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Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Neon signs in Chicago and LA

There's a nice little article by David Witter in this week's Newcity about the sad decline of neon signage in Chicago. Witter compares neon to Impressionist painting in the way that its colors change with changing natural light at different times of day, showing an appreciation of beauty in something that others might dismiss as outdated, garish, and rusty (Anyone wanna ask this guy to move to St. Louis, eh?). Also of particular note in the article is the list of the main reasons for the demise of neon in Chicago: general pressure against liquor stores, the city's preference for signs that lay flat against buildings (as opposed to free-standing signs), the sheer cost of creating and maintaining neon signs, and Chicago's brutal weather.

The article is online here: The Death of Neon. For those of you in Chicago, Newcity is also available for free in print in boxes and stacks in various locations around the city, which I mention because the print edition, unlike its online counterpart, has photos of the signs that the article describes.


If you like neon and you're ever in Los Angeles, it's worth a trip to see MONA, The Museum of Neon Art. Their collection includes contemporary neon art and old signs that they've salvaged and restored. While I enjoyed my entire visit to MONA when I went there during the summer of 2003, what I remember most vividly is the moment of walking into the back room where they display all the old, restored signs and hearing

nnNNNnnt! nnNNNnnt! nnNNNnnt! nnNNNnnt!

...the wonderful cacophony of all the old signs buzzing and flashing on and off noisily, each one operating at a slightly different tempo. The signs themselves and the colorful light they cast on the white gallery walls all moved in time to the neon's strange, percussive song. I'm smiling now just thinking about it.

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