Dynamic light installation by Leo Villareal activates lobby in Brown’s Lindemann Performing Arts Center

“Infinite Composition,” an engaging LED light sculpture designed by artist Leo Villareal, will illuminate the Nelson Atwater Lobby inside The Lindemann, which will open at Brown in Fall 2023.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University’s soon-to-open Lindemann Performing Arts Center has its first piece of public art: “Infinite Composition,” a site-specific, three-dimensional light work designed by award-winning artist Leo Villareal.

A world-renowned artist, Villareal has designed such iconic pieces as “The Bay Lights,” which illuminated the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for 10 years; “Illuminated River,” which uses light to unite nine bridges across the River Thames in London; and “Stars,” a series of animated light pieces that adorn the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The new installation at Brown lights up all 30 structural columns inside the Nelson Atwater Lobby on the east end of The Lindemann Performing Arts Center in the Perelman Arts District at Brown. When The Lindemann opens in Fall 2023, it will serve as a new home for the arts at Brown and promises to push the boundaries of innovation to inspire new forms of art-making and artistic collaboration. 

Villareal’s work enlivens the lobby with panels of white LED lights that flow in an endless variety of patterns. Thanks to a transparent glass “clearstory” that slices through the middle of the building, the installation is viewable from the street and adjacent campus spaces — inviting community members into the creative activity of the building.

Infinite Composition


Villareal’s work enlivens the lobby with panels of LED lights that flow in an endless variety of patterns. "Infinite Composition" © Leo Villareal

In other projects, Villareal said, he has seen the public nature of his art spark conversations among strangers from different backgrounds and generations. He hopes “Infinite Composition” ignites similar connections in the vibrant activity at Brown and in Providence, in the arts and beyond.

“Artists always talk about wanting to break down barriers and bring communities together with their work, and to see that happen in real time is always thrilling,” Villareal said. “Public art is powerful because it’s accessible to everyone, which means it can create a sense of identity in a community.”

Brown Arts Institute Director Avery Willis Hoffman said Villareal’s artwork is an ideal fit for The Lindemann, a creative hub that strives to break down barriers between disciplines and draw Brown and Providence communities closer together. 

“Leo Villareal’s piece serves as a beautiful actualization of the energy and creativity that will soon enliven The Lindemann on a daily basis,” Hoffman said. “By activating the lobby space with dancing light, Villareal is doing what we will encourage all Brown and community artists to do inside this arts center: Find creative inspiration in these spaces and use them to push artistic and disciplinary boundaries.”

Joshua Ramus, founder and principal of REX and principal designer for the building, praised Villareal’s installation for the way it works in harmony with The Lindemann lobby — a flexible, transparent space that’s sure to be used in a variety of creative ways.

“By integrating the piece with the lobby cantilever’s columns, Leo Villareal’s studio created an artwork that is wholly immersive for audiences,” Ramus said. “The procession to and from the auditorium becomes another performance.”

Artistic and technical collaboration

In 2019, as Brown and REX unveiled the innovative design for The Lindemann Performing Arts Center, Villareal was invited to take on the installation at the recommendation of the University’s Public Art Working Group

“We all felt that a dynamic light piece would fit particularly well within the dynamic nature of The Lindemann and its bold ambitions,” said Dietrich Neumann, a professor of history of art and architecture who chaired the working group in 2019. “We looked at the work of multiple artists and knew Villareal was the ideal choice.”

Villareal — who has completed projects at Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rice University — jumped at the chance to engage with a university whose students, like him, are interested in combining disciplines, such as art and technology, in unusual ways. 

“I love working in academic environments where students are interested in bringing their creative and analytical skills together, because I do that in my work,” Villareal said. “It’s inspiring to see more collaboration across disciplines, because that’s how interesting insights can happen. That’s how we get all those bold new ideas.”

Villareal and his studio colleagues spent several years collaborating with leaders from Facilities Management and the Brown Arts Institute, as well as representatives from REX and Shawmut Design and Construction, to ensure the installation’s design, materials and colors worked in harmony with The Lindemann and shared the University’s sustainability goals. 

The result, said University Architect Craig Barton, is an artwork that is fully integrated into the performing arts center’s lobby and that employs low-power LEDs to bring the space to life, even for passersby outside.

“The piece plays well with the overarching vision of The Lindemann as a constant beehive of creativity and activity — not a place that is used exclusively for performances and otherwise sits unused,” Barton said. “Leo Villareal’s studio made excellent use of the transparent ‘slice’ through the lobby by creating something everyone can enjoy, whether they have a ticket to an event at The Lindemann or whether they just happen to walk by.”

“Infinite Composition” was funded through the generosity of the Ansin Foundation in honor of Brown parent Edmund Ansin, Class of 1985 graduate Andrew Ansin, Tatsiana Ansin, Class of 1988 graduate James Ansin, Class of 1994 graduate Stephanie Ansin, and Spencer Stewart.

Installing the piece

Villareal said that while he has created works that incorporate movement across three dimensions, “Infinite Composition” extends and expands his interest in so-called “volumetric” work. Though each column may be individual, Villareal said, he united them using custom software, treating the full volume of the lobby as a single entity. The artwork is intended to be a piece visitors travel through as they navigate The Lindemann.

“I imagined people coming into the lobby before an event and being able to engage with a wholly different kind of performance,” Villareal said. “REX’s subtle use of transparency and reflection alongside the engineering magic that allows the lobby to float above street level made the building an idyllic space for me to activate. This radically flexible building will give life to generations of new artworks, and I am grateful for the invitation to be one of the first artists to work inside it.”

Public art is powerful because it’s accessible to everyone, which means it can create a sense of identity in a community.

Leo Villareal Artist, "Infinite Composition"
Leo Villareal looking up at an LED light panel

To create the piece, the studio designed a series of 58 LED light arrays, then worked with Massachusetts firm Sunrise SESA Technologies to create the panels and Connecticut fabricator Kammetal to make the structural and electrical assembly, as well as aluminum cladding that allows the panels to sit flush on The Lindemann’s columns. Then Villareal developed custom software that “understands the space” well enough to make light patterns that stretch across multiple columns.

In June, Villareal and a team from his studio worked with Kammetal to install the physical components and to program light sequences. Villareal spent evenings in the lobby and outside on The Walk — a series of linked green spaces near The Lindemann that intersect campus — creating the light patterns and determining how to sequence them. Villareal’s studio also trained Brown Arts Institute staff on the technical and physical aspects of the piece, ensuring the University has the tools and information needed to conduct any needed maintenance in the years to come.

Benjamin Cohen, head of design and production for Villareal’s studio, said the light patterns will be brighter during the day so that they are visible in the lobby’s ambient light. At night, Cohen said, the lights will be dimmer. In the early morning and while events are under way inside the main hall, the panels will enter a power-save mode, with fewer lights and more subdued animation.

Villareal said that walking through the lobby installation might give visitors the sense that they’re “moving inside a dataset,” but one that has some organic life. Certain movement patterns, he said, may remind visitors of falling rain or flocking birds.

“There will be a tremendous amount of variety in the sequencing, and there might be three or four different layers of sequences simultaneously working together,” Villareal said. “I’m programming lots of specific sequences, but I'm also creating some open-endedness in the patterns, so that they remix themselves on the fly. I don’t think anyone’s seen anything quite like this before.”