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Keith Sonnier

About Keith Sonnier

Keith Sonnier (b. 1941, Mamou, LA) radically reinvented sculpture in the late 1960s. Employing unusual materials that had never before been used, Sonnier, along with his contemporaries, Bruce Nauman, Richard Tuttle, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra, and Barry LeVa, called all previous conceptions of sculpture into question. Sonnier has experimented with materials as varied as latex, satin, bamboo, found objects, satellite transmitters, and video. In 1968, the artist began working with neon, which quickly became a defining element of his work. The linear quality of neon allows Sonnier to draw in space with light and color, while the diffuseness of the light enables his work to interact on various architectural planes.

Sonnier has been the subject of over 150 one-artist exhibitions worldwide, including Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1979); P.S. 1 Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Long Island City (1983); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1989); Sprengel Museum, Hanover (1993); Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York (1999); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (1999); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2003); the Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vermont (2015); Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Nice (2015); and Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York (2018).

Press Release

  • Keith Sonnier
    Keith Sonnier, an exhibition of selected neon-light sculptures, will be on view from January 7 to February 5, 2005 at PaceWildenstein, 32 East 57th Street, New York City. The exhibition will feature nine neon wall-mounted constructions from 2004, a neon sculpture with found objects from 1994, and two early works from 1968 that incorporate incandescent light fixtures and sheer fabric. A full color catalogue with an introductory essay by Klaus Kertess will accompany the exhibition. The public is invited to attend a reception for Keith Sonnier Tuesday, January 11, 2005 from 6-8 p.m. The new works from 2004 include smaller, more intimate wall installations ranging in size from 30” x 27” to 68” x 70”. One series of work on view, which developed out of drawings of palm trees indigenous to New Orleans, radiate piercing yet tranquil atmospheric greens and blues. Another group of sculptures reference the war in Iraq through the artist’s arrangement of light, wires, and found objects. Reflecting on Sonnier’s new work Klaus Kertess writes, “The airiness, fragility, sensuous ambiguity, aching beauty, and laid back formal inventiveness of these works are the manifestations of a creator of brilliance in all the senses of that word.” Widely known for his light sculptures, Sonnier emerged out of a generation of artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including contemporaries Richard Tuttle, Barry Le Va, Eva Hesse, and Richard Serra, who used low-end, unconventional, and non-art related materials. Sonnier’s sculptures, many of which combine neon and incandescent light fixtures with wires, transformer boxes, and found objects, along with his public commission installations, explore the reflection and diffusion of light by means of material, architectural space, and attention to formal detail. Keith Sonnier (b. 1941, Mamou, LA) studied at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, LA from 1959 – 63. After receiving his B.A. in 1963, Sonnier traveled and studied in France the following year. In 1966, he received his M.F.A from Douglas College, Rutgers University. Since 1968, Sonnier’s work has been the subject of over 100 solo exhibitions in 10 countries including a recent exhibition designed specifically for the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2002); a survey exhibition at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover (1993), which traveled to Kunsthalle Nurnberg and Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstmuseum, Switzerland (1994); and exhibitions at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1989), the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1979), and the Museum of Modern Art, NY (1971). Sonnier’s work has also been included in Documenta, Kassel, Germany (1972), the Venice Biennale (1972, 1982), and the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, New York (1973, 1977). Early in his career, Sonnier received the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1974) and first prize in the 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo (1974). The artist has been twice awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Grant (1975, 1981). Some of Sonnier’s public commissions include monumental indoor or outdoor neon-light installations at the Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Inc., New York (1981); The New International Airport in Munich, Germany (1989-92); the Miami International Airport, Florida (1996); the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington D.C (1998); Zentrum fur Internationale Lichtkunst Unna, Germany (2002); and the Lever House, New York (2003). Keith Sonnier’s work can be found in numerous public collections worldwide including: the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, CT; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; the Kunsthalle Nurnberg, Germany; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montreal; The Museum of Contemporary Art, LA; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Sprengel Museum, Hanover; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.



Klaus Kertess

2005. PaceWildenstein. Paperback

36 pages: 12 color illustrations; 8 ¾ x ¾ inches