First published in the July 16 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
The Museum of Neon Art recently announced that it has acquired Ben Livingston’s “Mural NO. 1,” an Austin, Texas, landmark, pioneering electric artwork and activist statement on nuclear proliferation.
The work received a Paul Waterbury Design Award of Excellence — now known as the Illumination Award for Outdoor Design — in 1988. Livingston is a neon and light sculptor who uses various mediums ranging from found objects to historical archives, artifacts and photography. The work, which includes line drawings rendered in neon, cycles through six scenes that show a “child’s depiction” of the end of the world via nuclear bombing. The work is meant to reflect the repercussions of war and its impact on children.
“Though it was created over 30 years ago, Livingston’s neon mural continues to send an urgent message about the consequences of war and nuclear weapons. Simultaneously a serious and playful icon for the community of Austin, this work is emblematic of Livingston’s long career as an artist as well as his investment in place, politics and community,” said MONA Executive Director Corrie Siegel in a statement. “We are honored to host this monumental artwork in our collection and are grateful to Ben Livingston, who served an integral role in preserving this work and ensuring public ownership of a mural deeply concerned with the future of humanity.”
Since 1986, this piece has illuminated the front of Livingston’s studio in Austin. It was removed from the facade of the building after 22 years of public display when Livingston had to move out of his studio. This “technological marvel of its time” utilized an 8-by-20-inch computer with relays that sent a series of electrical impulses to a generator which would activate 10 different relays and transformers. All of this was crafted by engineer Frank Roberts.
Roberts designed a variable clock generator using a MacCAD program, which is a design program for the analysis of continuous and linear control systems. The control system was held in high technological regard because of its sheer size and the specialized circuitry.
Livingston said the piece holds a place in art history as a “vastly popular local landmark for 22 years,” one that beat the Statue of Liberty to win the coveted IES International Lighting Design Award.
“It was no match against the engines of exponential growth ‘progress.’ Such a sad statement of the current condition of the new Austin’s short-sighted disregard for local cultural history,” he said in a statement. “I’m euphoric that she’s been rescued — literally from Austin’s landfill — to be given a permanent home in Glendale, at the Mecca of neon art — MONA. Thank [God] MONA came to the rescue!”