A Twinkling Multiverse

Leo Villareal
National Gallery of Art

Visitors familiar with the National Gallery of Art know that its East and West wings are connected by a subterranean passageway (and a cafe with yummy gelato, and a cool waterfall, but I digress). The moving walkways in that passage are now surrounded by a twinkling LED installation by artist Leo Villareal. When you stand or walk in the tunnel, more than 40,000 LEDs sparkle in synchronized and random patterns all around you.

Villareal says the patterns in his art are inspired by nature:

I’m very interested in rules and underlying structures, which all tie in with the code I’m writing. There are things in nature that inspire me, like wave patterns or natural systems that at first glance appear to be very complex, but when I study them further there are simple rules that govern them. That’s what I try to get at in my code — building simple rules that refer to some of these ideas. Laws are another thing I’ve been working on lately. I’m not a physicist, but I use rules to create software and in the software I’m able to play with parameters like gravity, velocity, friction. I’m able to use these parameters and access them as an artist and see what compelling things result. (DCist)

I stopped by the National Gallery before I left DC, and I admit that the effect is lovely (and perfect for the holidays). But is it quote-unquote “great art?” The WaPo’s Blake Gopnik says no.

Visiting the installation at the National Gallery, Villareal’s dealer heard one enthusiastic visitor exclaim, “Wow, a space-warp, man.” That visitor was right: With this work, the National Gallery has entered “Star Trek” territory.

Star Trek? Eh, not quite. I’m not sure Multiverse is great art either, but it is a wonderful surprise in a previously boring, somewhat cramped space. Judge for yourself – if you can’t stop by in person, the experience is captured in this rather grainy YouTube video, and in better videos at the National Gallery website.


  1. #1 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    December 31, 2008

    We were there about a year ago and I had the same impression… something unexpected and cool done with that space. Great after the gelato 😉

  2. #2 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 31, 2008

    Coolio! I love that underground part of the National Gallery!!

  3. #3 Patricia
    January 1, 2009

    If the artist was aiming for greatness then, yes perhaps he has failed. I don’t think he was. Simply he’s happy to research, program, design and share the results in a visually pleasing manner with an audience.

    There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple or just creating art as a result of experimenting with media.

    I exhibited once and a viewer was overheard to dismiss one of my pieces with ‘Is that all?’ or similar. I wasn’t aiming for anything profound with that piece unlike some of the other works in the show, so I was not insulted. It was an experiment not a statement piece. I sold it! 😀

  4. #4 Joe Leasure
    January 8, 2009

    At first glance, I’d call this technologically infused decoration (I’d have to actually see it though).

    Then again, many of the reliefs that once ‘decorated’ the Parthenon hold their own place(s) in the development of art.

    Nice blog by the way. I enjoy its variety. You draw very well too 🙂

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