Artists News USA

What happens when the lights go out?

Estates and galleries are developing strategies to preserve light-based works while striving to remain faithful to the artist’s original vision

Jason Rhoades, Shelf (Mutton Chops) with Unpainted Donkey, 2003

Felix Gonzalez-Torres —The Cuban-American artist’s strings of light bulbs, modelled on those hung in outdoor cafes, could look very different in 100 years. He wanted his materials to remain familiar to contemporary viewers, so “whatever is standard in the future is what we will use”, says John Connelly, the director of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.

That shift has already begun in Europe, where the European Union banned 25-watt incandescent bulbs last year. The foundation now directs European collectors to energy-efficient replacements, which “look exactly the same”, Connelly says. A more pronounced transition will take place when another kind of bulb “comes to embody the cultural standard”, says Emilie Keldie, the foundation’s director of archives and communications. For now, she adds, “those curly bulbs still make people cringe”.

Jason Rhoades— Inspired by the illuminated signs hung in shop windows in his native Los Angeles, the late Jason Rhoades often incorporated random neon words and phrases, which he would source from commercial sign producers, in his installations. Hauser & Wirth, which represents Rhoades’s estate in Europe, will follow his lead when the lights burn out. “He has templates for each piece in his studio that we can follow [to reorder],” says Florian Berktold, a director of the gallery.

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