Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light at Smithsonian American Art Museum, October 6 – January 7, 2018

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light restores this pioneering artist to his rightful place in the history of modern art. This groundbreaking exhibition presents 15 of Wilfred’s spellbinding light compositions, shown together for the Prst time in nearly 50 years. As early as 1919—well before the advent of consumer television and video technology—Wilfred (1889–1968) began experimenting with light as his primary artistic medium, developing a new art form of sophisticated light sculptures that project moving images, which he referred to collectively as “lumia.” Notable artists of his time, such as Jackson Pollock, László Moholy-Nagy and Katherine Dreier, recognized Wilfred as an innovator. In the intervening years, Wilfred disappeared from the story of American modernism as his works became hard to maintain and were consequently relegated to museums’ storage. Presented in their original form, after extensive research and reassembly by conservators at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, the resulting compositions display ever-changing colored forms against a black background, like an aurora borealis emerging from and disappearing into the night sky. Lumia brings Wilfred’s avant-garde work to life for a new generation.” — American Art Museum

Thomas Wilfred Sitting at the Clavilux “Model E,” about 1924. Sepia-toned photograph. Thomas Wilfred Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn.

Thomas Wilfred, Vertical Sequence, Op. 136, 1940. Metal, glass, electrical and lighting elements, and a frosted-glass screen in an oak cabinet; 37 hrs., 28 mins., 47 secs. Carol and Eugene Epstein Collection. Photo: Rebecca Vera-Martinez

Thomas Wilfred, Lumia Suite, Op. 158, 1963–64. Projectors, reflector unit, electrical and lighting elements, and a projection screen; approx. 9 yrs., 127 days, 18 hrs. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, 582.1964. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Thomas Wilfred, Study in Depth, Op. 152, 1959. Projector, reflector units, electrical and lighting elements, and a projection screen; 142 days, 2 hrs., 10 mins. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Bristol-Myers Squibb by transfer from the National Museum of American History, Behring Center, 2004, 04.2. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Thomas Wilfred, Visual Counterpoint, Op. 140, 1950. Metal, glass, electrical and lighting elements, and a frosted-glass screen in an aluminum cabinet; 11 hrs., 7 mins., 30 secs. Carol and Eugene Epstein Collection. Photo: Rebecca Vera-Martinez

Thomas Wilfred, Nocturne, Op. 148, 1958. Metal, glass, electrical and lighting elements, and a frostedglass screen in an oak cabinet; 5 yrs., 359 days, 19 hrs., 20 mins., 48 secs. Carol and Eugene Epstein Collection. Photo: Rebecca Vera-Martinez

Thomas Wilfred, Unit #50, Elliptical Prelude and Chalice, from the First Table Model Clavilux (Luminar) series, 1928. Metal, fabric, glass, and electrical and lighting elements on a maple table. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., Gift of Thomas C. Wilfred, 1983.66.1. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Thomas Wilfred, Unit #86, from the Clavilux Junior (First Home Clavilux Model) series, 1930. Metal, glass, electrical and lighting elements, and an illustration-board screen in a wood cabinet. Carol and Eugene Epstein Collection. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Thomas Wilfred, Untitled, Op. 161, 1965. Metal, glass, electrical and lighting elements, and a frostedglass screen in an oak cabinet; 1 yr., 315 days, 12 hrs. Carol and Eugene Epstein Collection.

Thomas Wilfred, The Clavilux Silent Visual Carillon, 1928. Gouache and watercolor on paper, mounted on cardboard. Thomas Wilfred Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Thomas Wilfred, Lumia Diagram, about 1940–50. Ink on paper. Thomas Wilfred Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Poster advertisement for The Art Pioneer Thomas Wilfred in a Clavilux Recital, about 1926. Red printing ink on paper. Thomas Wilfred Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light was organized by Keely Orgeman, the Alice and Allan Kaplan Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Images courtesy American Art Museum.