A rapid commercial success, neon was born in 1910 from an invention by Georges Claude and was immediately used by industrialists and advertisers because of its visual power. Neon illuminated signs entered domestic homes and invaded cities, particularly large American and eastern metropolises, changing their appearance and conquering them with garish light. Very soon neon made its entry into the artistic field as well, with artists in fact grasping its versatility, manageability and communicative power.
One of the first artists to use neon was the Italian Lucio Fontana, who in 1930 used it together with black light in some of his Ambientazioni. The consolidation and development of this new medium within the art world occurred around the 1950s and 1960s, when conceptualists used neon for lettering or to illuminate objects and environments. Among the many include Italians Mario Merz and Maurizio Nannucci, Americans Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman (who recently concluded his solo exhibition Neon Corridors Room at Hangar Bicocca in Milan).
The practice of using neon in art consolidated to such an extent that it persisted over the years and is still incredibly current and widely used today. The public enthusiastically embraces this technique, probably because of its strong impact and fluorescent colors.
Many contemporary artists include the “fluorescent tube” within their works, in some cases taking up the concept of transcribing words and phrases, in others exploiting its light power, and in still others juxtaposing it with contrasting elements.
We have selected five contemporary and international artists who use neon in their works that you should discover.
#1 Arthur Duff
Arthur Duff (1973) was born in Germany and lives and works in Vicenza, Italy. His research focuses on creating complex spaces of visual and physical experience, using laser projections, pulsating images and neon lights. In Duff’s works technology is brought into contact with nature, science and the body are brought into relationship. Exemplary is his 2018 work titled No plot displayed in the Emerging Nature exhibition at the Marignana Gallery in Venice, Italy, in which a red neon tube is placed on two lava rocks, reciting the words “no plot.”
#2 Pedro Torres
Pedro Torres (1982) was born in Brazil and lives and works in Barcelona. The artist focuses his artistic practice on issues related to the concepts of time, distance, memory, language and image. Pedro almost always chooses blue neon, as in his latest site-specific work entitled Clathratus made for Spazio Volta in Bergamo.
#3 Yuko Mohori
Yuko Mohori (1980) was born in Japan and lives and works in Tokyo. The artist recently exhibited at the group show Japan Body Perform Live at PAC in Milan with the installation Moré Moré. This work makes explicit her interest in installation and sculpture that stems from the need to focus on moving phenomena that change according to the conditions of the environment. Yuko Mohori uses everyday objects, such as sponges, pots and pans, connecting them together by plastic pipes within which water flows, pumped by motor-driven mechanisms. The water follows a path that meets and intertwines with neon tubes, at the same time generating sounds caused by the musical instruments it inserts.
#4 Riccardo Cenedella
Riccardo Cenedella (1994) was born in Turin and graduated from MA Material Futures at Central Saint Martins. He is a designer and is dedicated to creating custom objects, experimenting with new materials with a focus on the practice of recycling. In the creation of his sculptural work Carpet Matter Lamp, the designer incorporates a light component that resembles neon but is not, finding a replacement for classic neon, which, while not over-consuming, is considered hazardous waste. In fact, the work is made using round pieces of discarded synthetic material combined with a Neonflex LED.
#5 Hyun Cho
Hyun Cho (1982) was born in South Korea and lives and works between America, South Korea and Italy, where she is represented by Ramo Gallery in Como. Her artistic practice of playing with words is highlighted by her use of neon, an example of which is the work Up To 200% Off, conceived a few years ago thinking about the concept of freedom in contemporary times.