It seems appropriate that the recent contemporary lighting exhibit at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) should be the same word as the British slang expression for 'excellent.' Brilliant was the V&A's first ever contemporary lighting exhibition. Although small (it only occupied two galleries), the exhibit showcased the potential of light, space and materials in the work of artists and designers such as Ingo Maurer, Ron Arad, Tom Dixon and Karim Rashid. The first gallery featured nine installations that revealed how light can be used to shape space. The second gallery focused on domestic lights and 'light-objects' and was organized around themes in design today: form, archetype, domesticity, materials and manufacturing process.
Depending on one's knowledge of lighting, the exhibit varied in its degree of success. Nils von Leesen, a lighting designer with Speirs and Major Associates in London, made this observation: 'As one who works with light and lighting on a daily basis, when first viewing this exhibit it seemed as if I had seen this before, and that there was really little new to celebrate. But, quickly it became obvious that those who do not work with lighting on a professional basis were clearly fascinated with these forms and objects. For these visitors, the exhibit was a new and exciting treatment of previously unseen technologies.'
One of the highlights of the show was Ron Arad's Inverted Pinhole Camera Obscura (IPCO). Constructed of fiberglass, polyester and an incandescent bulb, the IPCO Sphere projects a pattern of the bulb's filament onto the surrounding walls. Von Leesen comments, 'This piece was the closest approach to what an architectural lighting designer might consider an installation in which the viewer is immersed in both the magical and the technically interesting.'
The comprehensive companion catalog Brilliant: Lights & Lighting, by exhibit curator Jane Pavitt, is an excellent library addition for architect, lighting designer and general design enthusiast alike. Brilliant is a first step in showcasing good product design combined with lighting, and its greatest success is that lighting is now entered into the realm of public discussion. For additional information about the exhibit, visit the museum's website at www.vam.ac.uk.