Keith Sonnier was part of a group of artists who challenged preconceived notions of sculpture in the late 1960s by experimenting with industrial and ephemeral materials. In Sonnier’s case, materials ranged from latex and satin, to found objects, transmitters and video. In 1968, the artist began creating wall sculptures using incandescent light and sheer fabric. Frustrated by the standardized forms of incandescent light, he started experimenting with neon. Using copper tubing as a template, Sonnier began sketching lines, arches and curves ultimately realized in glass tubing enclosed neon. The linear quality of neon allowed Sonnier to draw in space with light and color while colored light interacted with the surrounding architecture.
Sonnier often works in series, some of which have spanned the length of the artist’s career. Elements of these early experimental sculptural works are often recognizable in the later architectural installations on a monumental scale. Deriving from a colloquial term from the artist’s Cajun upbringing, Sonnier’s seminal Ba-O-Ba series has developed over the past 40 years. In 2003, the artist transformed Gordon Bunshaft’s iconic Lever House with a site-specific installation as his first major architectural presentation in New York City. Prior to BA-O-BA Lever House, Sonnier explored the possibilities of neon with a temporary installation for the exterior of Mies van der Rohe’s Neue National galerie in Berlin in 2002, entitled BA-O- BA Berlin.
Sonnier has participated in scores of solo and group shows in many of the world’s best known museums, including the Stedelijik Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; the Los Angeles Museum of Art in California; the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Cologne, Germany; the Hara Museum in Tokyo, Japan; the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, France; the Venice Biennial in Italy; and the New Orleans Museum of Art. His work can be found in more than thirty museums across Europe, North America, Australia, Israel, and Japan. A selected list includes the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia; the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris, France; the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany; Halle Sud in Geneva, Switzerland; Kunsthalle Nurnberg in Nuremburg, Germany; Kunstverein St. Gallen in Gallen, Switzerland; the Kaiser Wilhem Museum in Krefeld, Germany; the Staedtisches Museum Abteiber in Monchengladbach Germany; the Miami Art Museum in Florida; the Heckscher Museum of Art and PS 122, both in New York City; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri; the Museum Moderner Kunst Siftung Ludwig in Vienna, Austria; the Musée d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in Spain; the Musée Saint Pierre in Quebec, Canada; and the National Gallery of Art in Canberra, Australia.