The Art of Light at the Museum of Arts and Design

17th September 2020 to 21st February 2021

Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, New York City


This travelling exhibition, displayed across two floors of the Museum, spans decades and mediums, and includes some of Clarke's major contributions to contemporary art: his freestanding stained glass screens – advancing the technical and poetic potential of the form – and his art-historically significant 'leadworks', monumental inversions and reversals of the basic principles of stained glass, with sheet lead and lead solder becoming the primary elements, and stained glass introduced as collage or jetisonned entirely. Also on display will be selections from his series Night Orchids, together with sketchbooks covering five decades of output, and a biographical vitrine displaying items from Clarke's childhood through to the present day. First shown at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2018, in late 2021 The Art of Light will go on display at Zaha Hadid's Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, and after at The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

"A range of styles and improbable themes that challenge the preconceptions of anyone who supposes modern glass work to be nothing more than a pretty decoration. In the “Seville” series, sun-drenched oranges are so luscious against a deep blue that you could eat them.The tumbling shapes of “Flowers for Zaha” or “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out”, with oak leaves in yellows and oranges tipping into reds, glow with intensity. But while Clarke talks about some of his work as “abstracted Arcadian landscapes in celebration of an as yet undefined optimism”, he also tackles less promising subjects.

In his 'The Office for the Dead' series he turns the art on its head by not always using glass. Instead, skulls are picked out in scribbles of molten lead in a sort of macabre graffiti on sheets of forbidding matt-black lead. When he does introduce a splash of glass, it serves to accentuate the darkness. “Don’t Forget the Lamb”, a moving tribute to his ailing mother, includes the work that gives the series its title: an uncompromising expanse of lead, with a skeleton, an uneven patch of colour depicting fleur-de-lys, and a note from his mother, like a Post-it on a fridge door: 'Don’t forget the lamb'." – The luminous stained glass of Brian Clarke, 2018 review of The Art of Light in the Financial Times.

"The potential scope of interest expressed in the screens is as broad-ranging as human experience itself is, and I can imagine, when I’m working on the screens, every possible typology of architecture, every possible type of stylistic experience. I can think about things that I would like to say in meditational spaces, in sacred and in secular spaces, in public spaces, in transport hubs, in little cottages, in airport terminal buildings, in factories. My art is an art for the working class, and the fact that it is owned by so many rich people only means that it encourages the opportunity for me to do it in circumstances where people like me can engage with it. I know that I exist outside of this, but I am working class artist. I am very happy if it also pleases or engages intellectuals or professional people, but my art is an art for the mass: I want to communicate this idea of intimacy and poetic transcendence to as many people as possible, and the idea that it is just confined to one social demographic is abhorrent to me. So each of these screens is not only reaching out to one architectural type or societal type of building, it’s also reaching out soul-to-soul between human beings." – Brian Clarke, 2020.