The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., purchased Villareal’s installation, which will be permanently housed in the walkway between the gallery’s east and west buildings, where it has been on temporary display since November 2008,, Villareal’s dealer, Conner Contemporary Art, announced last week. Since its debut last year, “Multiverse” has been warmly received by visitors to the gallery, who have posted numerous photos and videos of the artwork on Filckr and YouTube.

“Multiverse,” Villareal’s largest and most complex installation yet, runs along the wall and ceiling of a 200-foot-long tunnel. The work consists of approximately 41,000 LED nodes that are digitally programmed to display random patterns. To experience the work’s full impact, the viewer must step on a moving walkway and travel through the tunnel.

The light patterns of the installation change rapidly, resembling a moving starfield, waves crashing on a beach or balls bouncing on the ceiling. The work dazzles the viewer with blinding white light and then unexpectedly leaves the viewer in total darkness.

Molly Donovan, an associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery who oversaw the project, said the fluid nature of the shifting light patterns fits in well with the moving walkway in the tunnel.

“It makes you aware of the movement through the space,” she said, “Especially when you make the transition between the two wings of the gallery.”

The project originated with the National Gallery’s search for an artwork that would aesthetically enhance the tunnel between its modern and contemporary art and classical art wings. Donovan recommended Villareal after seeing his installation “Light Matrix,” which featured programmed light patterns shining behind a 16 x 80-foot black glass wall, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y in 2005..

According to Villareal, it took him three years to plan and install “Multiverse.”

“There were a lot of meetings and presentations with people wondering what it would look like,” he said. “After the initial visit, I had to create a 3-D animation and a mock-up to get all of the trustees to approve.”

Since its opening, “Multiverse” has received praise from critics and visitors alike.

In her review of the work for the Washington public broadcasting station WETA-TV, Janis Goodman, a professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, said the work transformed the once ordinary space into a “world of virtual reality.”

“‘Multiverse’ may be driven by modern technology, but its ideas are as old as the noticeable nighttime sky,” Goodman said.

Villareal graduated from Yale with a B.A. in art with a concentration in sculpting, and he went on to study interactive telecommunications at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He frequently uses LED lighting and sophisticated computer programming in his large scale installations.