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Recreating Billy Apple’s groundbreaking show

Saturday 20 August 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Art, Features


Recreating Billy Apple’s groundbreaking show
Billy Apple, Rainbows 1965, opening night, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga. Photo: Bergman Gallery/22081902

A small but appreciative crowd turned out for Billy Apple’s Rainbows 1965 exhibition opening at the Bergman Gallery on Tuesday night.

Featuring works first shown at Bianchini Gallery, NYC, November 23rd, 1965, this Rarotongan show accompanied a re-staging of Apple’s groundbreaking 1965 exhibition Neon Rainbows at Mayor Gallery London, May 18 - July 27 2022.

Bergman Gallery director Ben Bergman said this was a rare opportunity to experience POP art from the era and it was great to see parents bringing in their children to see it.

“It was fantastic to have Mary Apple with us for the opening and only wish that Billy could have been here too,” he said.

On Monday, Mary Apple, widow of Billy Apple, told Cook Islands News the works exhibited were at the forefront of using neon as a sculptural form.

“He had this great idea where he started looking at pure colour. He worked out that light was pure colour, and so he had this idea to make neon. One of the dealers in London, Robert Fraser, at the time didn’t get it, so he decided to head off to New York.

“He formed relationships with all the neon manufacturers, and he went and played with the glass and the amount of electricity you can put through them, and mix the gasses,” she said.

“He did a lot of research into neon. He dealt with every incarnation of rainbows. He had quite a scientific rigor in everything he did, and if he didn’t know something, he would consult a physicist. He left no stone unturned; he knew exactly what was going on.”

Mary Apple said she was pleased with how Bergman had laid out the exhibition.

“The rainbows really jump out at you,” she said.

“Back in the first part of the last century, you had a scientist in the laboratory and an artist in the gallery. But for Billy, he joined both teams, that’s why his work always went forward.”

Art News New Zealand editor in chief John McCormack said this exhibition was essential.

“This exhibition is pure Billy. There are very few works in it, he was absolutely a ‘less is more’ type person, he couldn’t stand exhibitions that were absolutely chocker.”

“It didn’t matter whether it was a major show in London or New York, or something out of a garage in Auckland, he put the same amount of thinking, level of care, and ideas into making extraordinarily precise works.”