Neon art began in the 1960’s when an artist named Dan Flavin first displayed it in a New York gallery. Back then neon was street, current and controversial. Indeed, The New York Times compared it to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal: “When Dan Flavin first brought [neon] into art galleries during the 1960’s, he was, in effect, doing what Marcel Duchamp had done with his ready-mades nearly 50 years earlier.”
1960 was a long time ago: 56 solid years have passed.
But, somehow, someway, neon art keeps making it into the world’s most prestigious booths inside the planet’s most important art fairs. And, there are usually crowds of people gathered around taking selfies.
My problem isn’t with abstract neon art, but with the textural variety. Once, fifty years ago, when neon was used to light up offbeat words it challenged the way people thought and created meaning. Now, several decades later, when neon is used to say cute things, it is just cute. And cute things belong in a corner restaurant, not in prime wall space at the London Frieze, which is where the works pictured above and below made their debut.
Illuminating a romantic phrase or a catchy word with bright neon can certainly be regarded as a creative act, but it should no longer be considered top-shelf art.
Indeed, if it’s not happening already, Urban Outfitters should soon offer a selection of aptly priced neon signs, and place them right next to the stacks of t-shirts that read: “Keep Calm and Blah Blah Blah.”
(Note: This text should in no way be construed as a diss upon the house of neon. I happen to love neon and consider it a wonderful, decorative part of life.)