Compared to paint and marble, light as a medium is a newcomer to the art world, but that hasn't stopped many artists from embracing it to great effect — highlights from the past few years include Anthony McCall's Vertical Works and James Turrell at the Gagosian Gallery.
The Hayward Gallery has assembled the best in 'light art' to create a mesmeric and brilliantly entertaining exhibition. The show opens with a dazzling work by Leo Villareal that resembles hundreds of twinkling stars flicking on and off in an hypnotising ballet. Contrasting with this in the same room is a subtle work by David Batchelor — screens face a white wall and project bright colours at it creating an afterglow akin to the sky just after sundown.
There are several artists who've managed to give light a feeling of density and weight, whether through the sheer intensity of light or inventive use of particulates. McCall is featured as you'd expect and his 'solid' beam of light is projected at neck level so visitors will hesitate before walking into it for fear of decapitation.
There were also several works that boggle the mind, from Jim Campbell's suspended sequins where shadowy figures appear when viewed from a certain angle to Bill Culbert's unlit light bulb whose reflection shows it as lit up.
The exhibition covers the full range of emotions from the humour of seeing a 'splat' of light on the floor through to the intensity of Olafur Eliasson's fountains in strobe lighting, where water appears as if stopped in mid-flight.
Cynics might see this as a show full of clever gimmicks but we challenge anyone to visit and not be overawed by the powerful works on display. 2013 has only just begun but this exhibition has thrown down the gauntlet. It will take something very special to top it.
Light Show is on at the Hayward Gallery until 28 April. Tickets are £11 for adults, concessions available.