Installation view of Leo Villareal's *Star Ceiling* at the Armory Show, March 7–March 10.
Photo: Rich Lee / Courtesy of Pace Gallery

Leo Villareal Brings the Cosmos to the Armory Show

Galerie talks to the groundbreaking artist about his LED installation at the 2019 fair

In a city where pedestrians stop for nothing, artist Leo Villareal has people halting in their tracks. His dazzling Star Ceiling, a 75-foot-long overhead installation of LED sequences that recall the swirling cosmos, illuminates a passageway at the Armory Show in Manhattan through Sunday.

Villareal and his team created the site-specific Star Ceiling for the Armory Show in partnership with Pace Gallery. They programmed layered, nonrepeating light sequences that, in Villareal’s words, “present the opportunity for viewers to be transported.” While it’s the largest digital media work to ever have been shown at the fair, it’s on the smaller side for the artist, whose elaborate, software-powered light installations have previously adorned the San Francisco–Oakland Bridge and an underground concourse at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Still, it didn’t come without its challenges.

Installation view of Leo Villareal’s Star Ceiling at the Armory Show, March 7–March 10. Photo: Rich Lee / Courtesy of Pace Gallery; ©Leo Villareal

Star Ceiling utilizes LED technology that is new to my studio,” Villareal tells Galerie. “We had to find a way to create a modular system that was robust enough to withstand handling and the environmental conditions at the Armory Show. Creating a seamless 5-by-75-foot artwork that hangs overhead presented challenges that we were able to overcome with the help of a wonderful team at the art fair, along with the expertise from Pace Gallery in collaboration with my studio.”

Recommended: 10 Standout Booths from the 2019 Armory Show

Viewers who are enchanted by Star Ceiling will be delighted to find a solo show of Villareal’s work at Pace Gallery’s booth inside the fair. There, an installation titled Instance comprises 12 dazzling panels, all of which use the same LED technology as Star Ceiling.

Installation view of Pace Gallery at the Armory Show. Photo: Rich Lee / Courtesy of Pace Gallery; ©Leo Villareal

“The scale of Instance is much more intimate,” says Villareal, comparing them with individual portals. While their sequences are individually randomized, the panels share a network that creates brief moments of synchronicity.

The Armory Show installation and solo booth come just a few months ahead of Villareal’s unveiling of Illuminated Bridges, an ambitious public art project in London for which he will animate 15 bridges of the River Thames with light and color. The first phase of the project, which will take three years to complete, will launch this summer with London Bridge, Cannon Street railway bridge, Southwark Bridge, and the Millennium Bridge.

“My main inspiration comes from natural phenomena and the desire to understand how such systems work,” the artist says. “Instead of creating representations, I use abstraction to evoke what we are attracted to and know intimately as humans.”

The Armory Show is held at Piers 90 and 94 in Manhattan. Fair dates are March 7–10.

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