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A 23,000-Bulb Chandelier

Posted on November 16, 2015

Many sculptors use clay, plaster or metal. Leo Villareal prefers LED bulbs.

The New York City-based artist has pioneered a particular type of “light sculpting,” using tens of thousands of individual LED bulbs and a customized computer program to illuminate them.

It’s all a bit futuristic, which makes his latest work particularly intriguing: a site-specific light sculpture created for the reopening of the 156-year-old Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and featured as part of the new “Wonder” exhibition, showcasing the works of eight other contemporary artists.

“Above the doors of the Renwick, it says ‘Dedicated to Art,’ which is pretty wonderful and as I understand it, James Renwick was inspired by the Louvre,” says Villareal, of the self-taught 19th-century architect who designed and built the museum.

Inspiring something new from something old is appropriate to his own approach to art. “I start with what’s there, what’s given, and try to figure out how I can augment—not use the building as a pedestal or add a bunch of things that don’t feel appropriate,” says Villareal, whose work has been shown in MoMA, PS1 and LACMA. But he says the Renwick stands out as a historic location.

Villareal’s piece, titled Volume (Renwick), holds pride of place installed above the museum’s historic grand stairway. It uses LEDS embedded in 320 mirrored stainless steel rods. He describes the reflective metal as a kind of “camouflage” that takes in the surrounding environments and almost becomes invisible.

Read the rest at Smithsonian.

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