New York

Stephen Antonakos

John Weber Gallery

Prettiness is also a problem with Stephen Antonakos’ neon pieces at the John Weber Gallery. In choosing warm reds and softly cool greens, Antonakos accentuates the visual attractiveness of his medium. The designlike reflections cast on the wall by Red Neon Box Off the Wall, Sides Not Touching, in particular, reinforce a decorative reading of the work. Because Antonakos outlines such clear shapes with the neon tubes, the light defines objects which have a fragile, almost precious, existence because of the actual insubstantiality of the medium. For example, in the open red box the red lines of the tubes establish the edges of planes which are filled in by light. Although one is always aware that there is only air within the defined area, the light seems physically material, making the planes appear simultaneously transparent and solid. That this tangibility of light is confined within the boundaries of the tubes can be seen in the area between the sides (which do not meet). Here the space is empty, for, while there is a reddish glow from the neon, it is less concentrated and does not visually fill the area. In another piece, two green neon rectangles read as horizontal planes one above the other against the wall. The planes never look physically attached to the wall—instead they hover, material yet weightless, present yet intangible. The opticality of Antonakos’ works relates them to painting. While there are similarities to Dan Flavin, Flavin, especially in his more recent work, uses light more as a pure source of visual information without referents outside itself. Antonakos, on the other hand, seems involved with pictorial illusionism. He uses light as a painting material to articulate planes of color which create the illusion of an actual object. Thus, his work is decidedly imagistic; one sees the object outlined by the tubes as a figure within the ground of the neon glow which permeates the surrounding space. The afterimages caused by gazing at the neon light reconfirm this interpretation. One’s memory is of a pictorial object rather than of the experience of light.

––Susan Heinemann