Englewood gallery lets there be lights

Museum of Outdoor Arts hosts intriguing Lumonics show

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“The whole idea here is to take light and make it into a shape that not only solidifies the light, but the life the light touches.” — Mel Tanner.

An hour spent in the Museum of Outdoor Arts’ current show in the Englewood Civic Center, “Lumonics Then & Now: A Retrospective of Light-Based Sculpture by Dorothy and Mel Tanner,” is like a mini-vacation, with the desired recharge felt when you re-enter the real world. Despite brilliant color, the cumulative effect is remarkably calming and restful.

Walk through the double gallery doors, shielded by blown-up photographs of Tanner art, into a magic surround. The glowing exhibit includes examples of work from the long, rewarding careers of two artists who early on realized the many possibilities of plexiglass, combined with light and color. Large windows at the far end are also blocked with blown up show photos by Heather Longway, which add to the glow. “Lumonics Then & Now” runs through March 24.

Walls on either side are filled with a combination of luminous flat wall pieces, mostly Mel’s, and equally brilliant three dimensional works, mainly by Dorothy.

In the White Gallery, a projection, art pieces and music are background for an audio of Dorothy Tanner’s voice, talking about their life and art. (She now lives in the Denver area and at 94 is still creating, with support by longtime co-worker Marc Billard, who has the know-how to carry out her ideas, although she is hindered by macular degeneration, according to Tim Vacca of MOA.)

The Tanners met at the Brooklyn Art Museum when young and opened the co-op Granite Gallery on 57th Street in New York in 1963. There, they started doing light art, launching long, active careers.

They traveled to Europe, then San Francisco, where Mel had an experience, involving a flash of light off an airplane, that changed their direction. “Lumonics came to be necessary for us to be doing — to raise consciousness. Mel and I had changed,” Dorothy said.

In 1969, the Tanners established a studio in Miami, which involved a pair of warehouse spaces. “There was a black room,” she said in the audio, “where we would bring up sound and lights on the first piece, and the second piece was meditational, classical, followed by the upbeat …” The successful Florida operation brought in outside acts as the light/sound environment developed. Mel Tanner died in 1993.

The Lumonics Light and Sound Gallery, at 800 E. 73rd Ave. in Adams County, now eight years old, carries on that tradition, with new sculptures.

In Florida, the Tanners worked with psychiatrists in this “healing shelter,” as Dorothy called it, and were able to help people with PTSD issues. “It kept us going,” she said. “Our friends in the ‘60s were 20 years younger and there were other ways of being, living…” She speaks of fresh music and a 30-foot-high wall for projected images. The Tanners created shapes that incorporated light and used classical music as well as contemporary. “Young people tuned in.”

People of all ages will tune in to this blend of color, light and music at the Museum Outdoor Arts. Allow time to relax in the Sound Gallery at the far back edge, where images and music surround a visitor who can sit and soak it all in.

If you go

The Museum Outdoor Arts Indoor Gallery is on the second level of the Englewood City Center, 1000 Englewood Parkway. Admission is free. Hours: Tuesdays to Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 306-806-0444, MOAonline.org.

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