Apple’s second solo show at Bianchini opened in November 1965, in the gallery’s new premises on the eighth floor of the building at 50 West 57th Street, where they had shifted in October. Neon Rainbows was a major move for the artist as it was the first to significantly address his interest in electric light as an artistic medium. With access to the neon industry, in a city lit up by a brilliant array of coloured and flashing signs, he was able to realise an idea he had conceived and pitched to art dealer Robert Fraser in London before he left in 1964.1 Living on the Bowery, Apple was at the epicentre of the discount lighting district, with manufacturers and retailers selling every conceivable electrical fitting, literally, on his doorstep. After moving out of Tom Doyle and Eva Hesse’s apartment in the summer, he had rented a room at the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street as his studio-cum-office, where he prepared for the Bianchini show.2 (He remembers plugging in one of the sculptures in his room on the evening of 9 November and being alarmed when the hotel was plunged into darkness. Looking outside, he was shocked to see the lights going out block by block all the way to the East River. He, of course, was not the cause; the city and much of the north and east of the US suffered a massive blackout that created havoc for the several hours it took to mend the blown transmitters. If there ever was an occasion for thinking that electric power was the essential resource for contemporary living, the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965 was undoubtedly it. With thirty million people affected, electricity would surely, at this moment, have struck Apple as modernity’s truly vital medium.)

For this first light show, Apple’s theme was as much the joyful promise of the ‘rainbow’ as it was the neon technology he utilised. For example, Apple at the End of the Rainbow combined curved and coloured neon tubes with one of his bronze apples, teasing out the premise that he, or at least his signature emblem, was the proverbial pot of gold. And, in addition to the several neon sculptures he placed directly on the floor of the gallery, he produced prints and moulded acrylic forms with the rainbow shape in brilliant fluorescent pigments, playfully using the edge of the paper to truncate the arc, and treating a ledge or tabletop as the point where the acrylic rainbow would either create a plastic splash or seemingly puddle into liquid droplets. Rainbows in 1965 had not developed their ‘hippy’ connotations, nor were they associated with the gamut of sexual orientations as they are today. Apple chose the imagery firstly because it was happy, upbeat, part of a wider language of kitsch, and secondly because of his fascination with how the colour spectrum operated.

The show at Bianchini was illuminated by the works alone. Assembled out of different tubes of glass filled with varying combinations of gases to produce a range of colours and bent into shapes such as half and full circles, twisted arcs and chevrons, these were mounted on porcelain enamel bases and held in place by discreet wires and metal rods. Though self-contained objects, the projected light they emitted bound the installation together, immersing viewers in a glowing environment of shifting colours. Apple remembers the uncanny effect when the bands of neon combined, as they produced pure white light, but split back into the rainbow spectrum when refracted, so that visitors cast prismatic shadows. He was also quite comfortable about leaving the cables snaking from each unit unconcealed on the floor, allowing the electrical gadgetry its own sculptural presence.

Robert Pincus-Witten writing for Artforum described Apple’s rainbows as ‘among the most beautiful that hover over the present scene’.3 He placed Apple within an iconographical tradition going back to Orphists like František Kupka and Robert Delaunay and forward to more immediate predecessors such as Robert Rauschenberg and George Brecht, in order to contextualise his works within a history of artists experimenting with the colour spectrum. Alternatively and perhaps more fittingly, Virginia Sebastian, writing in the trade journal Signs of the Times, bracketed his work between a description of the world’s ‘first colored travelling message sign’, with its two and a half miles of neon tubing and thirteen miles of wiring, that had just been erected for Coca-Cola in Times Square, and the illuminated neon on top of the Pan Am Building, on the roof of which was New York’s first helipad, where travellers could be transported within minutes by helicopter to one of the city’s three airports.4 She pointed out that he had created never-before-seen colours that were a ‘joy to behold’.

For these chromatic experiments, Apple was widely credited as a pioneer.5 In discussing his work, Apple emphasised the fact that neon provided the ‘brightest palette of pure colors that ever existed’.6 He was intrigued that the colours were produced directly by the mixing of gases (neon, argon, helium, mercury and so on) and through the agitation of molecules by means of an electrical charge, and that, with adjustments to the shape and diameter of the glass tubing and the manipulation of different chemical coatings, new pigments could be produced. This brought the medium into the realm of chemistry and physics and closer to phenomena occurring in nature; as he said of the rainbow, it is ‘a very beautiful and mysterious thing’.7 To achieve the range of colours and the shapes he sought, Apple drew on the expertise of New York’s neon manufacturers, developing so close a relationship with one technician in particular that he named a work – Vincent (1966) – in his honour, and went in search of physicists working at the forefront of the fast-evolving technology.8 And in March 1966, he chose to undertake his Ford Foundation-funded American Federation of the Arts residency in Idaho Falls, because it was the base for the largest nuclear research facility in the US, to find out as much as he could, not only about neon, but also about the even newer technologies of laser light and nuclear energy. This is where he met nuclear physicist Robert J. Nertney, who worked as a reactor project engineer at the Atomic Energy Commission’s National Reactor Testing Station in the city. Nertney introduced Apple to the facility and its community of scientists as well as brokering his relations with the local art community in his role as director of the Idaho Falls art association. This serendipitous crossover between art and science led Apple to invite Nertney to write an essay for his Neons exhibition, which was staged back in New York City after the residency was over.9

To cap off his month there, Apple staged a four-day event in a vacant store at 352 A Street in downtown Idaho Falls, installing a selection of early bronzes, neon sculptures, prints and Xerox canvases for his ‘Billy Apple Shop’. The key work in the show was a new neon assemblage combining the bronze plate with French fries and tomato sauce bottle he had made in London with a bright yellow neon sign that alternatively flashed ‘Idaho fries’ in bright yellow capitals and ‘25¢’ in cursive script, the ad man’s clever gift to his Midwestern hosts.10 During his stay Apple also encountered a neon glass-blower who could twist a tube of glass into a knot, which led him to create a series of Neon Knots that the artist filled with various gases – neon, helium, argon, mercury vapour – to produce different colour reactions. Unlike his earlier Neon Rainbows, these were not mounted on metal bases, but could be suspended by wires, draped over a nail, or lain on the floor or a table. With art works reduced to mere glass and wiring, the play of trapped gases became a focus.

Apple was fascinated by these ‘gaseous discharge phenomena’, and in 1968 he called on friend and cinematographer Barry Schein to film the works up close to capture them in action. The resulting twenty-one-minute 16 mm film, Gaseous Discharge Phenomena, shows near-abstract fields and flows of colour that syncopate hypnotically with their soundtrack, an atonal electronic composition by Nam June Paik.11 Superficially similar to the light shows that were then a feature of the psychedelic music scene, Apple’s film was not a backdrop to live action; instead, sound and image were melded into a single work conceived as the only attraction.12 As he stated at the time, ‘neons . . . give the sculpture its own existence, its own heartbeat, like a living organism’.13

There is a curious synergy between this statement, with its suggestion that neon is literally animated matter, and the fact that Apple developed a logo for himself using a font called Prisma: this abstracted the methodology of neon signage to graphically ‘put his name in lights’ and thus position him categorically in the modern ‘lit-up’ world; neon, it would seem, was a means to vivify the sign/entity he had become. As if to underline the notion that self and medium were somehow synonymous, he used identical graphics, simply swapping his name for the title of his second show, Neons, which he presented in October 1966 at the Pepsi-Cola Exhibition Gallery in its new ‘world headquarters’, a sleek glass and aluminium high-rise at 500 Park Avenue.14

Using contemporary art as a fashionable marketing ploy, Pepsi had made its glamorous foyer available for exhibitions, which artists could stage at their own expense. Apple leapt at the opportunity to show at this prestigious address, showcasing seven discrete neons, over which he had laboured for the preceding six months. These were more elaborate than the neon rainbows or knots, using banks of tubes wired together to create flat planes and three-dimensional shapes of flashing and glowing coloured light that set off wild reflections in the wall-to-ceiling plate-glass windows and black marble walls and floor. With titles like Neoorb 1 and Solar 15 and shaped to look like exploding rockets, solar flares, an arrowhead, a Catherine wheel and a teardrop, they seemed to have been lifted straight out of a fun park.

The show was launched on the evening of 3 October with considerable fanfare (a jazz band played and a film crew was present; high-profile journalist Tom Wolfe dropped in), the event creating such a buzz that it caused a traffic jam which temporarily gridlocked Park Avenue. Dramatically, however, the next morning it was shut down by Chief Engineer Robert Harmel of the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity. A city inspector deemed the ‘electrical extravaganza’ was not ‘in accordance with city standards’15 and served the building superintendent with a summons noting that potentially lethal high-voltage leads were ‘accessible and exposed’.16 Apple was mortified. He raged in the media against a pettifogging ‘bureaucracy’, complaining that the officials didn’t ‘understand the difference between a commercial sign and a piece of sculpture’, and refused to comply with their requirements that the transformers be safely out of reach of visitors.17 The occasion fired him to write a letter of complaint that concisely stated his case: ‘I wish respectfully sir, to point out that I am not making electric toasters, lamps or signs. I am an artist dealing in my own medium.’18 Apple was assisted in raising his complaints by his wife, Jacki Apple (they married in 1966), who called on her then employer Andrew Arkin, director of the fashion business Arkin Organization, to write to the city’s mayor, John Lindsay. Copies of the letter were sent to the New York Times and other newspapers and to the TV stations. This secured significant media coverage for the incident, which Arkin remembers leading to Apple achieving a degree of notoriety, even without the exhibition as his showcase.

Aside from the controversy, there was no time for a critical response to the exhibition. This followed eventually when the show was reprised at the Howard Wise Gallery at 50 West 57th Street the following year (11 November – 2 December 1967). With the closure of Bianchini Gallery in 1966, and given the direction Apple was taking, Howard Wise was a logical next step, having emerged as a key venue for the presentation of the new technologically sophisticated light and kinetic art being made on both sides of the Atlantic.19 Now the seven works were suspended with their transformers carefully stowed to meet safety requirements in near blackout conditions. No longer simply Neons, they were given the collective title U.F.O.’s (Unidentified Fluorescent Objects), in a tongue-in-cheek gesture towards the space race with which the US and USSR were then engaged, which, among other things, had led to ‘UFO’ sightings by the American public, fuelled by growing cold war paranoia.20 In collusion with the gallery, Apple developed some canny copy for the printed poster accompanying the show, which pointed out to buyers that the works came with a six-month guarantee (a world’s first, he claimed) which promised the works would be mended free of charge if anything went wrong. The artist signed off the poster with a single dramatically elongated ‘whoooooooooosh ’.21 This time, the show received considerable attention, both positive and negative.

On the one hand, critics were impressed with the myriad colours he achieved, which resulted in a much more varied palette including ‘shocking pink’, ‘lemon yellow’, ‘apple green’, ‘tangerine’, ‘blue/purple’ and ‘violet pink’, as well as a range of effects from ‘crisply fluorescent’ to ‘pale and soft-edged’.22 The works were also applauded for the complexity of their construction: seldom before had free-standing neon achieved such three-dimensional heft. Elizabeth C. Baker, in her essay surveying the new medium for Art News, captured well the verve of these works:

[Apple] tends to use the neon in a sketchy cavalier style – bits of tape, casually twisted electrical connections, networks of suspended wires to make the pieces ‘float’ are all very much in evidence – and his images of kites, rockets, candy apples, etc., have a playful appeal. He is working the tubes closer and closer to each other, and very nearly approaches the effect of a solid. The resulting light and color are extremely concentrated and intense. He pushes the medium to the utmost. Uninterested in programming, unconcerned with finish, impatient with his materials, he hides his transformers on the floor or in the ceiling, and sets his bright shapes suspended, tilted, flying in space.23

But some reviewers found them flashily shallow.24 Others said the show paled into insignificance against the scale and sheer pizazz of ‘real’ neon signage in, say, Times Square.25 Tom Wolfe in particular, writing for West, treated Apple to some cruel putdowns, calling his works ‘spluttering’, ‘limp’ and ‘pallid’, weak approximations of the real commercial signage Wolfe saw lighting up the cityscape.26

While Wolfe used Apple as his fall guy for a piece designed to glorify the unsung neon ‘artists’ who made the real signs for America’s highways and commercial strips, the art media were busy working in the other direction, seeking to historicise light art and categorise its various manifestations in the interests of defining a legitimate new art movement. In 1967 a wide range of journals, including Art in America, Art News, Arts Magazine and Art International, produced in-depth articles canvassing this new medium, and Apple was invariably illustrated or discussed in each of them.27 His works were also included in several survey exhibitions staged by museums and galleries in the US and Europe and a number of the U.F.O.’s went into private and public collections.28 It is interesting, then, to note that despite his prominent place in the movement, since this time, Apple’s neon works have been either quickly passed over, written out or ignored in the literature on the artist and the U.F.O.’s have not as yet been reassembled and shown.29 While Apple has been complicit in this process, believing that these neon sculptures were a dead end, his curiosity about the science behind neon light as a medium, his interest in the play between solid and immaterial states that defines the technology, and neon’s role as a real-world form of ‘sign writing’, most especially used in advertising, are all threads that carried over into his subsequent practice.

If there is one work that links together Apple’s pop and light art phases, best summarises his particular contribution to 1960s pop culture, and instantiates his ongoing negotiation of his identity as an artist, this would perhaps be Neon Signature, a work he prototyped for Multiples, Inc. in 1967. The artist recalls writing his name with the wire from two coathangers he bent as a template, and fixing this onto a base before transporting it to the neon fabricators. The resulting neon is oddly misshapen because the prototype was dropped in transit to the factory and the glass-blowers carefully delivered an object that matched the model they received, a fact the artist now relishes.31 He has since dispensed with the original metal base, and it is now usually hung from two nails directly on the wall, allowing the wires to drape loosely down to the transformer on the floor. Key precedents for the work were the neon ‘signatures’ by Robert Watts shown at the Bianchini Gallery in 1966. These were blown-up facsimiles in neon of various famous artists’ signatures: including ‘Picasso’, ‘Duchamp’, ‘Munch’, ‘Rembrandt’, ‘Manet’ and ‘Moreau’, which Watts made to question the processes that allow the value of a work to be boiled down to the artist’s signature. By choosing to put his own name in lights, Apple took Watts’ idea to a different place. A signature for an inauthentic entity, the wobbly lines of the neon ‘Billy Apple’ undercut the authority of the name, further dislodging writing’s attachment to its scribe.

Apple installed Neon Signature in the vestibule to the U.F.O.’s exhibition. Unacknowledged in the printed matter accompanying the Howard Wise Gallery show, this work was the first thing visitors encountered, yet it was physically outside the space. Here it served ambivalent roles as both sign and signature, a surprisingly modest accompaniment to the large and vibrant works in the main space. Just as Neon Signature can be thought of as subtly other to the main event, so, too, it can be understood as the necessary complement to the artist’s graphic logo in use through this period. Where the latter cleanly abstracted the physical appearance of neon signage, turning Apple’s name into a slick and timely sign, the sculpture left a trace of the (many) hands and an impress of the world that once bent the wire and glass; a small reminder that Apple’s work is always a tug-of-war between abstract idea and material fact, regardless of his medium.

At the end of her essay, Elizabeth Baker suggested that Apple’s ‘technical experiments’ would ‘yield a far more flexible medium’, that is, if he chose to pursue them. But already she acknowledged the artist was moving on to the laser as a new field to experiment with.30 Laser light was perhaps the last and most speculative medium Apple explored in the 1960s. With his curiosity piqued, he made contact with pioneering physicist Stanley Shapiro, who was working in the new field of laser spectroscopy at General Telephone and Electrics Laboratories (GTE) in Stamford, Connecticut.33 The first laser was built by Theodore Maiman in 1960, and by the mid-1960s its various applications as a cutting tool in medicine and engineering and as entertainment in the form of the laser light show were becoming known, while income from sales of laser machines had grown to several million dollars.

Apple was attracted to lasers because they enabled him to explore two trajectories. One was a kind of immaterial drawing in space using the laser as a tool that could project a straight, consistently narrow beam of infinite length, which could be bounced and bent by the careful manipulation of mirrors; the other was in the area of holography, which produced 3-D visual experiences that seemed real but which physically did not exist. He wrote about this latter capacity in ‘Live Stills’, an essay published in Arts Magazine in February 1967, describing how holography produces pictures made from ‘light alone’ and explaining how an image could be viewed from all sides and even potentially walked through, making it a ‘living reality in which we are participants’.34 This essay was highly speculative about the potential of the medium, capturing the state of research while it was still evolving. Apple accompanied the article with two illustrations – a holographic image of a chair (produced by Richard Polson), and a virtual glass through which a viscous pink liquid appeared to be poured, a scenario photographed by Alex Chatelain – as two hypothetical proposals for the medium.

It is fascinating to uncover the wealth of drawings and notes contained in the artist’s archive that show how this technology fired his imagination, leading Apple to prepare a raft of unrealised proposals for laser light works. The fact that these exist only as sketches and as typed or handwritten notes suggests the artist was content to treat these as conceptual exercises designed for specific spaces or to map geographical distances in the world at large. As such, they were importantly transitional to the next phase of his practice. Several used his loft space at 161 West 23rd Street as a site for experimentation; another series designed for the Howard Wise Gallery were quickly drawn on a single sheet of paper, and proposed sending a beam directly out the window that would be split into a rainbow spectrum of individual rays, or firing a single beam from inside the space out a window and across an adjacent vacant lot. Others connected points across the city, for example, marking out lines of sight from 1 West 89th Street across Central Park to the Guggenheim Museum, or mapping the gap between the sheer sides of the World Trade Center (then still under construction) with a jagged line made with a helium-neon laser.

There were also plans for projects further afield. One such was for a laser light work for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that would connect the three levels of the multi-storey Ahmanson building with zigzagging lines of differently coloured light.35 Another, conceived on the same trip to California, was for an installation of coloured laser beams that would diagonally bisect the one-room gallery run by the adventurous dealer Eugenia Butler, at 615 La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood, just along from the Ferus Gallery. In October 1969 Apple prepared a typescript setting out five ‘large-scale environmental visual experiences’ using laser beams as his medium. Understanding the strength of laser light, these were whimsically far-reaching: a green laser pointing inches above the English Channel from Dover to Boulogne; a rainbow over Death Valley in California; an underwater laser beam piece. Several drawings illustrated these proposals; there is even a sketch imagining a light travelling between Earth and the Moon.

Apple’s thought experiments with lasers show him embracing technological innovations that were a feature of the era and taking a new approach to art-making that re-conceived sculptural practice not as the production of discrete objects, but as a temporary form of spatial mapping that could exist as a concept without necessarily being realised. There was also clearly a desire to convey the wonder of light as a pure form of energy now capable of being shaped, controlled and choreographed without all the ‘hardware’ of traditional neon, a step in the process of dematerialisation his practice underwent at the end of the 1960s. The nearest he got to realising any of his more grandiose ideas was not with laser technology, however. Rather, it was with the large-scale industrial searchlights then being marketed as advertising tools capable of projecting an image or message into the night sky, yet another way in which the lit-up city had become a public spectacle.36

The first time he proposed the use of this was on the invitation of cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman, as his contribution to the 7th Annual Avant-Garde Festival in September 1969. This festival, which was the brainchild of Moorman and had been staged at different venues around the city since 1963, was originally conceived as a showcase for experimental music, but had grown into an anarchic multimedia extravaganza with links to Fluxus and other modes of experimental practice, showcasing everything from paintings and sculpture to poetry, jazz, happenings, films, computer art, environments, dance, inflatables, television art, earth art, kinetic light art, electronic music, video-recorder compositions and more. Its impressive line-up included well over a hundred artists, including Moorman and her regular collaborator Nam June Paik, a full panoply of Fluxus artists, and memorable others such as Stan Brakhage, John Cage, Christo, Dieter Rot, Willoughby Sharp, Michael Snow, La Monte Young, and so on. For this occasion, the event was staged over one week from Sunday, 28 September on two islands, Wards Island and Mill Rock in the East River.37 Apple’s plan was never realised, but it is captured in a coloured drawing showing two alternatives: a searchlight beam from Mill Rock to Wards, or a 65-megawatt helium-neon laser light projected across the same stretch of river, each drawing a line of light to connect two points in the landscape. Either option would have produced a beam of the utmost economy and precision, utilising equipment designed for quite other purposes.

Apple’s contribution to the history of light art in New York in the 1960s is not well known. Nonetheless, there is one document made in the period that confirms he was recognised at the time as an emblematic figure. This is a short experimental film by the British film-maker Midge (Margaret) Mackenzie. Neon Dreams (1966) is her documentation of and meditation on the new medium. It opens and closes with a montage of shots of swirling illuminated signs that form brilliant flashes and abstract patterns against the New York night sky, sandwiching footage of various settings, art works, interviews and voice-overs to capture the new crop of ‘neon painters who are putting light inside the colour’.38 Her film features Apple as guide and protagonist, whom we meet in his studio, demonstrating to the film crew how neon works; at the opening of his Neons exhibition at the Pepsi-Cola Exhibition Gallery; and on the city streets, as a fascinated observer of New York’s street life and skyline, viewed in one memorable scene on his way to and from the top of the Pan Am Building. While the film also featured the work of others –Robert Indiana’s EAT lit up with light bulbs and Len Lye’s Fountain both appear – and it concludes with live footage of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable (a multimedia event at a venue called The Dom, featuring the Velvet Underground playing in front of a film of themselves, with gyrating dancers and syncopated light show), Apple was Mackenzie’s central subject. Understanding how this came to be helps form a fuller picture of the artist’s place in New York’s cultural ecosystem.


Fraser visited Apple at 42 Cornwall Gardens, where they discussed a possible exhibition and Apple introduced the idea of a show of ‘neon rainbows’. Conversation with the artist, May 2016.


Apple did not live in the hotel, merely using the room as his office. By this stage he had met his wife-to-be, Jacki Blum, and stayed with her and her flatmate in their 29th Street apartment between Madison and Park avenues. In April 1966 he rented a first-floor room at 161 West 23rd Street as his workplace. See chapter three for further details.


Robert Pincus-Witten, ‘Billy Apple’, Artforum, vol. 4, no. 6 (February 1966), p. 57.


Virginia Sebastian, ‘Along Broadway’, Signs of the Times, February 1966, n.p., artist’s archive.


Virginia Sebastian (ibid.) describes him as such. So, too, does Time magazine: see ‘Sculpture: A Times Square of the Mind’, Time, 18 March 1966, p. 100.


Apple, quoted in ‘Neon and Lamps in Modern Art’, Signs of the Times, June 1966, p. 66.


Artist’s statement, KunstLichtKunst exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk van Abbesmuseum, Eindhoven, 1966, n.p.


He was photographed, for example, visiting Voltarc Tubes Inc. in Fairfield, Connecticut, in conversation with the company’s president, Miles Pennybacker. Unattributed newspaper clipping, artist’s archive.


See Robert Nertney, ‘Introduction’, Neons catalogue, Pepsi-Cola Exhibition Gallery, New York, 1966, artist’s archive.


Apple gifted Idaho Fries to the Boise Art Museum in 1968.


Paik was not commissioned to compose a soundtrack. Instead, he gave permission for Apple to use his ‘untitled, undated’ composition for the film in a letter to Apple dated 30 August 1969. Artist’s archive.


Apple did not present this work publicly until October 1971, when he staged a series of screenings over one day in his space at 161 West 23rd Street.


Nan R. Piene uses Apple’s words to preface the section of her essay on light art relating to ‘light-receiving and light-giving sculptures’. See Piene, ‘Light Art’, Art in America, no. 55 (May–June 1967), p. 33. She requotes from Apple’s artist statement in KunstLichtKunst (see note 66).


It is interesting to note that Apple used the same graphic technique when he was commissioned to design the cover of Art Direction in February 1969. Here he presented the word ‘BUY’ as a neon sign, in bright (‘fire’) orange against a black background. See cover of Art Direction, February 1969 (illustrated on p. 106).


See John Garabedian, ‘City Jolts His Watts Happening’, New York Post, Friday, 7 October 1966, p. 4.


Eugene Spagnoli, ‘Safety Critics Short-circuit Artist in Neon’, Daily News, Saturday, 8 October 1966, p. 8.


Garabedian, ‘City Jolts His Watts Happening’.


Billy Apple, letter to Abraham Rich, Superintendent of Private Structures in the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity, quoted in the New York Times, 8 October 1966. See also, Andrew Arkin, ‘Jacki/Billy Apple, Adversity as Opportunity’, dated September 2002, photocopied typescript, artist’s archive.


Artist and independent curator Willoughby Sharp also notes that Wise ‘went against the mainstream’ by supporting such unconventional new media, and by showing non-American artists at a time of intense cultural chauvinism. Sharp is quoted by Joseph D. Ketner II, ‘Against the Mainstream: Howard Wise and the New Artistic Conception of the 1960s’, in Howard Wise Gallery: Exploring the New, exhibition catalogue, Moeller Fine Art, Berlin, 2012, p. 8.


Tellingly, in a typed statement (August 1967) accompanying his CV, Apple wrote: ‘I think I’d like to take a trip to Mars at the speed of light’ (artist’s archive); he was also reported to have sighted a possible UFO when he was in Idaho. See Alice Dieter, ‘It’s happening’, Intermountain Observer, 1 June 1968, p. 10.


This poster was designed by Apple, with assistance from the team at Doyle Dane Bernbach. Another poster with graphic renderings of each of the neons was also produced. This was conceived by Apple and drawn by New Zealander Bryan Dew, who was then working at CBS. Conversation with the artist, December 2016.


See Emily Wasserman, ‘Billy Apple, Wise’, Artforum, vol. 6, no. 5 (January 1968), p. 57.


Elizabeth C. Baker, ‘The Light Brigade’, Art News, vol. 66, no. 1 (March 1967), p. 66.


For example, John Perreault called them ‘superficial and not very interesting’ in his review: ‘See-throughs & Early Neon’, The Village Voice, 29 February 1968, p. 15.


See Wasserman, ibid.


Tom Wolfe, ‘The New Life Out There: Electro-graphic Architecture’, West, 1 December 1968, p. 47.


See Art in America, May–June 1967; Art News, March 1967; Arts Magazine, Summer 1967; Art International, Christmas 1967. Mizue, a Japanese art magazine, also published a special issue on ‘Luminal and Kinetic Art’ in January 1968. Articles on light art also appeared in design and architecture journals; see, for example, Industrial Design, vol. 14, no. 9 (November 1967), and Progressive Architecture, October 1968, which published a piece on ‘The Kinetic, Electric Environment’. The mainstream press also attended to the new phenomenon: Life magazine as early as November 1965 had published a piece called ‘Now It’s Neon’, 21 May 1965, pp. 116– 19; West, the magazine of the Los Angeles Times, published Tom Wolfe’s piece (see previous note); and House & Garden published ‘Light: The Radiant Revolution’, discussing light art as a decorative element for the home, October 1968, pp. 138–40. Apple’s U.F.O.’s exhibition even made it to Glamour magazine, in Jerry Schatzberg’s ‘What’s New’ column in November 1967, p. 158. These are just the items contained in the artist’s archive.


Apple was included in Electric Art, Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Paris (1966); KunstLichtKunst at the Stedelijk van Abbesmuseum, Eindhoven (1966); Light in Art, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (1966); Focus on Light, New Jersey State Museum (1967); and The Rainbow Room, Graham Gallery, New York (1967). U.F.O.’s were acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Sidney Solomon (who gifted his work to the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1975) and Howard Wise, who used his U.F.O. as a chandelier in his 13th Street brownstone; see Susan Rogers, ‘The Art of Being a Family’, New York Post, Friday, 12 June 1970, p. 6.


See Wystan Curnow for a reading of Apple’s neon phase as a conundrum in his practice: ‘Four Knots for R. D. Laing, and the Question of Billy Apple’s Neon Transformation’, in Sold on Apple: The Complete Wystan Curnow Writings, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland, 2015, pp. 212–21.


Conversation with the artist, May 2016.


Billy Apple, quoted in the film script for Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s ‘Accent on Youth’ promotional campaign, 1966. Artist’s archive.


Baker, ‘The Light Brigade’.


Shapiro is credited as the co-inventor of the super-continuum white-light laser. See Robert R. Alfano (ed.), ‘Preface to the second edition’, The Supercontinuum Laser Source: Fundamentals with Updated References, 2nd edition, Springer, City College of the City University of New York, 2006, p. vii.


Billy Apple, ‘Live Stills’, Arts Magazine, February 1967, p. 46. It is unlikely Apple was the sole author of this text; he suggests as such by regularly using the pronoun ‘we’.


Apple’s proposal was presented to the museum by Jacki Apple some time in 1970. In a letter to the artist (13 October 1970), Betty Asher, assistant to senior curator Maurice Tuchman, passed on the news that the museum turned down the proposal on the basis that the existence of a large skylight rendered his idea impracticable. Letter from Betty Asher to Billy Apple, 13.

October 1970, artist’s archive.

Apple’s archive contains a prospectus from the Publicity Searchlight Service Company including specifications for their ‘spacelight’, which could be used to project words and images. See pp. 120-21 for further discussion of this piece.


Information about this seventh iteration of the festival is contained in the poster designed for the event, a copy of which is held in the artist’s archive.


This quote is delivered as a voice-over by David Dimbleby (who appears in the credits) at the opening of Neon Dreams. A DVD video copy of this film has been deposited at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision, the New Zealand Film, Television and Sound Archive, Wellington, New Zealand.

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