Review: Light Show at London’s Hayward Gallery

Light Show at Hayward Gallery, London.<br /> Photo by Linda Nylind. 27/1/2013.

A good exhibition gives you something to think about after you leave the gallery —an idea or emotion. A great exhibition makes you see the world in a different light. Light Show at the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery leads you to see the light, question it, and emerge with a new understanding of wonder.

Focusing on artists from the 1960s to the present day who have used light as a medium, Light Show investigates and frames the phenomenon of light.

Light Show at Hayward Gallery, London.<br /> Photo by Linda Nylind. 27/1/2013.



Mesmerising, beguiling and occasionally downright confusing, Light Show’s 25 illuminated installations and sculptures survey the experience of light, its effect on human psychology and its possibilities as a sculptural medium.

Light appears in pure colour blocks in Carlos Cruz-Diez’s photogenic installation, Chromosaturation.  By separating colour wavelengths, Cruz-Diez, a contemporary of light art pioneer Dan Flavin, reveals the profound effect light has on the human brain.

Similarly, the potential of seemingly ambient light to disconcert is revealed in Doug Wheeler’s all-white 1960s installation—to enter the exhibit is to partially abandon conscious thought and run on emotion.

Light Show at Hayward Gallery, London.<br /> Photo by Linda Nylind. 27/1/2013.


Prompting thought, rather than obliterating it, Bill Culbert’s tricksy 1975 work uses only lightbulbs and mirrors to disappear light.

Iván Navarro’s 2010 piece takes the idea forward. The visitor steps inside a box where the light below and above fades into infinite black while the viewer themself disappears.

Inspired by his childhood in Chile under Pinochet’s brutal totalitarian regime, Navarro’s work plays on the one-way mirrors used in interrogation rooms.

Happily, Light Show is not all about darkness. The twinkling shimmer of Leo Villareal’s 2011 Cylinder may suggest alien life forms, but the random glitter fall effect of the 19,600 computer-controlled LEDs that make up the piece have the comforting presence of an elaborate child’s nightlight.

Equally, the darkroom housing Anthony McCall’s beams of white light offers the light as a curiosity — seemingly solid and yet untouchable.

Light Show at Hayward Gallery, London.<br /> Photo by Linda Nylind. 27/1/2013.


This existential conundrum is repeated throughout the exhibition, as shadows disappear and space shifts, skirting the murky borderlands of philosophy, science and art.

Though many of the works are inspired by scientific discoveries and a very modern idea of how art should interact with the viewer, at heart the explorations of light art are reassuringly traditional. For have not artists always played with light?

By turns mentally challenging and simply hypnotic, Light Show is an enthralling spectacle.

Open 10am-6pm (12pm-6pm Monday, 8pm Thursday and Friday). Tickets £7.50-£11. Book tickets and visit the show online. Follow the gallery online @southbankcentre and use the hashtag #HAYWARDLIGHT

Previously published on Culture 24

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