For his project Blues Before Sunrise, organized by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam this past March, British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen fitted all 275 lights in the Vondelpark with blue filters (Lee #075, Evening Blue). Suddenly Amsterdam's equivalent of Central Park was bathed in intense midnight blue each evening and night. Dog owners lost track of their four-footed companions, evening joggers faded to dim phantoms, and the cyclists who, in a proud Amsterdam tradition, refuse to use lights of their own whooshed past each other in the azure glow like birds over a darkened sea. Many visitors must have felt they had unexpectedly (and perhaps inconveniently) walked onto the set of a movie, but without knowing what part to play or what the other actors were likely to do.
It may seem strange that McQueen, known for films and film installations, suddenly produced a large three-dimensional work. But his enduring interest in the cinema is actually what made this project such a natural step for him. In fact, Blues Before Sunrise brought together all the major strands in McQueen's art--including the fascination with light that is especially apparent in his two feature films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011). McQueen has said that one inspiration for this work was the song that gave it its title, which was recorded by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell in 1934 ("Seems like everybody, everybody's down on me / I'm gonna cast my troubles down in the deep blue sea"). But McQueen's Blues also seemed to allude to another work of art with a musical title, David Hammons's legendary Concerto in Black and Blase, 2002. All Hammons did to create his Concerto was to darken New York's Ace Gallery; the work was performed by the visitors, who were given small blue LED flashlights with which they could illuminate the space. This gave rise to a jittery, mysterious, and unbridled symphony of light--Hammons's Concerto changed constantly, never remaining the same, even for a moment. In the …