A neon sign for sale is a line. Or, more specifically, it’s a gas-filled tube made of glass. It has been heated and bent by skilled craftsmen, then lit with an electrical charge. The line changes when illuminated. It can mimic and abstract glows and flicker, and implores or distracts. Its symbols, sign and text are the language of modern cities.
M+ began purchasing neon signs that were otherwise endangered from Hong Kong’s streetscapes. The intention draws less from sentimentality–though the nostalgic power of these fast-disappearing urban fixtures is both undeniable and consequential–than a recognition that neon signs present a compelling case study for a multidisciplinary museum, rooted in the neon city of Hong Kong, whose overarching theme is “visual culture.”
The intention is not motivated by sentimentality, but rather recognizes that neon signs offer a compelling case for a multidisciplinary Museum, rooted within the neon city of Hong Kong whose overarching theme “visual culture”.
Visual culture, in simple terms, is a mix of a variety of disciplines. It involves the mediation of information, images, meanings, and visual landscapes. The neon signs in Hong Kong are therefore difficult to miss. These signs, which play the communicative roles of typography and illustration as well as graphic design, are as constrained and enabled by technology as a book is by the printing press or a digital design by its software. Although they are often unknown about their authorship, it is not a deceiving fact. They are the products of real-life creators, intents, and processes. But, authorship is becoming increasingly blurred in an age of visual culture itself (think the internet). Through their use in cinema, photography, visual art, and other media, neon signs have come to embody and represent many of modernity’s contradictions. The glamour and grit of modernity, as well the confidence, fragility, mass spectacle, and alienation that lurks below. Neon signs can both assign and assume meanings. This allows them to inhabit the most fertile sphere of visual culture at the osmotic border between medium, message, and viewer.
Neon signs are able to both assign meanings and assume these meanings; they exist in the most fertile territory of visual culture, at an osmotic interface among medium, message, viewer, and medium.
Although neon signs for sale provided a visual vocabulary that was appealing to the 20th Century, the 21st century will see them and their skills being replaced by LED and other more modern technologies. It may seem odd that this project dedicated to neon signs is located on a medium that is replacing them, namely a digital screen. The craft of neon is an industrial craft, so it has always been anachronistic. Maybe neon signs will live on as an anachronism.