"Electric Ladyland - the First Museum of Fluorescent Art" is a mouthful of a name, but it takes quite a few words to describe what this museum is about, namely one of the earth's natural, and under-appreciated wonders: fluorescence. Fluorescence, as visitors to Electric Ladyland quickly observe, is everywhere, not only in creative art but in stones and minerals, in everyday items such as currency and credit cards, in shells on the beach and even in animals. And I could scarcely have envisioned a more informed and enthusiastic person than museum owner Nick Padalino to tell the stories and science behind the diverse pieces in the museum collection.
Electric Ladyland - whose name pays tribute to rocker Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland Studios in New York City - opened in 1999, just downstairs from the first-floor "Electric Lady" Art Gallery, to exhibit Padalino's extensive collection of fluorescent art and artifacts. Visitors are asked to remove their shoes and put on special protective slippers to enter the downstairs museum, which is visually dominated by the massive Fluorescent "Participatory" Environment, a labor of love that Padalino worked on for seven years. Downstairs, visitors can explore the Environment, a brilliant fluorescent landscape full of mountains and craters, hidden niches with exquisitely carved miniature statues, and other surprises; the fluorescent material, illuminated by UV lamps, adds an ethereal quality to the immersive environment, and sparks an instant curiosity about the power of fluorescence in even the most indifferent viewers.
It's the ideal preparation for the museum tour to follow, as Padalino weaves personal anecdotes and scientific facts into a presentation of the countless items in his curiosity cabinets of fluorescence. Each stone and mineral in the "Fluorescence in the Natural World" exhibit has a story that's vividly narrated by the owner, who treats all the pieces with equal enthusiasm - from exotic specimens collected on his travels of South Asia, to a piece of someone's basement wall in his home state of New Jersey, "Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World". And indeed, when their hidden colors are revealed under his hand-held UV lamps, even the most ordinary stones inspire awe.
But fluorescence isn't just about beauty, as is clear from the case of "Common Items That Are Fluorescent"; fluorescence is widely used as a anti-counterfeit measure in world currencies, bank cards, etc. I happened into the museum at the same time as three visitors from California, who were able to furnish further examples from their own wallets: their California drivers' licenses contained full-color reproductions of their license photos visible only under UV. Common foods are also fluorescent: the UV-illuminated bell peppers, coconut, and lentils put a wildly different spin on these ordinary foodstuffs.
The small but special collection of mineral artworks from the late 19th-century to the present attests to the dedication of fluorescence enthusiasts, many of whom, like Padalino, devoted months if not years to their intricate fluorescent artworks; without ultraviolet, however, these can easily be mistaken for dull and drably colored, a fact that has lead to many an fluorescent artwork's unfortunate disposal. Several works were crafted from crushed minerals carefully manipulated with tweezers into their final form; these include Japanese artist Miera's "Masterpiece", a sculpture that appears to depict a Japanese tea house and its environs, a study in monotone that bursts into brilliant hues under UV.
As the tour ended, Padalino waxed poetic about Amsterdam and its famous tolerance, and cites the city's laid-back nature as his reason to set up shop here in the '80s; clearly, a city whose M.O. is "live and let live" was the perfect incubator for the world's first museum of fluorescent art.
Electric Ladyland Museum Visitor Information:
Electric Ladyland Museum Location
Tweede Leliedwarsstraat 5
1015 TB Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 420 3776
- Tues - Sat, 1 - 6 p.m.
- Adults: € 5
- Children under 12: Free
- From Central Station, take tram 13, 14, 17 or 20 or bus 21, 170, 171 or 172 to the Westermarkt stop (in front of the Westerkerk/Western Church). Continue westward on Westermarkt; after Prinsengracht, the street turns into Rozengracht. Turn right onto Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat, and head north past Bloemgracht (a canal street); after Bloemgracht, the street turns into Tweede Leliedwarsstraat.
Call +31 (0)20 420 3776, or visit the Electric Ladyland web site.