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Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light

Keely Orgeman; With a foreword by James Turrell and essays by Maibritt Borgen, Jason DeBlock, Carol Snow, and Gregory Zinman

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A long-overdue publication that restores Wilfred to the art-historical canon 

Lumia presents a long-overdue reevaluation of the groundbreaking artist Thomas Wilfred (1889–1968), whose unprecedented works prefigured light art in America. As early as 1919, many years before the advent of consumer television and video technology, Wilfred began experimenting with light as his primary artistic medium, developing the means to control and project unique compositions of colorful, undulating light forms, which he referred to collectively as lumia. Manifested as both live performances on a cinematic scale and self-contained structures, Wilfred’s innovative displays captivated audiences and influenced generations of artists to come. This publication, the first dedicated to Wilfred in over forty years, draws on the artist’s personal archives and includes a number of insightful essays that trace the development of his work and its relation to his cultural milieu. Featuring a foreword by the celebrated artist James Turrell, Lumia helps to secure Wilfred’s rightful place within the canon of modern art.


Keely Orgeman is the Alice and Allan Kaplan Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery. 


Yale University Art Gallery

Smithsonian American Art Museum

“[A] revelatory exhibition . . . as if the tectonic plates that compose the stories of twentieth-century art and media have shifted. . . . [Wilfred] belongs not only in the book of modernism but in the story of American visionary philosophy as well.”—Rebekah Rutkoff, Artforum

Lumia makes it clear why Wilfred deserves a spot in the 20th-century canon . . . Fascinating reading . . . The still images of Wilfred’s works do not disappoint, and photos of the equipment he developed and some of his conceptual drawings are helpful and revealing.”—Dianne Timblin, American Scientist
ISBN: 9780300215182
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Co-publisher: Distributed for the Yale University Art Gallery
172 pages, 9 1/4 x 10 3/4
161 color + 8 b/w illus.

An interview with Lumia author Keely Orgeman