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).
London—Pace London is pleased to announce a presentation of two neon sculptures by Keith Sonnier in the first floor gallery at 6 Burlington Gardens from 9 to 23 June 2016. The presentation coincides with the Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition Keith Sonnier: Light Works, which features early neon works by the artist and is on view from 10 June to 11 September 2016. Concurrently, the Tate Modern is exhibiting a 1969 flock piece by the artist in its permanent collection displays. These presentations offer a rare opportunity in London to see works by Sonnier, who is a seminal figure in post-minimalism.
In 1968, Sonnier began making sculptures with neon lights. Sonnier’s sustained use of neon distinguished him from other early adopters of the medium and has been deeply influential to subsequent generations of artists.
Sonnier’s attraction to neon lights and found materials began in his childhood. Growing up in the Gulf region of Louisiana where his father ran a hardware store, Sonnier, who is Cajun, recalls the dark nights being lit up by neon roadhouse signs. He left Louisiana in the mid-1960s and enrolled in the graduate arts program at Rutgers University, which was a major site of artistic experimentation that influenced Sonnier’s engagement with industrial materials.
In the early 1990s, Sonnier returned to Louisiana to care for his ailing father and began working on his Tidewater series, to which Tisket-a-Tasket (1994) belongs. The work exemplifies Sonnier’s trademark lyricism with neon lighting, playing solid forms against the graceful lines of his glowing neon lights. It is also one of the artist’s earlier works to incorporate found objects—in this case, a laundry basket and detergent containers—which has since become an important aspect of his practice.
The second work on view, Bundle Pack (2004), was created for Sonnier’s first solo exhibition at Pace in 2005. Made with a piece of net that Sonnier found near his home in Bridgehampton, New York, as well as other found objects, the neon sculpture incorporates its wiring into the composition as well as tubes of blue and pink neon light that have a calligraphic quality. The work exemplifies Sonnier’s characteristic blurring of media, employing a variety of materials to investigate the poetry of line and color in space.
'Neon has always been a material in signage that one lays flat, and one in fact writes with. But I began to lift it from the board, and pull out into space, and use it in a much more three-dimensional form’. Keith Sonnier Keith Sonnier emerged in the 1960s with a generation of artists who pioneered a radical new approach to sculpture. This Friday, the artist discusses his career and use of neon with Lydia Yee (Chief Curator) coinciding with a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, Londo