A 200-foot-long passage connecting the east and west buildings of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C., is home to a yearlong exhibition by artist Leo Villareal that features light-emitting diode (LED) technology. Extreme Abstraction, a permanent installation by Villareal at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., inspired NGA associate curator of modern and contemporary art Molly Donovan, and she asked Villareal to come look at the museum's concourse passageway. “I went to see the space and thought about what we could do with the existing architecture,” Villareal explains, noting that he began the project three years ago. While the work currently is slated to be at the museum through September 2009, the NGA's press office says there is a possibility that the installation could be on display longer.
The existing passageway is fairly dark, with a relatively low ceiling and a moving walkway that connects the two buildings. Villareal wanted the installation to use only white light because he says it worked better with the environment and seemed more appropriate for the space than colored light. The ceiling slats have a mirrored finish that bounces light around the space, and Villareal's design resulted in the insertion of custom-made half-inch-diameter LED nodes in the approximately 100 gaps between the slats. Following a series of renderings and mockups, the project uses more than 40,000 LEDs with diffusers on a 6-inch spacing with a color temperature of 6500K. One challenge, according to Villareal, was developing a clip to hold the LEDs in place. Working with engineers, the clips were injection molded for use in the installation after numerous modifications and approximately 10 different versions. The NGA's website features a write-up about the LED installation, in addition to related resources, such as a 3-D model of Villareal's work that can be played with the QuickTime application, and three videos that show the project's background, the process, and the installation.
Custom-made software creates the patterns and sequences in the abstract work of art. “There's a lot of randomness in my process,” Villareal says, noting that he was toying with the idea of pattern recognition with this project. “When I see something compelling I capture that moment, and those selections are further mixed and they become the artwork.” The progressions are played randomly, making it unlikely that visitors will experience the same patterns twice. An interactive experience within the museum, the concourse is a fitting setting for the variability that Villareal strives to achieve in his evocative works.