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Winfred 'lumia' makes rare appearance in 'The Tree of Life'

Tree of Life
Brad Pitt stars in "The Tree of Life."

This week's opening of "The Tree of Life," which Jeff Simon reviews in Thursday's paper, is generating plenty of excitement around town. It's also raised the eyebrows of many in the art world for its inclusion of one of Thomas Wilfred's famed "lumia compositions" ("Opus 161," shown here in a YouTube video) in a sequence that has been hailed by critics for its apparently transcendent beauty.

This week's issue of The New Yorker has a piece about how the film's director, Terrence Malick, came to include the piece in his film. It's well worth a read (though available only to subscribers.) An excerpt:

A piecemeal transcendentalist, Wilfred sought to represent the 'universal rhythmic flow' in his art. He produced roughly 40 works before his death, in 1968. Only eighteen lumia pieces have survived... One of these is 'Luccata, Opus 162,' which is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The piece is on loan from the collection of Eugene Epstein, a retired radio astronomer, and his wife, Carol, who own about half of the extant Winfreds, including the one featured in 'The Tree of Life.' 'These are rarely seen,' Epstein explained the other day. 'If you haven't seen one in person, you're totally unaware of them.' This is largely owing to the fact that Winfred resisted attempts to record the lumia. 'I have never permitted any of my works to be filmed,' he wrote in 1962. 'We have experimented with the process here and the results have been too poor to be considered.'

That is, until now.

--Colin Dabkowski


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