Neon Light Fetish: Neon Art and Signification of Sex Work
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.