Sam Lewitt: More Heat Than Light, on view at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, in San Francisco, from September 10 — November 21, 2015

“In the end, the most important thing is using available light.” [1]

This statement blooms beyond an indexical reference to the limits of optical mechanisms or traditional retinean art in Sam Lewitt’s exhibition titled More Heat Than Light, held currently at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, California.

The exhibition title entices to consider the way in which that form of radiation we call light, generated artificially through myriad manipulations of electrons, is more than just a passive environmental variable. Light is not a servant of the eye —if anything it’s quite the opposite. Also light is not just illumination; it is electricity; it is heat.

“The artist has redirected the building’s energy use from light to heat. On the ground are flexible heating circuits Lewitt has fabricated, which are much larger versions of Kapton/copper composite heaters that are used to maintain and regulate highly targeted temperatures inside communication devices and flexible enough to be installed around irregular shapes and contours… Every morning we come in and turn on the lights but all we get is heat.” states the exhibition’s wall text. [2]

Photo by María del Mar González-González
Photo by María del Mar González-González

A camera live feed channel is available online where all the bodies —of paintings, sculptures, and human— are woven together by their radiated or absorbed warmth. You can access the feed by clicking here.

The heat-generating sculptures are accompanied by a series of paintings done over copper sheets, their aesthetics emulating that of the Byzantine-looking heating circuits. The paintings over the highly conductive metal absorb the warmth, as you can see in the image above.

In the age of impending global warming and financial overheating, the effect of Lewitt’s artworks is nuanced by topical conversations —enabling exchanges about how the art system and its public can grapple with and engage such global changes.

Sam Lewitt: More Heat Than Light is on view at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, in San Francisco, from September 10 to November 21, 2015. It is curated by Anthony Huberman and is co-organized with Kunsthalle Basel.


[1] In a text titled 48 statements we have, at times, agreed upon, written collectively by Puerto Rican artists Jesús “Bubu” Negrón, Beatriz Santiago, Chemi Rosado-Seijo, José “Tony” Cruz, Edmée Feijoo, José Lerma, Bebe Casellas, and Michy Marxuach, they conclude with this simple yet philosophically charged sentence.

[2] Anthony Huberman, wall text for More Heat Than Light.


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Sam Lewitt (b. 1981, Los Angeles) lives and works in New York. His work has been included in many significant exhibitions in recent years, such as nature after nature at the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany (2014), and the 2012 Whitney Biennial. With Richard Birkett, he curated the exhibition and Materials and Money and Crisis at MUMOK in Vienna (2013). He has also presented several solo shows at Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York (2014, 2011, 2008, 2006) and Galerie Buchholz in Berlin and Cologne (2013, 2011, 2008). Lewitt received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. -Vía Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

All photos by Cranium Corporation

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