Collection

Neon accumulation
Billy Apple

1968

Billy Apple
b.
1935
Title:
Neon accumulation
Production date:
1968
Accession No:
75/55
Measurements:
Dimensions variable, site specific
Media:
Neon tubes & electric flex. Broken neon tubing, plus 6 neon letters

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Gifted to the Gallery by the artist in 1975.

Billy Apple was a pioneer of the use of neon in art. Having studied and worked in London and New York, the two epicentres of Pop art in the 1960s, Apple became highly attuned to Pop’s irreverent attitude and its infatuation with the superficial sheen and bold visual style of post-war mass consumerism. Pop artists of the 1960s are linked by their cheeky use of motifs and subjects lifted from everyday life. Apple’s Neon Accumulation draws on his familiarity with big-city consumer culture through its radical use of neon, the ubiquitous material of urban commercial signage, as an art material. However, unlike much of the Pop art of this period which celebrated the gloss and perfection of advertising imagery, Apple’s installation dwells on the broken and fragmentary, the detritus of city living.

Neon Accumulation seems more like the aftermath of an event — a neon disaster — than an object in itself. Originally installed in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s back stairway, the work cascaded down three flights of stairs in a shower of broken glass and neon tubing. The few remaining intact letters glow weirdly, illuminating the sharp crystals scattered across the floor.

Apple’s work is intentionally confrontational. Unlike the hollow promises of advertising, it gives no ready answers but seeks to test the boundaries of what art is, or should be. Its harsh, melancholic beauty contains the threat of violence through both the physical threat of the needle-like shards of neon tubing littering the floor, and the implied violence of the work’s creation. Like the shimmering jumble of neon reflected in windows and puddles on a wet city night, the words of the neon sign can no longer be read, and no longer refer to anything other than themselves.