Rockne saved me by agreeing to do a commercial job
Thank you library & archives staff at LACMA’s Library!
“I think of these as pieces which you experience in total but see only in sequence or passages. The experience is a remembered experience, almost as a piece of music of which you hear the progression. In this case you see the progression of the piece and your final total experience is one of memory.”
Rockne Krebs, 1970 *2
“’Crazy, man!’ is the way young people describe it as the beam dances merrily as it bounces off trees, the waters of the lagoon…” *3
“I was disheartened to read Rockne’s 1977 statement, that of the thirty-eight major pieces he had made, only four were still extant.
Rockne’s sobering quote speaks volumes about the temporal nature of all art. However, there is one piece that certainly exists and has become a touchstone for me. Miami Line is a signature Krebs light sculpture that stretches for a third of a mile along the under edge of a Metrorail overpass in downtown Miami ….” *4
William Dunlap, Dec. 2, 2011
“...Krebs’s made one feel extremely happy and proud to be alive at a particular time and place…” *5
*2. The Sixth National Sculpture Conference, 1970, National Sculpture Center, the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. Edited by Elden C. Tefft, published 1971. Published transcript of Krebs’ lecture.
*3. Griffin, Thomas. One-the Beam Museum Draws ‘Em Like Moths, The States-Item New Orleans, 1971.
*4. Harrison, Carol. Rockne Krebs Photographs + Interpretations, 2013.
*5. Forgey, Benjamin. Art Life on the Edges, essay, Washington Art Matters: Art Life in the Capital 1940-1990, 2013.
The Neon Bridge revisited, by Neil Johnson. Rockne Krebs’ Red River Bridge public art sculpture, Shreveport, LA. The Shreveport Times
Shreveport/Bossier's Texas Street bridge glows from the neon
lights that were installed in 1994.
In 1993, Mayor Hazel Beard flipped a switch and the Texas Street
Bridge — officially, the Long-Allen Bridge, built in 1934 — soon became known as The Neon Bridge.
Even though many people questioned its cost and scratched their
heads over all the hoop-la, the goal of Shreveport officials (City Hall,
Downtown Development Authority, and Shreveport Regional Arts Council) was to create a signature piece of public art that would not only help define Shreveport in a creative, strikingly visual, and very public way, but connect Shreveport with its sister city on the other side of the river.
Rockne Krebs (1938-2011), an artist from Washington D.C.,
Despite an engineering struggle, the laser facet of the project
failed in the offset. Years later, the spotlights would be turned off and finally removed. The neon remained on, but, sadly, it was discovered that constant vibration and road dust and grime were the enemies of neon fixtures and tubes. The tubes began to fail and be replaced, but eventually the speed at which the neon failed outstripped the maintenance money to replace them. Repairing the neon was both very difficult and very inconvenient.
After the bridge succeeded in becoming an artistic icon, today, there is much grumbling about the “non-neon bridge.” Only a small percentage of it remains lit.
But fans of the art should take heart!
Pam Atchison, SRAC executive director, assured me that, first, everyone is quite aware of the condition of the neon artwork, and secondly, there is ongoing activity below radar to find the money to, not only replace the lights, but replace the neon with a type of LED light that strongly resembles neon and is much more stable. Though not exactly the same product, check out the “neon” on the Tourist Bureau mural some evening.
Atchison said they had been shooting for the end of 2014 for the
neon rehab, but it will probably be in 2015. With an extremely tight city budget, it’s mostly about finding just the right grant to apply for — and win.
When the next switch is thrown, I will be standing on the riverbank, excited to see the lit bridge again reflected gloriously in the river below. To the Neon Bridge doubters, I will once again state, “It is a work of art, created by a sculptor using light to transform the bridge. It is not decoration.”
I might also add: Patience.
Neil Johnson is the owner of Neil Johnson Photography and is
based in Shreveport-Bossier City.
On the back of the drawing: “Red River Dave strumming to sundown on the Red River and contemplating the reflection of the Texas Street Bridge. Red River Dave was a Texas cowboy singer from the 33 rpm record era.” Rockne Krebs, 9/1991.
Krebs titled his light sculpture on the Texas Street Bridge, The Red River Bridge, it soon became known as The Neon Bridge.
A wonderful video of Shreveport/Bossier’s waterfront with
stunning Neon Bridge footage, Dec. 2008.
“Shreveport, Louisiana's Nighttime Waterfront Skyline”
In Memory of Philip M. Smith
Philip M. Smith, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a leader in national and international science and technology policy. He was the Director of the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in the 1980s and 1990s. Previously
he was an Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Ford and Carter administrations.
Phil Smith and Rockne Krebs had a friendship that spanned more
than four decades, and a strong mutual respect for each other’s life's
Phil's friendship, sound advice and guidance will be sadly missed.
In Phil’s words -
“Rockne Krebs: An Appreciation
Rockne and I met not long after his breakout show in the 1960s at
the Corcoran where “Ra” and his other site-specific pieces took the Washington and indeed the national art world by storm. I sought him and we met for dinner. We hit it off, starting a life-long friendship that only ended with his death in 2011.
Although I knew the work of “light artists” such as Dan Flavin, I was
intrigued by Rockne’s vision for using light to create monumental environmental works as well as smaller pieces. He was fascinated by my world of science and technology and the latest discoveries in all fields. So we became fast friends, talking long into the night at his studio, at my house in Washington, DC, and on visits at the country studio in Burgess, Virginia. He visited me for lunch at the White
House Mess, one time with Lynda Benglis in tow and at the National Academy of Sciences where I arranged an exhibition of his drawings.
With a huge number of other friends we watched the bicentennial fireworks on the Mall in 1976.
One evening at his DC studio, fueled by some wine, I described current research in lightning, telling Rockne that if we could capture all the daily lightning discharges on earth we could supply electricity to all humankind. A couple months later I saw “Lightning Sculpture," an imaginary piece that created a machine to harness lightning thus creating huge sculptural works in the sky. It was another sculptural use of light from Rockne’s standpoint. The drawing hung in my office in the big Victorian executive office building west of the White House for six years and then in my office at the National Academy of Sciences for a decade. With Rockne’s concurrence I gave “Lightning Sculpture” to the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas (his
alma mater) in 2010.” Philip M. Smith, January, 12, 2012
1970 Scanning Negatives: Walter Hopps, Joe Cameron, Dorothy Gilliam, Sam Gilliam, John Gossage, Juan Downey, and more. Photographs by Rockne Krebs.
From the Archive: Washington, DC, 1970. Scanning negatives,
a roll of creative minds at work together.
Walter Hopps, Joe Cameron, Dorothy Gilliam, Sam Gilliam, John Gossage, Juan Downey, and more. Photographs by Rockne Krebs. Never-before-printed. Help naming the unidentified people would be appreciated.
Walter Hopps, 1970, arriving at Sam Gilliam’s, Washington, DC
Bob Elliott, Jr., 1970, and a great candid shot.
On this day in 1976, the Rockne Krebs Laser Sculpture at the St. Petersburg Pier was unveiled by Glenn Anderson
On this day in 1976, the Rockne Krebs Laser Sculpture installation at the St. Petersburg Municipal Pier was unveiled.
It consisted to two pieces. The laser beam configuration itself was titled, "Starboard" while the equipment installation inside the Pier was called, "Home on the Range, Part VI."
I was the Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Arts Commission and the Project Director for Rockne's work here. It was a really incredible and wondrous work of art so far ahead of its time that technology was not able to keep up with it.
Like laser light itself, it had a short but brilliant life.
- Glenn Anderson
St. Petersburg, FL. laser sculpture back in the news.
The Tampa Tribune, November 6, 2013,
1977 artist’s work debunks rumor of UFO in St. Pete, by Paul Guzzo
Documentation of a 1977 installation by laser artist Rockne Krebs was recently mistaken for documentation of a UFO landing.
A Florida newspaper debunks the myth.
Excerpt from Glenn Anderson’s remembrance in Rockne Krebs Photographs + Interpretations by Carol Harrison
A brief anecdote on my friendship with Rockne Krebs
“….I won’t go into details on the wonder of that artwork. When it was working, it was “other worldly” and the 8th wonder of the world. But
when it was broken down, it was a curse…The failure was not Rockne’s fault. He had done the best he could, and brilliantly, but he was always so far ahead of the curve as an artist, science had not kept up with reliable technology. In that day, large lasers were very temperamental and unreliable but if that was the medium an artist wanted to explore, he had few options.
….I was daily working with him in some way and we were connected at the hip in so far as our futures in St. Petersburg were concerned…. My close daily contact with Rockne gave me insight into both him as a human being and as an artist. As a functioning human being I experienced his incredible drive and work ethic. He was driven to see that next thing that “had never been seen before”…the ultimate goal of a highly functioning artist. As an artist, he was dedicated to the truth and purity of both concept as well as visual experience. The artist Rockne had to share the scientist Rockne….” 1*
- Glenn Anderson
A Rainbow Tree, 1970
A Rainbow Tree has always caught my eye. I feel my uncle’s art and ideas come from an inner connection that never forgot.
Never forgot that creation of any kind is not so much putting matter to light, but bringing light to matter.
A Rainbow Tree at a glance and on the surface might be seen as another way to project light back to the viewer, but as I look deeper I realize that he might be attempting to once again project the viewer into the light.
Rockne Krebs’ artwork and creations have always used a hint of magic to show that the forefront is always the backdrop and vice versa.
"...on paper he imagined vast, impossible structures such as a Sun Pyramid, and potentially fatal ones such as Lightning Sculpture, and brilliant, barely possible inventions such as A Rainbow Tree." 2*
"...they involve water being sprayed into the air to create rainbows arcing over treetops; Krebs' notes on A Rainbow Tree explain that 'it can only be seen when the viewer is in a specific position in relation to the piece + the sun. It makes looking at a work of art like looking at the sky and needs to be approached with the same expectancy.'" 1*
of his works are the most sentimental things. When Robert Rauschenberg saw the Rainbow Tree, he actually cried. He said, ‘That’s something I wish
I had done.’ “ 3*
It's hard to understand that everything we see on a daily basis IS a sculpted piece of art, and made of light. That's how I think my uncle saw things. The only difference is how we choose to view it, that's how the world changes. We are just witnessing the unfolding of truth in the reflection of a prism rainbow.
Moon Archer, 1974, drawing for a night rainbow
As in A Rainbow Tree, Moon Archer also uses the knowledge of the sculptor, Rockne Krebs, that the observer will not find on the outside what they don't hold on the inside.
The observer to any projection of light onto the backdrop of the palette of something as pure as water is seemingly impossible especially at night.
Yet Rockne Krebs inherently knows the feeling of impossible to be the only logical direction to sail. This direction is where any sculptor proves that the earth is not flat and the observed is never separate from the observer. This is how he knows, no thought is impossible, only not yet sailed.
Signed edition of 50 A Rainbow Tree Hand tinted print 17”x22”
A Film by Edward Kelley on Krebs’ Photon Structures (16mm; prints
available) Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, DC
2* Forgey, Benjamin. The Washington Post, Krebs, Crystal Clear, At the Corcoran: Brilliant Light, Brilliant Ideas, December 24, 1983.
3* Allen, Jane Addams. The Washington Times, Rockne Krebs, December, 23, 1983.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art — Two Spectacular Public Art Works Commissioned in 1972 -1973, Gene Davis and Rockne Krebs
From the Archive: “The city at night is light” Krebs says, 1973.
Visiting Gene Davis' Franklin's Footpath, 1972.
It was the world's largest artwork at the time.
Richard, Paul. The Washington Post, April 2007.
“I was working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art back in 1973, when David Katzive, the head of the Museum's Division of Education and the Urban Outreach Program, commissioned Sky Bridge Green, which was one of the most extraordinary, beautiful artworks I have ever experienced. I watched Rockne tinker with the impressively huge laser that he had set up on the east portico of the Museum to shoot a beam of light straight down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to a mirror on Billy Penn's hat on the top of City Hall.” William F. Stapp, December 2, 2012
Krebs originally called the piece Sky Pi, he re-titled it Sky Bridge Green, perhaps after he and David Katzive met this man admiring the laser sculpture. “An elderly man, a stranger, was standing there at City Hall gazing in astonishment at the lights that came from the museum. When Krebs and Katzive then returned to the museum, they met the man again, staring at the light above him, climbing the museum steps. 'It’s like walking into heaven,' said the stranger.” Richard, Paul. The Washington Post, 1973, The City at Night Is Light.
Sky Bridge Green was a bridge to the sky hovering above Davis' Franklin’s Footpath.
Rockne Krebs’ lasers pierce the Philadelphia air
When read from below strictly from the point of view of style, the piece was like an excessively simple sculpture somehow suspended in the sky.
Yet it was impossible to read the piece merely as a formalist tour de
force. The piece emphasized with great tact and intelligence the street pattern of the city, in this case the broad, arrow-straight line of Franklin Boulevard that leads directly from City Hall to the knoll on top of which sits the museum temple. It interacted strikingly with other man-made aspects of its environment: fountains, equestrian statues, office buildings, street lights…These relationships changed radically as one changed one’s vantage point, and in view of the enormous territory covered by the piece, these possibilities were immense…” Forgey, Benjamin. Art in America, September-October 1973, Rockne Krebs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
"Krebs, for all his precision, thinks about light like a mystic…"
How is it beautiful? How is it art? What is it, in fact, that Krebs has done? In the first place, unlike many of the unhappy couplings of art and technology… in the heady days of the mid-‘60s, Krebs’s laser environments represent a triumph of vision of over technique.
After all, the idea of making “sculpture” out of a non-material “substance” such as light is in itself an incisive bit of poetry, and when you get down to it, Krebs, for all his precision, thinks about light like a mystic…
On Franklin’s Footpath, Davis’ street painting, the trees enveloped me in almost total darkness. The laser beams seemed like everlasting comet trails – pure, inexplicable, beautiful.” Forgey, Benjamin. The Evening Star and The Washington Daily News, May 1973, A Spectacle of Light.
aging statues sprinkled through cities. They once seemed large as life, or larger, but they seem so no longer…It is the city that has killed them…where the city pushes in the monuments seem lost. Our cities are too big, too busy, all sculpture seems too small. Krebs’ work, as you might guess, is huge...It succeeds because it is not made of steel, or of bronze or plastic. It is made of light….Though weightless and insubstantial, they manage to wholly dominate their visual competition." Richard, Paul. The Washington Post, 1973, The City at Night Is Light. *This article appeared in several other newspapers around the country and abroad.
“I found myself thinking of an evening in 1973, in balmier weather, when I walked from my apartment a few blocks from the Art Museum to see another temporary installation there, Sky Bridge Green by Rockne Krebs.
It consisted of a green laser beam shot from the Art Museum to a mirror atop City Hall and bounced several times across the Parkway. The atmosphere was like a party. People kept throwing objects to see if they could make this monumental beam of light disappear for a split second.
It was so much fun seeing the amazing light and the community it created,
I went back for several more evenings to see it again and again.
The Krebs piece dramatized the polarities of the Parkway — with one end in the heart of the city with its commerce and politics, the other at the Art Museum, representing aesthetic contemplation and the gateway to a natural world beyond. On the ground, the Parkway often falls short, but Krebs’ work shined a new kind of light on the ideals that brought it into being.”
- Hine, Thomas. The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 24, 2019.
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