The Art of Commercial Neon

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Virginia Court Motel Diver © Mark Peacock
The Art of Commercial Neon

811 West Seventh Street
Los Angeles, California 90017
August 13th, 2015 - September 7th, 2015
Opening: August 13th, 2015 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

downtown/east la
Sun-Sat 8am - 8pm


The Art of Commercial Neon

French engineer Georges Claude in 1902 created neon light by applying electricity to neon or argon gas in a sealed glass tube, he eventually patented the new technology in 1910 and made the first public display of his neon light at the Paris Motor Show in 1913.

In 1923 the introduction of the first electric neon signs to the United States was made by Claude’s French company Claude Neon when two neon signs were sold to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. Earle C. Anthony purchased the two signs reading "Packard" for $24,000 and as they say the rest is history, Neon established itself as the prominent way to make colorful electric signs for advertizing and create artistic lighting for movie theaters and all manner of businesses.

As the technology advanced and the ingenuity of glass tube making and bending became something that very skilled artisans created their combination of shapes and colors along with animated lighting made for truly artistic signs and theater marquees.

Over the ensuing decades the art of commercial neon signs became synonymous with the American folklore of the twentieth century reaching its zenith in the 1950’s and early 60’s

With the advent and rise of backlit plastic signage in the 70’s the slow decline of artistic neon sign making began until only a small percentage were being made by the 1990’s and many of the existing signs were falling into disrepair when current or new business owners didn’t want to maintain them and many were destroyed to be replaced with newer and cheaper plastic signs. (Nowadays this trend continues with rather garish LED lighting) 

During this time there were some that realized the artistic value of these classic neon signs and started to collect them with some neon preservationists opening neon museums and making a great effort to save what they could.

Now the history and value of this unique art form is realized and cherished by many and the businesses that keep and maintain their classic neon signage are rewarded by the customers who would rather give their patronage to this type of establishment.

There is no comparison to an intricate animated neon sign or signage like the type that made the Las Vegas strip famous and this was duplicated in a lesser degree in various diners, motels, bars and other businesses all across America so much so that one can’t think of or see a classic joint without the warm glow of neon signage which is now synonymous with mid-century Americana

The photographs exhibited are of classic neon signs located in Los Angeles and Southern California that celebrate this unique art form and the artisans that made them