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Artist Leo Villareal’s Buckyball to debut at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

A 30-foot, ever-changing, lighted sculpture capable of displaying some 16 million distinct colors will be installed on the grounds of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art this spring, thanks to a loan arrangement with the Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York; Gering & López Gallery, New York; and the artist who created the work, Leo Villareal. His sculpture, Buckyball, features two geometric spheres, one encased in the other, that take the shape of a Carbon 60 molecule. The structure is covered in LED tubes that display different colored lights based on computer software, which Villareal programmed.

For more than a decade, Villareal has been a pioneer in the merging of art and innovative light technology. Recently, the debut of the artist’s installation, The Bay Lights, on the San Francisco Bay Bridge received world-wide attention and acclaim. Villareal’s work often reduces forms to basic components — such as pixels or the ones and zeros found in binary code — to better understand their underlying structures and how they function. He then builds these fundamental elements into interactive light installations that move, change and grow into complex compositions in order to explore them on a larger scale.

Referencing theorist and engineer Buckminster Fuller, Buckyball’s two nested geodesic spheres comprise 180 LED tubes arranged in a series of pentagons and hexagons that contain thousands of individual pixels capable of displaying 16 million distinct colors. The light compositions are controlled by custom software designed by Villareal, beginning with precise arrangements chosen by the artist that are then manipulated through simple operations such as subtraction and multiplication. These random processes ultimately determine the color, opacity, speed and scale of the sequences, which essentially become a visual representation of Villareal’s computer code transformed into light and color. Although the lights are displayed in a random order, they trigger in the viewer an innate neurological compulsion to recognize patterns in order to understand one’s surroundings.

“We are tremendously honored to be able to present this extraordinary work of art to our community,” said Crystal Bridges President Don Bacigalupi. “Buckyball signals our first temporary outdoor installation, and expands on our collection of light-and color-based works, including our James Turrell Skyspace and Dan Flavin’s light sculpture. This renowned new work will dazzle and mesmerize guests of all ages.”

Villareal’s Buckyball was commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York, and was first exhibited by Mad. Sq. Art, the contemporary art program of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, from October 25, 2012 to February 15, 2013.

“From its first day in Madison Square Park, Buckyball transformed the way our audience experienced the Flatiron neighborhood and our historic landscape,” said Debbie Landau, president of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “The work instantly became a community hub, a gathering place for excitement, reflection, and contemplation. Adding to and complementing the iconic architecture that surrounded it, Buckyball was an instant New York City landmark. It is without question that the sculpture will become a unique and important addition to Crystal Bridges for the museum and the people of the community.”

Villareal’s light sculpture will be surrounded by six “zero-gravity” benches, designed by the artist, that allow viewers to recline near and view the artwork. The seating is built of wooden slats that mimic the construction method of park benches, just as the pedestal on which Buckyball rests emulates support structures found on sculptural monuments.

Buckyball and Villareal at Crystal Bridges

Buckyball will debut at Crystal Bridges on May 2.
On Wednesday, May 1, artist Leo Villareal will discuss his work at a public lecture from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Museum’s Great Hall; details and registration information are available at

About Leo Villareal

Leo Villareal is known internationally for his light sculptures and site-specific architectural works. His art is part of the permanent collections of prestigious institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Kagawa, Japan; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

Villareal was born in Albuquerque, NM in 1967, and currently lives in New York. He received a BA in sculpture from Yale University in 1990, and a graduate degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1994.

Recent exhibitions include a survey show organized by the San Jose Museum of Art in California, which continues to tour several museums throughout the world. Villareal’s numerous site-specific commissions include The Bay Lights (2013), San Francisco, CA; Volume (Durst), 2013, The Durst Organization, New York; Cosmos (2012), Johnson Museum of Art’s Mallin Sculpture Court at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Radiant Pathway (2011), Rice University, Houston, TX; Diagonal Grid (2009), Borusan Center for Culture and Arts, Istanbul, Turkey; Multiverse (2008), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Stars (2007), Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY; Supercluster (2003), MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY; and Hive (2012), for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at the Bleecker/Lafayette Street subway station in Manhattan.

Villareal is also playing a key role in the James Corner Field Operations design team that will renew Chicago’s Navy Pier. He is represented by Gering and López Gallery, New York.

About the Madison Square Park Conservancy

The Madison Square Park Conservancy is the not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to keeping historic Madison Square Park a bright, beautiful and active public park. The Conservancy raises 100% of the funds required to support the park’s horticulture, maintenance, security, and a variety of free, cultural programs for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Mad. Sq. Art is the free contemporary art program of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which presents exhibitions of newly-commissioned work each year in a wide variety of media, by artists ranging from emerging to internationally renowned. Following critical accolades for past exhibitions, Mad. Sq. Art’s “museum without walls” is now recognized worldwide as a preeminent presenter of public art, and is a destination for art lovers from around the world. For more information, visit

About Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The mission of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape. We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities.

Opened to the public on 11-11-11, Crystal Bridges was founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation as a nonprofit charitable organization for all to enjoy. Philanthropist and arts patron Alice Walton chairs the Museum’s board of directors. In its first year of operation, the Museum welcomed more than 650,000 visitors and garnered more than 7,900 households in its membership. More than 11,500 schoolchildren have taken part in the Museum’s Willard and Pat Walker School Visit program.

The Museum takes its name from a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction incorporated in the building, designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. A series of pavilions nestled around two spring-fed ponds house galleries, meeting and classroom spaces, and a large, glass-enclosed gathering hall. Guest amenities include a restaurant on a glass-enclosed bridge overlooking the ponds and a Museum Store designed by architect Marlon Blackwell. Sculpture and walking trails link the Museum’s 120-acre park to downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.

Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection spans five centuries of American masterworks ranging from the Colonial era to the current day. Included within the collection are iconic images such as Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton, each reflecting a distinct moment in American artistic evolution. In addition to historical works, the Museum’s collection also showcases major works by modern and contemporary American artists, including Roy Lichtenstein, James Turrell, and Georgia O’Keeffe, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to experience the full scope of American art. The permanent collection, which will grow over time, is on view year-round and is further enhanced by an array of ongoing temporary exhibitions.

Crystal Bridges offers year-round programming for all ages, including lectures, art-making workshops, films, gallery talks, and special events. An award-winning app available free from iTunes features audio tours of current and past temporary exhibitions, and many of the Museum’s lectures and gallery talks are included in Crystal Bridges’ iTunes U site, which also features interviews with curators, artists, and conservators. In addition, Crystal Bridges offers professional development for teachers and educational programming for K-12 school groups designed to fit with Common Core standards.

Additional information about Crystal Bridges is available online at

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