Category Archives: Works of Art

Light Play–Musing on Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”)

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf").

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”).

The tower of fluorescent lights looms large at a tight triangular junction where the old building meets the new. On a quiet day at the museum, you can literally hear it hum.

Flavin’s signature use of ordinary fluorescent tubes gives the work both a straightforward familiarity and a strange magic. Up close, you can see the screws, the wires, the ordinariness of the fixtures. But stay a while—the colors start to work on your eyes. The red, yellow, and blue bulbs mix—sunset raspberry and a delicate melon sorbet splash on the walls. The entire room is noticeably flooded with a lavender glow.

The sensory experience beckons. I slowly look up and linger longer than usual on the exit sign which glows a gorgeous green. I look left and notice a dramatic yellow cast in the adjacent gallery which my intellect knows is a crisp white. My eyes have shifted. The world has become a complex tapestry of colored light. Experiencing Flavin’s piece is also about following the light out into the space occupied by the light. It is expansive and also quite mysterious.

One of the pleasures of sitting with light art is all the questions surrounding light—how does Flavin’s skillful work with light seduce the senses and alter one’s perception? What is causing my eyes to see a white room as yellow? Why does colored light create such suggestive moods and alter the character of space?

It is these questions and more that we’ll explore in the BMA’s Big Table Connections program on Saturday July 5, when light artist and lighting designer Glenn Shrum joins us for a session on Dan Flavin’s piece and the inner workings of light.

Shrum is the owner and founder of Flux Studio. He is an active member of the international lighting design and lighting education community and Assistant Professor of Lighting Design at Parsons The New School for Design. We invited him to lead a session of the BMA’s Big Table Connections program. Thankfully, Glenn very generously agreed. In June, he came to the museum for a fascinating planning session and developed a clever in-gallery project with his colored light tables. Participants will get to try their hand at color mixing with light. How might you mix light and reshape space. What marvelous effects will you generate? Be sure to bring your cameras or devices to document your experiments.

What do you think? Have you experienced Flavin’s work? How did it impact your senses? What other special experiences with light have you had?

The BMA’s Big Table Connections program is a great opportunity to unpack complex ideas in contemporary art from multiple perspectives. This year we have been presenting sessions on Minimalism and its offshoots. We could not finish the season in August without looking closely at the work of Dan Flavin in our Contemporary Wing.

Join us on Saturday, July 5 at 2 p.m., to hear Glenn discuss light art and lighting design, and provide valuable context for Flavin’s work. After Glenn’s talk, we’ll move into the galleries and try our hand at mixing colored light. Hope to see you there!


Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence

Bruce Nauman Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version) 1981-82   © 2014 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981‑1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © 2014 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Fall 2013, one of the BMA’s most iconic works – Bruce Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence – was removed from its place on the BMA’s East Wing. Over time, natural wear and tear had begun to take their toll on the piece, so in consultation with the Bruce Nauman studio and the BMA’s conservation and curatorial staff, the sculpture was removed from its normal location, in order that it could be refabricated with more up-to-date and durable neon technology.

Deinstalling Nauman's Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman's Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

The large piece was Nauman’s first public neon work, and it came to the BMA as a gift of the artist’s galleries, in recognition of the Museum’s pioneering 1982 exhibition Bruce Nauman: Neons – the first survey of the artist’s works in that medium. Wrapped around a corner of the BMA’s façade, the words Violins Violence Silence share letters and form a poetic string of similar sounds. The meanings of the individual words appear unrelated, suggesting that the physical structure behind verbal communication can be surprisingly arbitrary. Alternatively, read as a sequence describing cause and effect, the work relates an aggressive act against art and beauty, and the somber consequence.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the gift of Violins Violence Silence and the 100th anniversary of the Museum in 2014, the BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art (FoMaCA) organized a series of events to raise the $120,000 needed to restore the beacon-like presence of this 20th-century masterpiece to the BMA and the city of Baltimore.

This summer, the newly refabricated Violins Violence Silence will be restored to its former home on the East Wing of the BMA. See more shots of the deinstallation on Flickr.

To mark the occasion, the BMA is tonight hosting Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence, a special event moderated by Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman. The lively discussion will bring together Juliet Myers, Bruce Nauman Studio Manager for the past three decades; Paul Schimmel, former Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Vice President and Partner of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery whose essay Pay Attention appeared in the 1994 Nauman retrospective catalog; and Peter Plagens, celebrated art critic, Newsweek Contributing Editor, and author of the new biography, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist. Plagens currently contributes to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times among several other prominent publications.

Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence is on tonight, Thursday, June 12, 6 p.m. The event will be held at Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Knott Auditorium, 4701 N. Charles Street, Baltimore. Use campus entrance on Homeland Avenue for easier access to parking. Entry is $15 FoMaCA Members, $20 general admission. Free at the door for students with ID.