Exhibition // Light’s Effervescent Potential: Adolf Luther at 401contemporary

Article by A.H. McGavin // Mar. 31, 2015

For much of his career, German ZERO artist Adolf Luther worked to depict light free of material constraints. Luther succeeded to some degree with painting, his first medium of choice; his abstract canvases were free of perspective or clear subject matter, but were not completely communicative of light’s effervescent potential. In 1960, Luther found a medium suitable for his continuing experimentation when he began to use glass as a conduit for light distortion. Through careful warping and construction, he eliminated space, perspective and subject matter, leaving only a visual sensation of the movement of light.

The Integration of Light and Space, a retrospective at 401contemporary, showcases Luther’s light-based works produced from the 1960s through the 1990s. The sculptures range drastically in size, from smaller, more intimate works like his ‘Hohlspiegelobjekt’ (1967) to massive wallhangings like ‘Lichtintegration’ (1974-75). Each sculpture defies the interpretation of its surrounding elements, warping reality in unique ways. For instance, the blurry, migraine-inducing shapes reflected in the concave plexiglass of ‘Sphärisches Hohlspiegelobjekt’ (1990) clash with the crisp reflections of ‘Hohlspiegelobjekt’ (1969). These visual experiences possess small clues – a mouth, a pair of legs, a doorway – that shift and warp as the viewer’s position changes relative to the hanging work. Luther’s deviated spaces abolish any clear sense of the viewer’s reflected physical presence in his sculptures, masking the physical distance between his work and the viewer.

A significant secondary component in this collection of Luther’s work is his distortion of the self-image: facial features are often identifiable, but redistributed across planes of reflective surfaces to the point that reflections are barely recognizable. The angled reflective surfaces of ‘Hohlspiegelobjekt’ (1971) are one such extreme distortion, with the viewer and their surroundings rearranged and compartmentalized beyond recognition. Alternately, in ‘Hänglinse,’ there is a coherent mirrored image within a warped context: the tinted, semitransparent mirror subtly perverts the viewer’s image onto a distorted background. These discomforting, corrupted presentations of the viewer’s reflection magnify the role of light filtration in the perception of Luther’s sculptures.

Also on display is ‘Laserraum,’ an installation from 1970. Luther’s enthusiasm for modern technology led him to experiment with lasers. ‘Laserraum’ sits within a dark room separated from the rest of the gallery by thick black curtains, where viewers stand alongside rotating lasers reflected and displaced through a series of plexiglass prisms. The beams are then filtered through clouds of smoke, transforming the red streaks of light into physical, mobile elements. Much like the rest of Luther’s work, ‘Lasserraum’ fully integrates the immaterial element of light within physical space.

Integration of Light and Space functions as both a comprehensive survey of Luther’s work and an insight to the artist’s understanding of light’s significance and potential. The work on display at 401contemporary is engaging in its distorted, alternate representations of reality.

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