mind-bending-art-to-new-york/ (accessed February 24, 2013).