Art: Neon show not so spectacular

Jun 9, 2010 at 5:00 am
Art: Neon show not so spectacular
Linda Sue Price

I arrived at the “Ne10: Louisville” show at the Water Tower Saturday as hopeful as a person going on a date with someone they had met on the Internet. I had seen some preview pictures of the show online, spoken to the curator on the phone, watched YouTube videos of some of the artists working — it all seemed awesome. I was ready to be seduced.

Walking into the show itself was a little bit like walking into the lighting fixture showroom at Scorpio Interiors; a pastiche of various neon pieces were arranged on the walls around the room’s edge, as imaginatively as chairs in a doctor’s office waiting room. The two highlights of the show — Jeffrey D. Johnson’s “News Media Under Fire” and Ed Kirshner’s “Vase with Cup of Chaos” — flanked the entrance. Johnson’s piece succeeds not only because it exploits neon’s inherent properties as a vehicle for illuminating the obvious with text, but also because as you move toward the piece in the darkness, you become aware that the armature supporting the neon lettering is a burned newspaper box. Topical, humorous and set far enough into a corner to enjoy its own darkness, “News Media Under Fire” is an attractive and interesting work. Parallel to it, Kirshner’s “Vase with Cup of Chaos” is a commanding and impressive blue vase trumpeting into a crown shivering electric pulses, which, in addition to showcasing the inherent beauty of neon as a medium, also looks like the kind of wedding present you might receive if you had been married on James Cameron’s Pandora. I hoped the rest of the show would be equally as intriguing and unexpected.

Unfortunately, the light cast from Kathie Foley-Meyer’s “Bronzeville III” completely overpowered every other piece in the room, causing a number of fellow exhibition-goers to cup their hands over their eyes to create enough darkness to see the luminosity of Eoin Breadon’s “Antelope Head.” The base structures for many other pieces also were exposed in the semi-darkness, which sabotaged the illusion of several of the pieces and mitigated the impact of others. “Bronzeville III” is conceptually intriguing, but the inspiration behind the piece was obscured to the viewer, as no labels explaining the artist’s inspiration (the residency of African-Americans in L.A.’s Little Tokyo during WWII) were available to myself or the busload of glass enthusiasts who just arrived for the Glass Art Society (GAS) conference. In the tepid darkness, this audience, ripe for the support of this work, was left to speculate as to how to interpret the pieces by themselves. I felt slighted by the lack of information made available for the appreciation, understanding and interpretation of each piece.

On the phone a week earlier, Wayne Strattman, the show’s curator, expressed to me that neon was a medium undervalued by the glass art community. Strattman described how, for the past 12 years, he had mounted a neon exhibition to coincide with the GAS conference to support artists working in self-illuminating glass. The show left me wondering if Strattman’s goal is to exhibit the best of what is new in neon and win a greater audience, but judging by the reception of the work I witnessed, “Ne10” is not a success. If “Ne10” had been a first date, I probably would have to say, “I’m just not that into you.”

Ne10: Louisville
Through Aug. 8
Water Tower
3005 River Road
Opening reception: June 11, 6-9 p.m.