Leo Villareal

an image of the staircase with a grand LED chandelier at the Renwick Gallery.

Leo Villareal, Volume. Photo by Ron Blunt.

On View Indefinitely

Leo Villareal’s works are composed of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that are controlled by custom computer programs. These programs use simple, mathematical rules with no preconceived outcome that, when put into motion, create complex, organic patterns of light. The artist’s use of technology and numbers to evoke biological forms is influenced by mathematician John Conway’s Game of Life, a computer simulation of how cells live and die based on their proximity to other cells. Like Conway, Villareal is interested in the concepts of chance and “emergence,” or how complex behavior can develop from simple interactions. His work, which is often site-specific, includes The Bay Lights, a 1.8-mile-long permanent LED installation on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, as well as many pieces that have been acquired by prominent museums worldwide.

Villareal is a prominent light sculptor based in New York City. He received a B.A. from Yale University in 1990 and an M.P.S. from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1994. That year, he began working for Interval Research Corporation, a technology think tank based in Palo Alto, California, and attended Burning Man for the first time. Inspired by his initial, disorienting experience in the Black Rock Desert, Villareal brought his first light piece to the gathering in 1997 and has participated every year since.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man brings the large-scale, participatory work from this desert gathering to the nation’s capital for the first time. The exhibition takes over the entire Renwick Gallery building and surrounding Golden Triangle neighborhood, bringing alive the maker culture and creative spirit of this cultural movement.