HARTFORD — Stephen Antonakos’s Untitled Neon Canvas (for Michael Krichman), 1986, has been acquired by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art from Stephen Antonakos Studio. This 7-foot-high abstract work is part of Antonakos’s Neon Canvas series — a group of approximately 26 untitled canvases, each parenthetically dedicated to friends. The mid-1980s series exemplifies the artist’s central practice since the early 1960s: exploring the qualities of canvas, paint, and neon in abstract, geometric compositions. Untitled Neon Canvas (for Michael Krichman) is named for the collector and long-time director of InSite, a Southern California organization that facilitates the production of public and site-specific art projects. Antonakos met Krichman in California in 1984 when the artist was preparing for his Neons and Works on Paper show at MCASD La Jolla.
“Antonakos is considered a light art pioneer who, over five decades, explored the many possibilities of neon as a material,” said Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine curator of Contemporary Art. “The Wadsworth is thrilled to add this important work to our growing collection of light-based art.” Stephen Antonakos’s Untitled Neon Canvas (for Michael Krichman) joins the Wadsworth’s holdings of contemporary neon and light art including works by Keith Sonnier, Joseph Kosuth, Sam Durant, and Spencer Finch.
Antonakos is best known for his abstract work in neon including wall and floor sculptures, room installations, and Public Works that engage with architecture, such as the New York City landmarks Neon for 42nd Street, installed 1981, and Neon for the 59th Street Marine Transfer Station, installed 1990. His work is defined by the relationship of material forms with one another and their relationship to its site as a whole.
Newly installed in the Wadsworth’s Susan Morse Hilles Gallery among contemporary works from 1960 to the present, the glow of neon emanates from Antonakos’s work, reflecting and dissolving in the surrounding space. Its un-stretched canvas hangs more like a tapestry than a traditional painting; floating inches from the wall, a relief of shadow cast beneath the canvas. Monochromatically painted in varying tones of blue, Antonakos’ hand is evident in the brushwork, which contrasts sharply with the clean geometric line forms of blue and red neon on the surface. Antonakos had major ties to the institution and the work of his contemporaries. Untitled Neon Canvas (for Michael Krichman) is positioned near Robert Ryman’s Winsor, 1966. Ryman’s lifelong investigation of abstract applications of white paint relates to Antonakos’s exploration of materials. Further, the work of Sol LeWitt, also a close friend of Antonakos, has a central presence at the Wadsworth. Untitled Neon Canvas (for Michael Krichman) joins the Wadsworth’s collection as the result of joint efforts between Stephen Antonakos Studio LLC and Lori Bookstein Projects, New York.
Stephen Antonakos (1926-2013) came from Greece to New York with his family in 1930. He drew constantly as a young person. After serving in WWII he established his studio in the fur district, in the West 30s, where his early Assemblages and Sewlages incorporated found objects and materials. These works were shown in such galleries as Martha Jackson and Charles Byron. From the mid-1960s onward his site-specific neon sculptures and installations were exhibited often at the Fischbach and John Weber Galleries and increasingly in museums and galleries across the U.S., in major cities throughout Europe, and in Japan.
His art is held in numerous public and private collections in the US and abroad. He has made work for hundreds of exhibitions and installations worldwide, including 10 Outdoor Neons, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, 1974; Works in Spaces, San Francisco Museum of Art, California, 1974; Electra, Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, France, 1983-86; Chapel of the Saints, Fortress of St. George, Rhodes, Greece, 1993; XLVII Venice Biennale, Italy, 1997; Proscenium, Neuberger Museum of Art, New York, 2000 and 2018; Silent Chapel, Onassis Cultural Center, New York, 2003; Antonakos: A Retrospective, Benaki Museum Pireos, Athens, Greece, 2007-08 and Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania, 2009; The Search, Aeschyleia Festival, Elefsina, Greece, 2011; Remembrance, EMST at documenta 14, Kassel, Germany, 2017. Antonakos installed over 50 permanent Public Works in the U.S., Europe, and Japan and received lifetime achievement awards from the Neuberger Museum of Art, SUNY Purchase; the National Academy and Museum, N.Y.; and the Greek American Foundation, Chicago.
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is at 600 Main Street in Hartford. Hours are Wednesday to Friday: 11a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission ranges from $5-15 with discounts for members, students and seniors and free admission for Hartford residents with Wadsworth Welcome registration. Free “happy hour” admission is 4 to 5 p.m. For more information call 860-278-2670 or visit www.thewadsworth.org.