Nighttime visitors view Bruce Munro’s Beacon, a dome consisting of 2,730 illuminated plastic bottles (photo by Richard Ades)
This winter, as usual, you’ll be able to celebrate the holiday season by taking in the Wildlights display at the Columbus Zoo. But you’ll also have a gorgeous alternative just a mile east of Downtown. The major exhibition “Bruce Munro: Light” opened last weekend and will remain on view through Feb. 8 at the Franklin Park Conservatory. Lori Kingston, the conservatory’s marketing director, said it would be great if “Light” attracts some of the families who enjoy holiday spectacles such as Wildlights. But she also said illuminated exhibitions like this have appeal throughout the year, not just in December. “I think light draws people all the time, no matter what the season,” she said. Munro, a Brit who started out as an industrial lighting designer, specializes in massive works that combine transparent spheres and other objects with shifting colors and even sound effects or music. Kingston said conservatory officials decided to pursue a Munro show after an earlier Munro exhibition began drawing huge crowds at Longwood Gardens in suburban Philadelphia. Kingston recalled that Bruce Harkey, the conservatory’s executive director, went to see the show and came back and said, “We just have to do it.” That was the genesis of an exhibition that features some installations recycled from Longwood or earlier shows and others created to complement their specific Franklin Park environments. “Munro walked through (the conservatory) over the period of a couple of days, and as a result there are four pieces that were made for us specifically and are debuting here,” Kingston said. During a recent nighttime tour of the exhibition, Kingston stopped at one of those made-for-Columbus pieces: Chindi, a spiral-shaped structure that’s taken root in the Desert Room. “Chindi is the Navajo word for dust devils, which are the little mini whirlwinds in the desert,” she explained. “(Munro) lived in the deserts of Australia for years, and this was his conception for here.” Next door, in the Rainforest Room, is another original work called Eden Blooms. Consisting of three huge “plants,” the work boasts optical-fiber “seed heads” and 91 serpentine-like arms. It also boasts a soundtrack of sorts, but artist Munro had no hand in creating it. What sounds like the “Bob White!” cry of American quails is actually the call of tiny tropical tree frogs. “We think they came in with the plants,” Kingston said. Perhaps the most dramatic of the show’s original works is Lightning Storm, which uses simulated lightning and thunder to add a sense of chaotic danger to the three-story Pacific Island Water Garden. “(Munro) heard the waterfalls when he went in there and said it reminded him of a summer rainstorm,” said Kingston, explaining the artist’s inspiration. “Great place for a Halloween party, eh?” Not all of the Munro works are exhibited inside. Field of Light, consisting of nearly 3,000 plantlike “stems” and orbs with constantly changing colors, is spread across the outdoor Sculpture Garden. “I’m imagining that this is going to be stunning in the snow,” Kingston said. She stressed that Field of Light and other Munro installations can be appreciated in the daylight, but the total effect can’t be seen until the lights are turned around 4:30 p.m. As a result, the observatory is extending its hours to 11 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (and some Saturdays) throughout the show’s run. A side benefit, Kingston said, is that the public can learn how enjoyable it is to wander through the conservatory’s various environments after dark. “I’ve had the privilege of working here for 10 years, and I have always loved it here at night,” she said. “Bruce Munro: Light” will be on display through Feb. 8 at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 1777 E. Broad St. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; admission is $12, $9 for seniors (60-plus) and students (18-plus with ID), $6 for ages 3-17, free for ages 2 and under. Special evening hours are 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and select Saturdays; admission is $15, $12 for seniors and students, $6 for ages 3-17, free for ages 2 and under. 614-715-8000 or