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First solo exhibition of works by American artist Leo Villareal in London opens at Pace
Detector, 2019. LEDs, custom software, electrical hardware, steel, 10' 6" × 37' 10" × 3" (320 cm × 1,153.2 cm × 7.6 cm) © Leo Villareal.

LONDON.- Pace Gallery is presenting the first solo exhibition of works by American artist Leo Villareal at Pace in London. The exhibition is on view at 6 Burlington Gardens from 22 November 2019 to 18 January 2020, and coincides with the recent launch of Villareal’s Illuminated River, a major public artwork that, upon completion, will illuminate 14 bridges along the Thames. Launched in July 2019, four bridges, London, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium, are now lit up in unison with sequenced LED patterns subtly unfolding across each unique structure.

Firmly rooted in abstraction, Villareal’s works utilize LED lights and custom software to translate the layered and sequential logic of systems into beguiling visual experiences. The works in the exhibition exist at the vanguard of digital technology while drawing on a history of practices engaged with mass imagery, mechanical reproduction, and the materiality of light. For his exhibition at Pace, Villareal expands these legacies across a body of new and recent work, which include three new LED works of varying scales alongside six single-panel pieces from the Instance series (2018), as well as Corona (2018), a triptych of OLED screens. The works expand upon the artist’s fascination with visualizing systems, both their operation and disruption, through the phenomenal properties of light.

At the center of the exhibition is Detector (2019), a monumental work that spans over ten metres and features undulating fields of patterned luminescence, suggesting the sifting of stars, galaxies, and other astral phenomena. Signals penetrate through fields of noise as clusters of particles expand and collide, conjuring antipodal forms from the cosmic to the atomic. Two works flank Detector, titled Optical Machine I & II, and serve as portals into the visual manifestation of Villareal’s rule-based software, which engages chance through the concepts and computational techniques of artificial life and emergent behaviour. Employing a highly synthetic process, Villareal’s works nevertheless echo the ubiquitous systems that produce organic behaviors found throughout nature.

The six pieces from Villareal’s Instance series function both as individual artworks and as part of an orchestrated whole. For the exhibition, the artist has networked together two groups of three works from the series, allowing the individual panels to act alone while at times performing in synchronicity with interconnected works. Existing simultaneously as both standalone objects and nodes in a larger system, the works convey the interdependence between their digital and physical forms while incorporating new levels of complexity in their visual behavior. Linked together, they produce malleable synchronies wherein the possibility of order, however fleeting and subtle, flashes briefly into existence before gradually dissipating into a state of entropy.

Corona is composed of three 4K OLED screens that display animated particles rhythmically pulsing in radial choreographies. Villareal’s use of the triptych underscores the importance of art-historical precedent in his work, alluding to a format originally associated with Renaissance altarpieces, but which recurs throughout the history of painting. Corona explores how the traditional form of the triptych takes on new meaning in contemporary digital age, in which screens proliferate around us in increasingly immersive configurations. The swiftly moving particles of Villareal’s work inspire a more embodied mode of contemplation, opening outward toward the sublime vastness of the universe, the enigmatic world of subatomic particles, and the fundamental properties of living systems.

The range of Villareal’s formats spans the possibilities of current technology. The high-resolution OLED screen array in Corona contains 24,883,200 pixels, whereas the LED panel works feature a drastically reduced pixel pitch. By embracing a technology with reduced visual complexity, Villareal emphasizes the actual binary unit of each lightemitting diode, rooting the works in the materiality of mechanical reproduction and the discrete visual marks that comprise the substrate of printmaking. The pixellation of Villareal’s LED works finds antecedent in sources as varied as Gustave Doré’s etchings after Dante’s Inferno and the paintings of Roy Lichtenstein, whose Explosion series directly informs the artist’s pulsating nebulas of artificial light.

In conjunction with the exhibition, on 22 November at 7pm the Illuminated River Foundation will present a talk with Leo Villareal at Southwark Cathedral in London. Following Villareal’s exhibition at Pace in London, the artist will be the subject of a solo exhibition at Pace in Palo Alto, opening on 2 April 2020. To coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach, large-scale LED installation Optical Machine II will be installed at The Edition in Miami Beach in collaboration with Ballroom Marfa, an arts space supporting local and international artists working across media in Marfa, Texas.

Leo Villareal (b. 1967, Albuquerque, New Mexico) works with LED lights to create complex, rhythmic artworks for both gallery and public settings. He focuses on identifying the governing structures of systems and is interested in base units such as pixels and binary code. His installations are based on custom, artist-created code, which operates in real-time to constantly alter the frequency, intensity, and patterning of light. Villareal has created temporary and permanent lightworks and sculptures for public spaces and museums including the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Launched in July 2019, Villareal’s winning artwork for the 2016 Illuminated River International Design Competition uses light and colour in an integrated site-specific composition to enliven the bridges of the River Thames in London. Recent monographic exhibitions include a mid-career survey at the San Jose Museum of Art, California in 2010, which travelled to the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas; and Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, before closing at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin, in 2012; Buckyball at the Exploratorium, San Francisco in 2016: and Particle Chamber at Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, in 2018.

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