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Light Shows Outgrow Candy Ravers and Pink Floyd

The San Jose Museum of Art presents Leo Villareal’s hypnotic light sculptures.

Light Shows Outgrow Candy Ravers and Pink Floyd

Leo Villareal has been dazzling the art world for about a decade with tripped-out light sculptures that would look just as at home in a snooty gallery as at a rave or a matinee of Laser Floyd. Now, you can see much of his work in one place: He's got his first major museum survey opening Saturday, at the San Jose Museum of Art, in California.

The exhibit has about 20 of the New York artist's sculptures, plus footage of his site-specific installations — including an LED display that, a couple years back, turned part of the National Gallery of Art into a stunning artificial meteor shower:

Villareal made Star and Diamond Sea (below) out of white LEDs and custom software and electrical hardware:

He trained at Yale and NYU, but found himself, of course, at Burning Man. There, he hacked out his first light sculpture, a bright sunburst pitched on the roof of a bus. Here's something he designed using incandescent bulbs two years later, called Red Life. Nowadays, LEDs are his primary medium.

Villareal likes to say that his art depends on technology but isn't about technology. So he programs the LEDs using code any kid with a laptop could figure out, the point being that the techie stuff takes a backseat to aesthetics (he wants to melt your mind, not numb it). "They really can transport people," he says of his installations. "They become these vehicles that take you somewhere." Translation: Best. Drugs. Ever.

[2007 installation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music]

[Images courtesy of the San Jose Museum of Art, except second from top and bottom images, via Leo Villareal]