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Exhibitions

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light

1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)
October 6, 2017 – January 7, 2018

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  • Watch videos of several artworks on view in the exhibition

Image for Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light

Thomas Wilfred, Unit #86, from the Clavilux Junior (First Home Clavilux Model) series, 1930. Metal, glass, electrical and lighting elements, and an illustration-board screen in a wood cabinet. Carol and Eugene Epstein Collection

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light restores this pioneering artist to his rightful place in the history of modern art. This groundbreaking exhibition presents fifteen of Wilfred’s spellbinding light compositions, shown together for the first time in nearly fifty years.

As early as 1919—well before the advent of consumer television and video technology—Wilfred began experimenting with light as his primary artistic medium, developing a new art form of sophisticated light sculptures that project moving images, which he referred to collectively as lumia. Notable artists of his time, such as Jackson Pollock, László Moholy-Nagy, and Katherine Dreier, recognized Wilfred as an innovator. In the intervening years, Wilfred disappeared from the story of American modernism as his works became hard to maintain and consequently relegated to museums’ storage. Presented in their original form, after extensive research and reassembly by conservators at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, the resulting compositions display ever-changing colored forms against a black background, like an aurora borealis emerging from and disappearing into the night sky. Lumia brings Wilfred’s avant-garde work to life for a new generation.

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light is organized by Keely Orgeman, the Alice and Allan Kaplan Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at Yale University Art Gallery. The coordinating curator in Washington, DC is Virginia Mecklenburg, SAAM’s chief curator.

The exhibition catalogue, distributed by Yale University Press, is available in the museum store ($45). Written by Keely Orgeman, it includes a foreword by James Turrell and contributions by Maibritt Borgen, Jason DeBlock, Carol Snow, and Gregory Zinman.


Credit
Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light was organized by Keely Orgeman, the Alice and Allan Kaplan Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery and was made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Additional support provided by Mary-Jo and John Amatruda, Jerald Dillon Fessenden, the David Bermant Foundation, the Art Gallery Exhibition and Publication Fund, and the Friends of American Arts at Yale Exhibition and Publication Funds.

The presentation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is made possible through the generosity of the Elizabeth Broun Curatorial Endowment, the James F. Dicke Family Endowment, and the scan | design Foundation.