Today, as many governments worldwide begin to enact legislation that will phase out incandescent lamps, the Pace Gallery is paying homage to the iconic, endangered form with a show that celebrates the light bulb's role as an artistic muse. “Burning, Bright: A Short History of the Light Bulb,” is a group exhibition that focuses on the incandescent lamp as both subject and essential tool. It spotlights a recurring fascination with the light bulb by some of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.
To tell the story, the show's curator, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, selected the work of 32 artists, including Arman, Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Alexander Calder, Jim Dine, Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Lee Ufan, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Pablo Picasso, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist.
The light bulb was of course, a favorite subject of the Pop Artists, and their pieces take center stage. There are multiple works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen including a cast bronze light bulb by Johns; a model of the binocular sculpture that Oldenburg and van Bruggen created for the Frank Gehry-designed Chiat-Day building in Venice, Calif., and Rauschenberg's “Soaring Dribble Glut,” a wall-mounted piece that features a row of blinking bulbs attached to a rusted aluminum and steel arrow.
But the exhibition also includes many works that predate the Pop Art Movement, going back to Man Ray's "Untitled Rayograph (Light Bulb with Nails)," from 1930; a 1965 oil portrait by Phillip Guston and Keith Sonnier's “Neon Wrapping a Bulb” done in 1970.
Present-day work is far from neglected. Matt Johnson's 2011 “Star in a Jar,” features a burning light bulb encased in a glass canning jar (with no visible wiring) and Zhang Xiaogang's massive and slightly deformed cast bronze bulb, (2009). But perhaps the most symbolic entry is Jean Silverthorne's 2007 "Untitled (Bad Ideas)," in which a trashcan overflows with silicone sculptures of spent and shattered bulbs surrounded by scavenging flies. Will this really be the end of the incandescent light bulb? The show runs through Nov. 26th at Pace Gallery, 545 West 22nd St., N.Y., thepacegallery.com.