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You Light Up My Life

“The pieces are dense,” Carol Cody, the IMA’s Lighting Designer, and I look down at her lighting plan for Hard Truths. “Visually, physically, conceptually—they’re dense.”

And it’s true. All of Dial’s paintings are 3-D so they present lighting challenges your average still life wouldn’t; but this exhibition makes no claims of being average and Carol has been doing lighting for 13 years. In fact, nearly every single light throughout the IMA galleries has been personally screwed-in by Carol Cody—that’s a lot of bulbs.

Dial’s show alone has around 500 fixtures. These lamps are chosen and adjusted after the pieces have been installed, giving it a final touch. Every light has a filter and Carol layers screens over lamps to dim them. She is part of the process from the beginning. The Lighting Designer has to collaborate with everyone else on the exhibition to “tell the story” as best as possible.

Carol took expert care in washing warm light into the room filled with work depicting the Southern Past. Bright light further excites Dial’s tributes to African American Yard Art and the creative spirit. Dimmer lamps kept the mood of the drawings room more restful. “I angled the light at the floor, with the light wood you get a lot of bounce and that way it doesn’t affect the art as much.”

Light exposure can degrade a piece of art, that’s why it’s regulated so closely and why you can’t take flash photography in a museum. Part of Carol’s job is understanding the conservation issues surrounding a work. The most difficult things to light are textiles and paper, because they’re more delicate and can fade. The easiest things to light are objects, especially stone or metal, which are hardier.

The role of lighting, as I understand, is to best display the message that is already being communicated. It takes care, precision and an aerial lift. Carol designs the lighting, as well as maintains it. With 10,000 square feet in the special exhibitions space alone, it’s a big job. But she keeps us out of the dark one bulb at a time.

Filed under: Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Installation, Thornton Dial

5 Responses to “You Light Up My Life”

  • avatar
    lynne Says:

    Thanks for the insight into Carol’s very specialized field! How lucky the IMA is to have someone so sensitive to her craft.

  • avatar
    Joan Armstrong Says:

    I think this job gets very little attention and I am glad to see an establishment as fine as yours –finally SPOTLIGHT it. Kudos to Ms. Cody
    as the Lighting Designer. She does great work for the beautiful pieces you have on display. And as the writer put it, she’ll never leave you in the dark.


  • avatar
    irvin Says:

    Ditto to everything Lynne said.

  • avatar
    thomas Says:

    I totally dig what is going on with the show. I would like to help, if I could, for your next outing. I have worked for years in the world of theatre and design with lights and like what I am seeing. Thanks for the work and keep doing the good stuff! Call me anytime and I would like to hear from you!

  • avatar
    Kayla Says:

    Geeze, this seems difficult, i’m glad that she does it though because whenever i go to the art museum i always stare at how the light are positioned, the people with me usually think it’s weird for me to do, but i like it anyways.

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