Lumia, the light of magic and mystery has emerged at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) with an exhibition titled LUMIA: Thomas Wilfred and The Art of Light (October 6th – January 7, 2018) which was originally organized by the Yale University Art Gallery. It was first exhibited at Yale University and then moved to Washington D. C. for presentation at SAAM. The show presents Lumia as an art form with a representational collection of fifteen Lumia compositions designed and built by Wilfred between the 1920s – 1960s. Overall the exhibition is comprised of several self-contained Clavilux Jr. cabinets, one table top unit that projects a Lumia composition on the ceiling, and several large self-contained rear projected art gallery wall displays.
Wilfred’s light sculptures were an effort to transcend his Lumia imagery into a spiritual experience with Lumia acting as a meditative trigger to viewer appreciation.
photo by Tim Thompson
The Lumia art works presented at the museum were each distinguished as a unique animated light composition, each an original play of light and color with its own chromatic narrative. Wilfred’s description of Lumia was, “a drama of moving form and color unfolding in a dark space.”
a Wilfred table-top ceiling composition, bound for someone’s living room.
photo by Tim Thompson
The Lumia collection is presented through several museum galleries, all appropriately dimmed, and each with seating to allow extended viewing of any of the Lumia displays. Each Lumia presentation is timed to last from hours to days, allowing viewers to contemplate each artwork without it repeating itself during their viewing. Varying Lumia images displayed a full range of visual expressions from amorphous to abstract. In most cases the colors were muted as pastels, with occasional bursts of rich vibrant color shifts.
Lumia has always been hard to pin down as a light art form as Wilfred tried to find its place within fine art, culture and home decor.
– As Wilfred refined his Lumia process, he positioned it as the 8th fine art, the art world didn’t buy into that idea, but Wilfred persevered and continued to create varying expressive Lumia displays.
– Since the 1920s when Wilfred first reveled Lumia, to the world it continued to beguile viewers with visually captivating vistas of slowly transforming and evolving light forms. Kenneth MacGowan, in a 1922 review for the New York City Globe noted that “Lumia is an art for itself and holds its audience in the rarest moments of silence that I have ever known in a playhouse.” Not surprisingly the same audience awe holds true even today.
– Many Lumia viewers liken Lumia presentations to a form of psychic relaxation, more like ‘mood lighting.’ Of the viewers who noted this, many also said they’d love to incorporate a Lumia display within their home.
– With Lumia’s undulating compositions it encourages some viewers that Lumia should be combined with an appropriate musical narrative in syncopation to the Lumia motion, visual music as it were. Surprisingly Wilfred did not support that idea. “Lumia is best appreciated in silence. Its beauty,” he wrote, “is best enjoyed through the eyes alone.”
– Wilfred’s efforts with Lumia as a visual experience was to transcend a conventional viewing of his various Lumia displays into a spiritual experience with Lumia acting as a meditative trigger to viewer appreciation. Many viewers have likened it to a universal “religious experience.”
Wilfred’s description of Lumia was, “a drama of moving form and color unfolding in a dark space.” In composition, the Lumias illustrated a full range of visual expressions from amorphous to abstract.
photos by Louis M. Brill
Yale curator, Keely Orgeman has produced a more than excellent effort in piecing together a full representation of Wilfred’s professional career in regard to his Lumia creations, and as well creating the show catalog about Wilfred’s explorations with light as an art form. This show is an excellent revival of Wilfred’s exploration of the art of Lumia. For those able to make the trip to Washington D. C. and SAAM, they will be more than pleased by the exhibition and presence of Lumia’s magical movements.
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Lumia in action