With the exhibition American Neon Signs by Day & Night the Nederlands Fotomuseum pays a homage to the Dutch artists Toon Michiels (1950 – 2015).
In the mid-1970's Toon Michiels visited the USA a number of times, travelling in a rental car to cities such as Reno an Las Vegas. He fell under the spell of the neon signs that hotels and restaurants had installed along the highways to lure drivers into making short or longer stop. To Europe eyes, they symbolized a typical American idea about freedom, the automobile culture and the urge to be 'on the road'in the wide open spaces of the American West. Their big letters and playful designs appealed to Michiels, partly due to this professional background as a graphic designer. The neon signs created a playful, freewheeling impression and contained many of the motifs from the popular American idea of the West - palm trees, cactuses and cowboys.
At night these neon signs were even more spectacular, forming great beacons of light against a darkened sky. Michiels decided to photograph them systematically, once by day and again by night, head-on and from the same position. The result is a series of handsome diptychs. A selection was published in American Neon Signs by Day & Night in 1980.
Toon Michiels's work is unique in the history of photography, altought it does display interesting parallels with the work of other artists and photographers of the 1970s: the systems of conceptual and minimal art, early artistic colour photography and the interests in popular culture, in areas such as architecture and urban planning. More than thirty-five years later Michiels's work had been rediscovered and reevaluated and it is being exhibited for the first time in both the Netherlands and abroad.
This exhibition is a coproduction of the Nederlands Fotomuseum and Les Rencontres d'Arles.