Museum Director and Professor's statements about exhibits and University talks
To Museum Curators & Directors, Gallery Owners, and Other Interested Parties
I am writing to you to tell you about our experience at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts in working with the artist Ben Livingston. We recently undertook a major exhibition with Ben which was extraordinarily successful and one of our most popular exhibits ever as well as being from an aesthetic viewpoint, a magnificent installation. I had an awareness of his work through media and art publications particularly emanating from Austin and Texas sources. A former trustee of our museum who is an art collector and owns a media and advocacy company in Washington D.C. also contacted me about Ben because he had great enthusiasm for his work. I had a high regard for that individual and thus I initiated a conversation with Ben Livingston. In that conversation it occurred to me that rather than simply working to hang a series of existing works for an exhibition it could be more productive and exciting to create something original around an installation concept. I invited Ben to San Angelo and arranged for accommodations in a former Officer’s Quarters in a restored building at nearby Fort Concho National Historic Landmark.
After spending a couple of days in our community Ben presented some imaginative and exciting ideas. At the core of it was an installation using light elements and tying into the rumored and much celebrated ghost that presumably resides in the building where Ben had stayed. It was a fascinating, amusing, but ultimately serious conversation that led to the magnificent exhibition that we installed at our museum. I won’t belabor the process that we undertook but the resulting exhibition became a celebration of an important element of the history of our community and a much broader examination of the ghostlike nature of our past and memories and how elusive and yet fundamental they are to our existence.
Ben works with the medium of light using neon in glass tubing. This was not to be a minimalist what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of installation such as the work of the noted Dan Flavin. The resulting installation in the totally darkened room was inherently beautiful with the colors emanating from the sculptures but Ben’s work also draws you very close to the actual object with elegant elements of rhythmic twists and turns, color transitions, and relationships that are hypnotic. Unlike an installation of a room of paintings, however, the effect of the whole of all the works engaging in the environment is in itself a remarkable and delightful experience. It is not surprising that even those who generally are challenged by more abstract contemporary work were mesmerized by and stayed in the space for long periods. The exhibit was also an ideas driven exhibit of rich content and meaning and I have enclosed here our descriptive title panel which will explain that.
An outcome of this exhibit is an opportunity for the work to be seen again and again reconfigured in different environments and with a similar hypothesis but oriented to the specific locale. His work and his ability not only to create the individual works but also to undertake a unique installation each time will result in shows that are unique and yet I am certain would capture the imagination of your audience as it did here. I will in fact personally travel to see any future installations for my own edification and pleasure.
A final comment is that Ben is a remarkably talented person (he is also a noted musician and will joyfully perform at your venue if asked) and he is a delight to work with. For us this was a rewarding and pleasant collaborative effort and Ben was cooperative and worked hard and quietly with a minimum of demands on our staff and resources. I would highly recommend that you engage Ben for an exhibition of this wonderful body of work.
- Howard Taylor, Director, San Angelo Museum of Fine Art
Primitive societies believed that objects, both man-made and natural had spirits unique to them. In this view, called animism, souls inhabited flora, fauna, lakes, rocks, and dwellings.
Long dismissed as a superstition, we find an intriguing contemporary expression of it in the work of Austin neon artist, Ben Livingston. He calls his art objects "spirit houses," some of which are the size and shape of an open shoebox. He makes them with wood from structures with historical significance and illuminates them with neon light made with special phosphorescent dust.
Livingston lamented the recent destruction of a home in East Austin, which was believed to once house newly freed slaves. From the wood he salvaged during its demolition, he preserved the spirits of these homes in his art and introduced the neon lighting to create a sense of the presence of a vibrant spirit.
Livingston's exhibitions offer a unique visual and emotional experience as much as his community talks enlighten and delight his audiences with accounts of his travels through Southeast Asia and how they influenced him.
Vincent Luizzi, J.D., Ph.D.
Director of Dialogue Development, Department of Philosophy
Texas State University
My Honors College students, at Texas State University, and I were lucky to have Ben join our class to discuss and analyze his Spirit Houses exhibitions. We were impressed with Ben’s ability to engage on our course subject matter in connection to the inspiration behind his art. Ben was generous with his time and shared photographs and stories behind his travels that led to his haunting art pieces. Since the course focuses on the impact of origin myths, Ben created an engaging lecture on ineffability and the death rituals of Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia. Between the vibrant enthusiasms of which he told stories, to the unique nature of the topics he focused his presentation upon, my students were engaged and invested. His lecture inspired a few students to further explore topics, in essays and or projects, discussed during his visit: non-Western death rituals, animism, and wat temples. Ben’s lectures are a vibrant shift for the classroom, allowing students an opportunity to analyze course material with a new lens.
- Amanda North, English Faculty, Texas State University