At the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., I looked through a doorway in the permanent collection. There I saw a painting whose surface was changing colors. At least I thought it was a painting. I was mesmerized and watched the apparent painting shift from afar and then went closer to examine the surface. The piece was hanging in a niche and had a glossy plexiglass front.
It wasn’t a conventional painting, but it was art. The guard said that Scramble was installed about 6 months ago and it was one of the most interesting pieces he had seen. He told me it used the same technology as the shifting light installation across the walkway at the National Gallery. As we watched it, he said that this was the first time he had seen the all-pink version. Here are the details:
Villareal, Leo, Scramble, 2011, Light-emitting diodes, Mac mini, custom software, circuitry, wood, Plexiglas; 60 x 60 in.; 152.4 x 152.4 cm. Acquired 2012. Mixed Media, 2012.001.0001, American.
I’ve been fascinated by the walkway at the National Gallery ever since I experienced it. In 2009, the National Gallery commissioned American artist Leo Villareal to design a permanent installation in the walkway between the East and the West Wings. Entitled Multiverse, it is the largest and most complex light sculpture by the artist. It contains approximately 41,000 computer-programmed LED nodes that run through channels along the entire 200-foot (61 m)-long space.
According to Villareal, the ever-changing Scramble is a homage to the artist, Frank Stella, whose work Villareal saw at the Phillips Collection. When Villareal and Stella spoke together at a symposium at the Phillips in June 2011, Villareal was inspired to create Scramble.
But Scramble didn’t start there. In 1967, Stella created sets and costumes for Merce Cunningham’s dance piece entitled Scramble. Stella later created a series of paintings based on these sets also called Scramble . Villareal’s contemporary Scramble is indeed a fitting tribute to Stella and to art inspired by art.