Fact Sheet Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light”


Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light
Oct. 6 – Jan. 7, 2018


American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets N.W.


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 15 of Wilfred’s spellbinding light compositions, shown together for the first time in nearly 50 years. As early as 1919—well before the advent of consumer television and video technology—Wilfred (1889–1968) 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 were 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.


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


“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.

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About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the flagship museum in the United States for American art and craft. It is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

Press Images

An image of one of Thomas Wilfred's Lumia pieces.
Press - Lumia

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