Until 20 May 2012

10 bd de la bastille
75012 Paris, France
Wednesday–Sunday, 11am–7pm
Late night Thursday until 9pm


La maison rouge presents the first major international exhibition of neon art from the 1940s to the present day. Some one hundred works has been presented in all, many of historical significance, many being shown for the first time. The exhibition includes pieces by such pioneers as Lucio Fontana from the early 1950s, François Morellet, Bruce Nauman, Stephen Antonakos, Joseph Kosuth, and Mario Merz from the 1960s, and some of the many contemporary artists working in this medium, such as Jason Rhoades, Tracy Emin and Claude Lévêque.

French physicist and chemist Georges Claude developed the first neon tube in 1912, exactly one century ago. He unveiled his invention publicly at the Paris World Fair. A few years later, Claude filed a patent in the United States and, in 1923, sold his first two neon signs—reading ‘Packard’—to a car dealership. The rest is history…

As early as the 1930s, Moholy-Nagy was predicting that it would not be long before the “field of expression” formed by night-time city lights found “its own artists.”

Lucio Fontana showed the first ever work in Europe to be made entirely from neon, at the 1951 Milan Triennial: a vast, glowing, suspended whirlpool.

In the early ’60s, in France, Greece and the USA, François Morellet, Stephen Antonakos, Bruce Nauman and Keith Sonnier began to use neon in their performances and visual works. Around the same time, Dan Flavin started working with a specific type of lamp: fluorescent tubes. All the work from this period was of an abstract nature, whether lyrical or geometric.

In the mid-sixties, neon learned to ‘talk’ and ‘count,’ first with Joseph Kosuth’s neon tautologies then, a few years later, Maurizio Nannucci’s early ‘writings’—neon words or fragments of sentences in which colours, signs and meaning meld into one. At the same time, Mario Merz and Pier Paolo Calzolari incorporated neon words and numbers into their sculptural and/or sound installations. Martial Raysse, meanwhile, was including neon punctuation marks—’signs of desire’—in his assemblage-paintings.

In scarcely thirty years, this multitude of experiments and research took neon from a scientific invention, used primarily for advertising in urban areas, to an artistic medium in its own right.

Now neon brings together artists as diverse as Sylvie Fleury, Mathieu Mercier, and Cerith Wyn Evans.

Art made of color and light, yes, but neon art is also—first and foremost even—about line and curve.

Curated by: David Rosenberg
*The exhibition borrows his title to the work of Maurizio Nannucci, Who’s afraid of red yellow and blue, 1970.

Photo credits: Cosmin Năsui