A New York Artist Is Seeing the Light

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Spencer Finch and his piece “A Certain Slant of Light” at the Morgan Library and Museum (Deborah Solomon)

American artist Spencer Finch is not a household name. But a few weeks ago he was thrown into the spotlight in a big way, because he created the only commissioned piece for the 9-11 Memorial Museum.

Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning is a large panel with 2,983 squares of paper, each painted a unique shade of blue.

Now Finch is about to unveil a large-scale installation at the Morgan Library and Museum. The piece, titled A Certain Slant of Light after an Emily Dickinson poem, is 365 large squares of brightly-colored plastic that he’s attached to the Morgan’s glass lobby.

Art critic Deborah Solomon said she loved the piece “because it draws you into nature, which you might not have thought possible in New York City.”

The colors refer to the colors in the Book of Hours, a medieval calendar created by monks to track the various seasons. “Basically, he wants to make you aware that New York in summer is not all heat and mounds of trash on the sidewalk. There is also beautiful, beautiful light,” said Solomon.

President Obama, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, first lady Michelle Obama and others in front of Spencer Finch's piece for the 9-11 Memorial Museum (Getty Images) 

Light has become a popular medium for artists — witness several recent exhibits in New York. Last year, the Guggenheim Museum presented James Turrell's indoor light show. Doug Wheeler brought lines to the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea with his “light environments.”

Solomon says all these pieces referencing light is not a coincidence. Instead, they are a backlash to the fact that much of art is about consumer culture. “Art has become divorced from nature. And I think there is a desire among many artists to re-connect contemporary art with the natural world,” she said.

James Turrell: Rendering of installation for the Guggenheim Museum (Courtesy of James Turrell)

Still, New York City light is not often a source of inspiration for artists. “So many artists, from Picasso and Matisse on down, have talked about the fierce light in the south of France, about moving to Provence in pursuit of light,” said Solomon. “But have you ever heard of any artist saying he or she moved to New York to paint the light? Never.”

Can New York City become a destination for artists for its light? How so? Join the discussion.

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Soterios Johnson


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Comments [5]

Micah Houton from NYC

Too bad I won't be seeing his art. With a crazy admission fee of $24 per person, it's like I'm being victimized again. We're all affected by 9/11--one of this nation's greatest tragedies. Now we have to pay to reflect on it?? Ridiculous.

Jun. 19 2014 10:48 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hello there Keith from Brooklyn, Lucy from UWS and Peter Beadle!

Thanks for taking the time to write, and it is good to know you have found so much to admire in New York's oft-hazy light. If you think Soterios doesn't appreciate the light in this town, you misunderstood his question. He was asking whether any painters had ever moved here to paint the light.

I would say that the light of France tends to get hyped, while New York is more appreciated for its after-sundown electric dazzle.

Or that photographers, as Chris Bonanos just tweeted to me, prefer to pursue the noir shadows of NY rather than its bright spots.

Thanks again for writing, everyone. Here's wishing you a brightly illuminated weekend.

xo Deborah

Jun. 19 2014 10:37 AM
Keith from Brooklyn

As an artist I'm moving to the city because of the beautiful light of the people. I've rarely seem people so thrilled to enjoy each other and get every second they can to live life to the fullest.

Jun. 19 2014 08:10 AM
Lucy from UWS

Shame Soterios! Haven't you ever been thrilled by brilliant morning or evening light spearing down streets? New York has wonderful contrasts of light : brilliance and deep shadow.

Jun. 19 2014 07:48 AM
Peter Beadle from Central Queens

Disappointed once again at the Manhattan-centric definition of "NYC" favored by WNYC. Go down to the waterfront, above the 4th floor, under any bridge or to any outerborough and the light and shadows provide tons of inspiration. Come see the sun set behind Manhattan from my Queens apartment and be treated to a unique and beautiful sunset every day, and you'll understand why I find this question sadly ignorant.

Jun. 19 2014 07:47 AM

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