Neon Light Fetish: Neon Art and Signification of Sex Work

  • Kristina Davis The Pennsylvania State University


Neon light has a history as art, fetish, and advertisement of sex-work. In this essay, I explore the historical context of neon, its popularity decline in the United States, post-WWII, and  associations of neon with the commodification of sex. While neon light is ubiquitous as sex industry signage, the process of gentrification occurring in many red-light districts, mark the demise of neon light and furthers systemic oppression of sex-workers. Through a Baudrillardian theory of fetish, I investigate the semiotics of the neon light in postmodernity, and its communicative power. A history and theory of neon fetish guide the semiotic interpretations of the conceptual art of Bruce Nauman, the transgressive art of Gran Fury, and the feminist neon’s of Tracey Emin. Each of the three artists use neon light as their art media and for its semiotic registers.

Author Biography

Kristina Davis, The Pennsylvania State University

Kristina Davis is a dual-title Ph.D. student in Art Education and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Her research engages issues of sex workers rights and respectability politics among the arts, feminism, and radical social justice. She maintains a diligent studio practice of socially charged conceptual art, channeling formal research into a visual dialogue. Davis holds an M.F.A. degree in Printmaking and Bookarts, and attributes the continuity of her practice and research to the radical ethos and traditions in the field of Printmaking. She is internationally exhibited and Neon Light Fetish: Neon Art and Signification of Sex Work is her first publication. You may view her portfolio and selected writing at She may be contacted at

How to Cite
DAVIS, Kristina. Neon Light Fetish: Neon Art and Signification of Sex Work. Visual Culture & Gender, [S.l.], v. 12, p. 17-28, sep. 2017. ISSN 1936-1912. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 23 feb. 2018.