Chryssa Vardea

Study for Gates No. 4


Perspex, 8 neon lights and timer
Object: 1092 x 883 x 702 mm
Presented by S. Herbert Meller through the American Federation of Arts 1968

Display caption

Vardea was one of the first artists to transform neon from an advertising tool into an art material. This is one of sixteen sculptures she produced both before and after the completion of The Gates to Times Square, her most ambitious work, a homage to the Greek-born artist’s experience of New York.

Gallery label, February 2016

Catalogue entry

Chryssa born 1933

T01088 Study for the Gates No.4 1967

Not inscribed
Neon tubing and perspex with timer, 43 x 34 1/2 x 27 1/2 (109.2 x 87.5 x 70) on perspex base 33 x 34 1/2 x 27 1/2 (83.8 x 87.5 x 70)
Presented by S. Herbert Meller through the American Federation of Arts 1968
Prov: S. Herbert Meller, New York (purchased from the artist)
Exh: Chryssa, Pace Gallery, New York, February-March 1968 (works not listed); 4. Documenta, Kassel, June-October 1968 (Chryssa 4); Eight Artists, Eight Attitudes, Eight Greeks, ICA, London, November-December 1975 (Chryssa 2, repr. in colour)
Lit: Diane Waldman in exh. catalogue Chryssa, Pace Gallery, New York, February-March 1968, pp.7-8; Gordon Brown, 'The Cool Mind: Notes on Neon from Chryssa' in Arts, XLII, March 1968, p.42, repr. incorrectly as 'Study for the "Gates", Fragment No.5'; Sam Hunter, Chryssa (London 1974), pp.55-21, repr. p.63 in colour; Pierre Restany, Chryssa (New York 1977), pp.45-6, 54-5, 62-72, repr. pl.148 in colour Repr: Artforum, VI, May 1968, p.60 with the dates 1966-7

'The Gates to Times Square' 1964-6, or 'The Gates' as it is sometimes known, is Chryssa's most ambitious and complex neon work to date. ('Times Square I relate to the Byzantine: neon advertising signs high up in the sky against a background of sky and the flat painted letters of the billboards'). Measuring 10ft x 10ft x 10ft (305 x 305 x 305cm), it took over two years to complete and combines welded stainless steel, cast aluminium, neon and perspex. Chryssa started by using original 'commercial' signs, which she then fitted to the structure. Each of the fragments of the commercial signs was remade by her and repeated four times, or in two or three places three times; built up in sections and a series of shallow layers of densely packed metal or neon forms of mostly more or less illegible lettering, it necessitated making as many as 132 unrelated fragments.

Several of the neon sculptures known as 'Studies for the Gates' were made before 'The Gates to Times Square' was finished, but the majority were done afterwards and are therefore strictly speaking studies from the 'Gates' rather than for them. There are altogether sixteen sculptures 'Studies for the Gates' numbered from 1 to 16 and two metal sculptures. 'Study for the Gates No.13' was made in 1964 and was one of the first studies for the entire piece; 'Study for the Gates No.12' 1965 was a sculptured analysis of the 'Gates' in two sections. However all the other neon 'Studies' date from 1966 or 1967 and were based on fragments of letters in the 'Gates' inspired by commercial lettering.

In her catalogue of her works, Chryssa describes the present sculpture as follows:

One form from the 'Gates'. Fragment resembling letter 'S'. This form repeated 16 times, (8 double units of neon tubing). The box is divided inside by clear plexiglas into four sections, color in all sections blue.
Type of glass: clear.
Plexiglas case, grey #2064
Timer inserted in the lower section.
Diameter of the neon tube #18
43" high, 34 1/2" wide, 27 1/2" deep.
Sculpture furnished with a base 33" x 344" x 274, Plexiglas #2064.
Each of the sections lights up in sequence. Each section consists of two double neon units (four single ones). The first section lights up for six seconds after which the second section lights up for six seconds while the first one remains lit, then the third lights up for six seconds, while numbers one and two remain lit, then section four lights up and the entire sculpture is then lit and remains so for six seconds. Then all lights go out for six seconds and the same sequence is repeated.

In this work all the sections are the same colour, but in some of the other sculptures based on the same principle each section is a different colour. For example, 'Study for the Gates No.3' 1966-7 has neon forms based on fragments of the letters KW and is divided into four sections coloured yellow, orange, blue and green. However Chryssa always sought to control the intensity so that there were no clashes of colour and no one colour would dominate. She says that she only used the same form as the Tate's once again, as a single unit issued as a multiple by the Multiples Gallery, New York, in 1969 in an edition of thirty. The last three neon studies, 'Study for the Gates No.14, 1967 (Clytemnestra) from "Iphigenia in Aulis"', 'Study for the Gates No.16, 1967 ("a flock of morning birds" from "Iphigenia in Aulis" by Euripides)' and 'Study for the Gates No.16', 1967 are all free-standing, without the perspex boxes. They were made with black glass neon tubing which allowed the artist to incorporate the dark or 'night' element without the need for perspex covering.

In a largely unpublished essay entitled Some Thoughts on my Art, Chryssa has written of the neon boxes:

'The neon tubing shapes fragments of letters. The fragments I incorporate into my work are repeated like a machine-made product. The Plexiglas case that encloses the neon tubing repeats the work in all directions. To me this relates more to "measure" than reflection. Both sculpture and case relate to function. The shapes give light. The case protects the fragile tubes and resembles night. The timer inserted in the lower section of the box measures time and functions in many different ways'.
'Study for the Gates No.2', 1966 now belongs to the Whitney Museum, New York, 'Study for the Gates No.14, 1967 (Clytemnestra) from "Iphigenia in Aulis"' to the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC, and 'Study for the Gates No.15, 1967 ("a flock of morning birds" from "Iphigenia in Aulis" by Euripides)' to the Hirshhorn Museum, also in Washington, DC.

(This entry is based on documentation supplied by the artist).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.124-6, reproduced p.124