Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Year-round exhibitions and collections spanning the history of art, with strengths in Asian art, prints, and 19th- to 21st-century American art.

Leo Villareal: Cosmos

An homage to the late Cornell astronomy professor Carl Sagan, Cosmos is a site-specific installation by New York–based artist Leo Villareal (born 1967), a pioneer in the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and computer-driven imagery. His signature pieces explore complex movement and dazzling patterns created by points of light using his own computer software.

Villareal – Cosmos – Johnson Museum – Cornell final from Walter Patrick Smith, AIA LEED A on Vimeo.

Planning for Cosmos began in November 2010, when Villareal—along with the project architect, Walter Smith, and donors Lisa and Richard Baker—worked with Johnson Museum staff to determine the optimal location for the installation. The ceiling of the Sherry and Joel Mallin Sculpture Court was chosen for its high visibility not only on campus but also from the city of Ithaca. After studying the Museum’s architectural plans and considering structural and aesthetic aspects of the installation, the artist’s team returned to Cornell in April 2012 to install a nine-foot-square mock-up. Installation of the final piece took several weeks, with twelve thousand energy-efficient LEDs on a gridded framework attached to the ceiling of the sculpture court. A zero gravity bench was designed by the artist for viewers to fully immerse themselves in the viewing experience and to foster a more communal involvement with his installation. Villareal gave a public lecture to mark the opening of the installation.

Villareal’s works reinterpret fundamental components of such twentieth-century art movements as pop, minimalism, conceptual, and post-painterly abstraction while responding to the ingenuity and imagination that defines technology in the twenty-first century. Among his most notable site-specific works are the illumination of the exterior of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (2006), Multiverse in the Concourse walkway between the East and West Buildings at the National Gallery of Art (2008), and Sky at the Tampa Museum of Art (2009). His largest installation to date is The Bay Lights, illuminating the West Span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge for its 75th anniversary in 2013.

Andrea Inselmann
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Image Captions

  1. Leo Villareal: Cosmos (photo: James Ewing)

  2. Gallery view including Milton Avery, Girl with Sleeping Baby, 1945; Thomas Hart Benton, Roadside Bin, Louisiana, 1943–45; Alberto Giacometti, L’Homme qui marche II, 1959–60; and Otto Dix, Liegende auf Leopardenfell, 1927.

  3. Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke Still Lifes with Lamp, Coffee Pot, and Box, 1997.

  4. Gallery view including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The Goose Girl, 1891; and Charles François Daubigny, Les Champs au moi de juin, 1874.

  5. Gallery for Ancient art

  6. View of Cayuga Lake from the fifth-floor galleries for Asian art
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