“[G]limmers of unfathomable light” … a “yolk-colored blob” … “a sensuous array of abstract composition moving in suspended and unknowable sequence” … “vivid tendrils and clouds, soaring and seeping like magma” … “bruises seen in time-lapse”.
All of these descriptions represent attempts to capture in words the strange beauty of lumia, the art of an early 20th-century Danish-born American artist named Thomas Wilfred. The work manages to simultaneously defy description and lend itself to a seemingly endless array of dramatic characterizations. Lumia is best viewed, apprehended, or absorbed in person, which presents a quandary, since the works have all but disappeared from public display since the early 1980s. Happily, the Yale University Art Gallery has organized an exceptional exhibition (Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light, on view until July 23rd), featuring nearly half of the extant light works by Wilfred representing each phase of his career, from early at-home instruments made for individual viewers to his most ambitious public installation, Lumia Suite, Opus 158, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1963 and recently restored in a joint conservation project by the Gallery and MoMA. The exhibition will travel this fall to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where it will be on view from October 6th until January 7th, 2018.
We had the opportunity to record a podcast interview with the curatorial mastermind behind the exhibition, Keely Orgeman. You can listen to the podcast through iTunes, or on SoundCloud, here:
While you’re listening, you can get a sense of the visual experience of lumia thanks to the series of videos the Yale University Art Gallery has produced in conjunction with the exhibition: