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Leo Villareal

September 9, 2012 – December 30, 2012

installation view of "Leo Villareal" showing a visitor seated in a dark room with light artworks
installation view of "Leo Villareal" showing a visitor standed in a darkly lit room with light artworks hanging from the ceiling


A pioneer in the use of LEDs and computer-driven imagery, Leo Villareal is increasingly renowned for his light sculptures and architectural, site-specific works. Featuring more than fifteen sculptures and installations, Leo Villareal is the artist’s first major traveling museum survey, tracing the development of his work over the past decade. With non-repeating light sequences, Villareal’s luminous sculptures create dazzling, immersive environments that probe the formal possibilities of light, color, space, and movement.

Villareal’s work bridges twenty-first-century technology with both established art historical precedents and trends in the broader contemporary-art world. Governed by computer code, the artist’s pulsating light sculptures are rooted in his interest in underlying structures and rules. He bases his hand-coded programming—which is manifested through patterns of light—on John Conway’s Game of Life, a mathematical model that simulates how cells live, die, and multiply. His programming both instructs the lights and allows for an element of chance; using computer technology and mathematical rules to activate his artworks, Villareal demonstrates how clearly defined systems can generate unpredictable outcomes.

This exhibition firmly establishes Villareal’s place within the continuum of contemporary art. His sculptures show affinity to the work of Dan Flavin and James Turrell, pioneers in the fields of Minimalism and Light-and-Space art, respectively, echoing their use of light to frame and define space in the built environment. Moreover, he came of age in the 1980s, when artists Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, and Jenny Holzer were in the spotlight, engaging with issues of advertising imagery, media manipulation, and consumer fetishism. Although paralleling their slick, commerce-savvy approach to art, Villareal strips his own work of socio-political content, relying instead on the mesmerizing sequences of light patterns. While acknowledging these forbears, he sees the coded system of rules underlying his art as relating most closely to Sol LeWitt’s conceptual wall drawings, which are similarly based on a pre-determined set of guidelines. Villareal synthesizes these influences, ultimately presenting a new vision of art that responds and relates to the technological innovations of the twenty-first century.

installation view of "Leo Villareal" showing a seated visitor in a darkly lit room with light artworks on the walls

Exhibition Support

Leo Villareal was organized by the San Jose Museum of Art. The exhibition is sponsored by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, and Bank of America.

The Wisconsin presentation of Leo Villareal is generously sponsored by Mary Ellyn and Joe Sensenbrenner; Ellen Rosner and Paul Reckwerdt; James and Sylvia Vaccaro; Perkins Coie, LLP; Alliant Energy Foundation; McGladrey; Terry Haller; Dane Arts, with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.