Light artists illuminate London’s Hayward Gallery

The Cruz-Diez Foundation
'Chromosaturation', by Carlos Cruz-Diez, 1965-2013. Courtesy of the Cruz-Diez Foundation.
(Image credit: Linda Nylind)

There could be few finer ways to pass a dreary afternoon than exploring the radiant survey of light-based artworks on show at London's Hayward Gallery (opens in new tab), an illuminated journey so warming - at times literally - that it becomes a foil for our mid-winter reality.

'Light Show' spans generations of light-obsessed artists, from Dan Flavin's early investigative neon works through to Leo Villareal (opens in new tab)'s sparkling new shower of LEDs 'Cylinder II', the dazzling face of the exhibition. With the exception, perhaps, of Iván Navarro (opens in new tab)'s claustrophobic one-way mirrors, it is a tremendously welcoming show. Some of the works require you to watch and ponder for 10 minutes or more before you can appreciate them fully. Sit down, they implore. Bask in the light.

Dr Cliff Lauson, Hayward's curator, has created 'experiential, sensual' environments that 'hit a spectrum of emotive tones. It can be subtle,' he says, referencing Cerith Wyn Evan (opens in new tab)'s light pillars, which from a distance appear beautifully birch-like but up close heat up ominously like mosquito zappers. It can also unsettle you, like Conrad Shawcross (opens in new tab)' 'Slow Arc inside a Cube IV', in which a moving light splashed on a steel cage creates vertigo-inducing shadows.

Olafur Eliasson (opens in new tab)'s 'Model for a timeless garden' uses strobelights to freeze the fluid movements of a dozen fanciful water fountains, a contrast that's at once captivating and off-putting. 'Light can be calming, but it can also be aggressive,' says Lauson, fairly.

The majority of works, though, are uplifting in the extreme. Venezuelan op artist Carlos Cruz-Diez challenges not only our perceptions but our eyes themselves in 'Chromosaturation', where niches of red, blue and green neon meld to form brilliant pools of tertiary colour like atmospheric Prozac.

It's quite a buzz, and not just in your ears. In the curtained-off 'You and I, Horizontal', Anthony McCall (opens in new tab) has used projections and haze to build a field of light so seemingly solid, you'll want to climb aboard. The projections vary over 50 minutes, so McCall is all for you staying for the extended release. And besides, he says, 'After you've been in there five minutes, it doesn't feel dark any more.'

The artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London

'You and I, Horizontal', by Anthony McCall, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London

(Image credit: Linda Nylind)

The artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London

'You and I, Horizontal', by Anthony McCall, 2005. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London)

The artist and Gering & López Gallery, New York

'Cylinder II' (foreground), by Leo Villareal, 2012. 

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist and Gering & López Gallery, New York)

The artist and Galeria Leme, São Paulo

'Magic Hour', by David Batchelor, 2004-2007. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Leme, São Paulo.)

Ann Veronica Janssens

'Rose', by Ann Veronica Janssens, 2007

(Image credit: press)

Ann Veronica Janssensnd Galeria

'Rose', by Ann Veronica Janssens, 2007

(Image credit: press)

'Light Steps', by Brigitte Kowanz

'Light Steps', by Brigitte Kowanz, 1990-2013. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist, Häusler Contemporary, München/Zürich; Galerie Krobath, Wien/Berlin; Galerie Nikolaus Ruzicska, Salzburg; Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York)

the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

'Slow Arc inside a e CubIV', by Conrad Shawcross, 2009. 

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London)

The artist and Lisson Gallery, London

'Throw', by Ceal Floyer, 1997. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London)

Exploded View (Commuters)

'Exploded View (Commuters)', by Jim Campbell, 2011.

(Image credit: Courtesy Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York and studio of Jim Campbell.)

New York and studio of Jim Campbell

'Exploded View (Commuters)', by Jim Campbell, 2011.

(Image credit: Courtesy Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York and studio of Jim Campbell.)

The Catherine and Jean Madar Collection

'Marquee', Philippe Parreno, 2011. From the Catherine and Jean Madar Collection, 

(Image credit: courtesy of Esther Schipper, Berlin)