When Art Turned Day-Glo: Marking the Impact of Daylight Fluorescent Materials in New York Art from the 60s and 70s

“Fluorescent colors are the extension of our visual world and the next step in color theory.”
(Herbert Aach, 1923-1985)

This research is about art containing daylight fluorescent colors, created in New York during the 60s and 70s. This topic has been almost completely neglected in the (art historical) literature, leaving the impact of fluorescent colors on the history of art and art criticism undetermined. The complexities of fluorescence cannot be captured by art historical methods alone and will therefore be supplemented by research in perceptual psychology and material analyses, making it Art Science, in the full sense of the word.

Findings from my earlier studies on the works of Herbert Aach and Frank Stella form the starting point, which will be expanded and further elaborated. In a subsequent stage, other New York artists from the same period will be considered: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Fred Sandback and Keith Sonnier. A new language must be developed, one which allows an adequate description of the experience and effects caused by a fluorescent pallet. This will be achieved through archival research, analysis of art historical literature, phenomenological investigation and material enquiry ((non-)destructive investigation of paint composition and pigment analysis).

A provisory taxonomy of fluorescent phenomena in art will be expanded and revised through experiments in perceptual psychology and subsequently integrated in the new language. Experiments will focus on the impact of fluorescent colors on depth perception and the temporal aspects of their experience: the investigation of illusory depth experience caused by the interaction between fluorescent and conventional colors (based on Frank Stella’s Irregular Polygon series), measurement of the ‘capture time’ of fluorescent colors through eye tracking, tests with shutter glasses and after image studies (based on Frank Stella’s Moroccan series).

With this interdisciplinary approach, a correct assessment of the considered works will be possible. On this basis, the place and the role of fluorescence in the oeuvre of the artists will be reconsidered, along with a re-evaluation of the relevant art criticism from the 60s and 70s.

PhD project
Research: Stefanie De Winter
Supervision: Hilde Van Gelder & Johan Wagemans

Lieven Gevaert Centre
KU Leuven, Faculty of Arts
Blijde Inkomststraat 21 pb 3313
B-3000 Leuven

Lieven Gevaert Centre
UC Louvain, Archéologie et d'histoire d'art
FIAL - Place Blaise Pascal 1 bte L3.03.13
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve