neon, composition board, synthetic polymer paint
236 × 1328 × 8.6cm, installed
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2004
Neon Light Installations was one of the earliest examples of installation art in Sydney. It is a light work designed in the 1970s by Peter Kennedy to interact with the architecture of Paddington’s Gallery A, one of the first contemporary art spaces in Australia. In three rooms of the gallery, straight lengths of coloured neon were housed in reflective channels that concentrated the intensity of the lights, and that echoed the architecture of the gallery space by running parallel to walls and doors. Light works such as these were at the cutting edge of avant-garde art practice in Australia in the 1970s. Kennedy was influenced by American artists of the mid-1960s who were working with light, like Keith Sonnier, Bruce Nauman and Dan Flavin. He took a job designing neon lights at Claude Neon, Sydney in order to understand the medium, and between 1970 and 1971 he exhibited two light works at Gallery A: Neon Light Installations (1970) and Luminal Sequences (1971).
Neon lighting is normally associated with outdoor signage, best seen after dark when city streets and ‘strips’ light up with the promise of night-time excitement. Kennedy’s minimalist use of the medium inside a gallery, divorced from words and imagery, retains the stained-glass allure of neon and gives the viewer a contemplative experience of colour which is perhaps closer to being inside a cathedral than outside a casino. Kennedy described the work as ‘a volume of light, but it had a very specific effect – a certain physiological effect. It was quite calming and restorative. The windows were blacked out and the space felt like being inside a rainbow, although without the precise differentiation of the colours of the spectrum. Quite different, of course, from our normal experience of seeing neon signage in the distance or against a night sky’.
Updated and approved August 2016.
 Peter Kennedy interviewed by Nicholas Chambers, Imagining Gallery A, Sydney, 2008.
Born 1945, Brisbane, Queensland. Lives and works Melbourne.
Peter Kennedy began exhibiting in the mid-1960s and by the end of that decade had begun to forge new territory in Australia through his conceptually aligned art practice and light-based installations. He was one of the first Australian artists to work with light as installation, creating immersive environments through minimalist arrangements of coloured neon tubes. Since this time, his experimental, ground-breaking body of work has encompassed installation, performance, photography, sound, video and drawing. In the late-1970s his practice became more politically engaged and activist in nature, exploring and interrogating actual political events. Later works have encompassed notions of death and mortality from both historical and personal perspectives.
Kennedy has exhibited widely both in Australia and overseas. He was a founding member of Sydney’s avant-garde artist-run gallery, Inhibodress, in the early 1970s and was Director of the University of Sydney Art Workshop (The Tin Sheds) from 1980 to 1985. In 2002 the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne held a retrospective survey of his work, Peter Kennedy: Selected Works 1970–2002; the solo exhibition Peter Kennedy: Light Years 1970–71 was presented at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2011.
Recent group exhibitions include Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013); Sweet Spot, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2009); Gallery A Sydney: 1964–1983, Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW, Newcastle Regional Gallery, NSW (2009); Figuring Landscapes, International Centre for Fine Art Research, University of the Arts, London (2008); and The Far Side of the Moon, McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Langwarrin (2007). His works are held in Australian state gallery and university collections and in international collections, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Tate Gallery, London; and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.Learn more