Leo Villareal

Harmony of the Spheres

Aug 25 – Oct 10, 2020
Palo Alto

This exhibition brigs together three new LED works by Leo Villareal alongside nine single-panel pieces from his Instance series (2019).


229 Hamilton Avenue
Palo Alto

Above: Leo Villareal, Instance 32, 2019, LEDs, custom software, electrical hardware, steel, 38-3/8" × 38-3/8" × 2-7/8" (97.5 cm × 97.5 cm × 7.3 cm) © Leo Villareal

This presentation, Villareal’s first at Pace in Palo Alto, continues his long-standing relationship with the Bay Area. Highlights of Villareal’s projects in the area include the recently unveiled thirty-foot sculpture Buckyball (2019), the centerpiece of the entrance plaza at the new Rafael Viñoly-designed Stanford Hospital, and his renowned large-scale installation The Bay Lights (2013), a temporary commission which became a permanent, site-specific installation on western span of the San-Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2016 and has since become a staple of the San Francisco-Oakland cityscape.

For his exhibition at Pace, Villareal presents a series of LED panels which draws upon a history of practices engaged with mass imagery, mechanical reproduction, and the materiality of light. Flanking the entrance to the gallery, Optical Machine III & IV use LED lights and custom software to translate the layered and sequential logic of systems into beguiling visual experiences that, although abstract, echo the organic behaviors and networks found in nature. Inspired by the rules that govern cellular automata, Villareal develops his own underlying structures that form complex cosmological models.

Musica Universalis, the largest work in the exhibition, at just under ten-feet-square, references an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies as a form of music which is not audible but rather a harmonic and mathematical exploration of orbital resonance. Villareal is interested in synesthesia and the remapping of the senses. He creates works that exist purely as light but evoke elaborate sonic worlds.

The artist’s Instance series comprises singular units that are networked together into a larger, orchestrated whole. The singular works, in their digital and physical forms, become malleable synchronies wherein the possibility of order, however fleeting and subtle, appears visually across the units before gradually dissipating into a chaotic state. As particle systems, they give a sense that things are expanding and colliding, their compositional qualities alluding to antipodal forms associated with the cosmic and the atomic. For the artist, these allusions arise through the process—as he works with code, he observes their results as “echoes that occur by happenstance,” which he then captures. Ultimately, this places his work between the conscious expression of the artist and the liberation of the work into the realm of artificial life.

Custom-built software and devising rules that promote principles of emergent behavior are integral to Villareal’s practice. The works in this exhibition build on the artist’s early examinations of artificial and living systems as seen in The Bay Lights, here across networked panels and mosaicked tiles that burst with visual force. Together, they provide a rare opportunity to grasp the full breadth of the artist’s practice, placing his innovative sculptural works in direct dialogue with large-scale public installations.

Harmony of the Spheres precedes the presentation of the specially commissioned version of Villareal’s Star Ceiling (2019), first exhibited at the Armory in 2019, as part of Oklahoma Contemporary’s inaugural exhibition Bright Golden Haze, which was slated to open in March 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19. The show, which includes Pace artists James Turrell and Robert Irwin, explores the way artists have utilized light as material for shaping space, perception, and time. New dates for the exhibition are to be confirmed. In addition, Villareal’s Illuminated River, a major public artwork presented by The Illuminated River Foundation that will illuminate 14 bridges along the Thames in London with sequenced LED patterns, was inaugurated in July 2019 with four bridges—London, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium. The second phase of the artwork, including five more bridges, is on track to be unveiled in spring of 2021.

The exhibition will be on view via reservation. More details about the reservation process for the show are available (opens in a new window) here.


Leo Villareal

Leo Villareal 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.

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