Recently by Susannah Edelbaum

The early nineties, in neon form, are alive and well at the 2008 Armory Fair, with at least seventeen different sculptures and low reliefs created from neon lighting. Paris, London, Dublin, Zurich, Brussels, Luxembourg, and New York galleries have all endorsed the tubing (and with a one-in-nine, piece-per-gallery average at the show, it seems safe to regard it as a small trend. I wondered where Berlin was.)

The medium is most consciously employed by the artists who manipulate its elements. George Henry Longly, who shows at Dicksmith Gallery (London, 558), in his white, wall-mounted, freeform abstraction, Lighting Proposal #21, uses warm and cool bulbs, a fact which shows in the work’s subtly different tones of light. At the Dublin gallery Kerlin (536), A.G. (Obliteration Neon) has been painted black by Stefan Brüggemann, which would have reduced the piece to nothing more than an electrified squiggle on the wall, save for the fact that the artist did not paint the back. The normally-glaring narrow tubing remains dark, and the wall behind it glows a bluish-white.

Tracey Emin, "I Promise To Love You"
Tracey Emin, I Promise To Love You

Coping with probable lovers are Pietro Roccasalva, at Art: Concept (Paris, 1201) and Tracey Emin at White Cube (London, 801.) Roccasalva writes You never look at me from the place I see you so that the second half of the vivid purple writing loops downward and backward. Emin claims I promise to love you in flashy white script, although at Lehmann Maupin (New York, 315) she twists the lighting into a more graphic stance and writes Her Soft Lips Touched mine And Every Thing Became Hard. There are token words made slightly more memorable by their glare – Martin Creed’s Friends and Things, which are white and multi-colored, respectively, and Visibleinvisible (where both words are equally visible) by Cerith Wyn Evans at White Cube.

The trouble with Friends and Things is that they don’t stand on their own as more than garish wall décor, and maybe that is the point, but why buy at an art fair what you yourself could commission from its commercial source? Neon, sculpted into something besides a lonely word, figures more impressively as a medium, particularly in Keith Sonnier’s pink and blue Bundle Pack, formed with metal net at Pace Wildenstein, and as two short inserts in a bent metal pill-shaped sheet at Art in General. The lighting is also shown to its best advantage on paper and framed, as in Fiona Banner’s A-Hole at Frith Street Gallery (London, 210), where adjacent, small uneven circles could be interpreted, from the text in the piece below, as the eponymous item or as navels, or one of each.

There is more – Doug Aitken makes a couple of appearances, with a circular swirl that flashes around and around, and fits perfectly with the life-size pink car-wreck next to which it is mounted, at Galerie Eva Presenhuber (Zurich, 611.) His free-standing white piece that also progressively flickers on and off in various combinations, beautiful and damned (diamond neon) would look appropriate in someone’s simple, cavernous foyer. Among the words and body parts and odes to lost loves, however, is Joseph Kosuth’s W.F.T. #1, in white, at Sean Kelly (New York, 301.) Set against a black wall, the piece would have an effect whether or not it was switched on. Kosuth, maybe best known for One and Three Chairs, here defines the light itself, in a web that spreads from the word Latin. W.F.T. #1 is one of the most interesting pieces at the Armory Fair, to the point that its own complexity prevents the piece from conferring extra validity on all the other neon lighting around the show. Of all the work in that medium, Kosuth’s is the only one at the show where the words and form of the work outshine the material in which they exist.