For Leo Villareal’s second solo show at Conner Contemporary, gallery owner Leigh Conner has completely sealed off her rectangular gallery space in neutral paper, essentially gift-wrapping all the sources of outside light in order to deliver the best possible viewing atmosphere for Villareal’s sculpture exhibition.
And although a bit disorienting at first – in the sense that one first thinks (at least I did) that the gallery was closed or between shows – it sets a perfect viewing stage for an artist who is having a well-deserved meteoric rise and attention in the rarified atmosphere of high art.
Conner’s preparation of her space continues as one opens the door and enters the gallery, to be immediately confronted by Horizon, a 24 inch installation of tubes of light.
Floating away from the gallery’s main wall, they are starkly and severely displayed, allowing for perfect viewing and the thinking required to arrive at a full understanding of the artist’s multi faceted skill set in creating this and all the other sculptures in the show.
In creating Horizon, by the necessities of the art genre that he is slowly but surely re-inventing, Villareal must master not only the creative assemblage of the piece itself, but obviously must also possess significant technical skill to deliver the color messages that is one of the end goals of this piece. This is important, very important in fact, as contemporary art continues to “re-discover” a once ignored talent: technical skill.
And the description of the technical skill required to deliver this elegant, minimalist work is dizzying! Let me try.
Each of the nine plexiglass tubes of light is filled with red, green and blue light emitting diodes (or LEDs – the same LEDS that make up your PC’s plasma screen or your Gameboy screen, etc.). Horizons' diodes are each individually modulated, each capable of producing over 16 million colors.
How the colors shift and change are dictated by software created by Villareal, using a set of autonomous software agents that are constantly traveling through the software rules within a matrix, encountering each other, creating new rules, and reacting to different situations. If this all sounds like you need a Master’s degree in Computer Science or a Doctorate in Geekdom, then it does. Autonomous software agents are now an invisible and common part of our daily life; either in data mining for Google, or adapting and learning and pushing us towards full automation of common, but difficult events.
Or in Villareal’s case: Creating a nearly inexhaustible and ever refreshing display of the art of color and form.
And because we are visual creatures, our common minds are enthralled, entertained, hypnotized and fascinated by the play of the light – ever changing, and creating new impressions: video games, organic, space, stark, warm, rich.
But the “art” is not just in the light movement, or the set of 16 million possible colors, or the eloquent delivery vehicle worthy of a Marfa installation. It is all that and more.
The key to truly understanding and enjoying (and recognizing) Villareal’s contribution to contemporary art, is to realize that this digital sculptor’s chisel and hammer are the autonomous software agents that he created and which now deliver for their creator, the work that he claims in his name.
And Villareal’s nearly infinite digital atelier never tires, and is always delighted to take a new path, try a new combination of colors, deliver a new visual sensation. Tireless, efficient and blissfully ignorant of the effect (positive or negative) that their color and form displays elicit from the viewer.
Digitalism gets a powerful push in this show and Leo Villareal and his digital atelier are doing the shoving, in countless directions at once.
Leo Villareal is at Conner Contemporary until June 26. The gallery is at 1730 Connecticut Avenue, NW (Second floor). Phone is 202/588-8750.