From a catchy John Mayer song to an easy party theme, there’s no denying that neon is a versatile substance. Apart from lining the streets of Vegas, neon art is a popular contemporary art medium gracing galleries, exhibits and museums alike. Now, the Museum of Neon Art (MONA), which previously operated on the Universal Citywalk, Grand Hope Park and Historic Core, is set to bring culture and creativity to the south of Glendale.
Sitting directly across from the Glendale Americana, the distinctive lights and front glass wall sharply mark the angular building from the surrounding brick and brownstone. As of their Feb. 7 grand opening, the museum is now open on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
The red and white logo (in neon, of course) entices the eye and draws quite a crowd — not to mention the front wall of windows enabling passersby to peek at the lobby gift shop that hosts the front exhibit.
The City Council of Glendale invited MONA to set up shop in an effort to solidify and fortify the Arts and Entertainment Corridor, the budding arts district of the city which includes Alex Theater and the Glendale Arts nonprofit. The rehousing of MONA is one of many city wide initiatives to make art, culture and entertainment thrive in Glendale.
Neon signage and sculpture as a medium has had its ups and downs in mainstream popularity, and MONA has served as an effort to both preserve historic signs and promote the contemporary art form. As a medium, neon art derived from pipe art, in which artists began blowing and pulling glass tubes in place of metal. Once the notion of using neon was introduced, the style of sculpture electrified and took on a new dimension of incorporating science and math in art.
Senior Adam Rose was inspired by the history of the art form and the museum staff’s in-depth knowledge of the subject.
“When you learn about the history, from pipe working and glass pulling, the museum becomes more than just a room filled with bright lights. Learning about the skill needed to work with neon and the small number of artists who can do it really added to my experience,” Rose said.
Working with different gases, glasses and fluorescent covers, neon artists manipulate their materials in myriad ways. Most of the older pieces in the MONA collection are invaluable, as the glass tubes for each sculpture were custom made by the artists, some of whom have passed away. If a piece breaks, tube restoration is incredibly difficult and replacement is nearly impossible.
Additionally, the art form is incredibly interdisciplinary and requires scientific knowledge as well as artistic.
“Neon is a gateway between scientific principles and artistic expression,” MONA’s website says. “Neon illumination integrates electrical technology, creative design, and fundamental concepts of physics and chemistry.”
The marriage of science and art leaves viewers in awe. Some pieces are interactive, welcoming visitors to press buttons and crank levers, while some warn onlookers not to get too close to the voltage. From a wall of emoji texts to giant pink bobby pins, the pieces shine innovation, creativity and whimsy.
MONA hopes to emulate other local small museums, like the Norton Simon, in terms of accessibility and community engagement. At $8 for adults, $5 for students and $4 for residents of Glendale, the museum is more affordable than LA’s bigger museums, and much more navigable. MONA will soon host art classes and viewings of neon artists working, both open to the public. The architecture of the museum itself allows viewers to “window shop” the collection (in the spirit of the neighboring shopaholic’s heaven that is the Americana), and soon the top part of the building will host even more lights.
Though the museum is small, MONA’s collection is immense in number and size. Some of MONA’s pieces simply won’t fit inside the door of the building, but for the fixtures that do, MONA will rotate exhibits every four months from their private extensive collection.
And with ample parking and close proximity to endless shopping and food, the buzzing building is an artistic and electrifying oasis in a sea of brown buildings.
The Museum of Neon Art is located at 216 S. Brand Blvd. in Glendale, Calif.