Art: Mysteries of Neon

The neon tube, etching its innumerable messages across the skyline, is at least as familiar a sight to urban Americans as a tree or a dog. But not to a woman named Chryssa Mavromichaeli, when she arrived in the U.S. from Athens, age 21, in 1954. "I saw Times Square with its lights and letters, and it made me realize that they were as beautiful and as difficult to make as any Japanese calligraphy," she later recalled.

Taking a studio in Manhattan, Chryssa, as she came to be known professionally, produced Plexiglas, metal and neon sculptures and boxes with serried ranks and...

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