Parrish Art: ‘Keith Sonnier: Until Today’ / July 1 thru January 27, 2019




JULY 1, 2018 – JANUARY 27, 2019


The exhibition features examples from Sonnier’s five-decade career

including sculpture, installation, and sound/process works.

Keith Sonnier (American, born 1941), Shmoo – O.G.V., 2013. Neon, acrylic, aluminum, electrical wire, transformer, 131 x 92 1/2 x 4 inches. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York. Photo © Caterina Verde.

The Parrish Art Museum presents Keith Sonnier: Until Today, the first solo exhibition in 35 years in an American museum of work by the pioneering figure in the fields of conceptual, post-minimal, video, and performance art who radically reframed the function of sculpture. On view July 1, 2018 through January 27, 2019, the exhibition considers the full extent of Sonnier’s achievement with more than 30 works that reveal his diverse output from 1967 to the present. Keith Sonnier: Until Todayfeatures the artist‘s important and ever-evolving neon sculpture, as well as sound pieces, a site-specific neon installation in the Museum’s spine, and work rarely shown in the U.S.large-scale sculpture influenced by his deep interest in other cultures. The exhibition, organized for the Parrish Art Museum by guest curator Jeffrey Grove and Museum Director Terrie Sultan, will travel to the New Orleans Museum of Art following the Parrish presentation.

“The Parrish is thrilled to have the opportunity to bring the full arc of Sonnier’s career to light,“ Sultan noted. Not only is Sonnier one of the most innovative artists working in the United States today, his creativity is an inspiration to entirely new generations of artists.“ 

“Keith Sonnier has forged a singular sculptural language that defies easy categorization,“ said Grove. “With a sensitive and idiosyncratic understanding of materiality and physicality, he has consistently produced work that is at once surprising in its originality and generous in spirit.“

Keith Sonnier: Until Today begins with two early works that establish the tenets of Sonnier’s process of exploring non-traditional materials and rejecting conventional sculptural norms. Rat Tail Exercise (1968), created from simple string, latex, rubber, and flocking, presents a dynamic shape through minimal use of line; Untitled (1967), a 22-section sewn-satin object, rests low on the floor yet takes command of the surrounding architecture of the room. Sonnier’s use of  tactile, sensual materials such as felt, satin, rubber, and flocking at this period places him apart from the emphatically heavy industrial materials and rigid geometries of his more austere Minimalist peers.

During the same period, Sonnier began his lifelong exploration of the structural and gestural aspects of neon. Several series represented in the exhibition, such as Ba-O-Ba(1969), examines the effect of

light as a tangible structural element, with tubes of colored neon traversing large geometric planes of glass. Neon Wrapping Neon V (1969) and Neon Wrapping Incandescent II(1970) reveal the expressive and emotive possibilities of the material. While highlighting the seeming delicacy of glass neon (a surprisingly durable material), Sonnier also exposed the mechanics and technology that enabled it: transformers, wires, and plugs are featured rather than obscured elements in his sculpture. 

Sonnier’s interest in new materials and technologies expanded in the 1970s through ground-breaking work in sound and video transmission, experimental film, and surveillance works such as Quad Scan (1975), a sound/process piece created from a scanner, telephone speaker, and radios. Later works, such as Propeller Spinner (1990) from his Antennaseries, commented on how those once new technologies ultimately become irrelevant.                                                                                                                    

By the 1980s, Sonnier embraced a new artistic direction inspired by journeys to India, Japan, and Brazil that profoundly shaped his view of art, creating several series of sculptures made from natural and indigenous materials. Sarasvati (1981) from the India series is a colorfully painted wall work made of thick stalks of bamboo, alluding to the ubiquitous scaffolds and cages made by local craftsmen. Other works rest on two, three, and four legs, introducing an anthropomorphic quality into his work. KTUT (1983), from the Indonesian UBUD series, is a three-legged timber and bamboo sculpture with painted graphic patterns. Aizen-Myoo (1984) and Yamato (1984), from the Tokobashira series, are braced to the floor with long, tapered lengths of wood extending like outstretched legs from the sculpture’s vertical plane. Sonnier further developed the concept of a sculptural stance with Deux Pattes (1981) and Trois Pattes (TRIPED), (1984), towering objects composed of extruded aluminum and neon that stand on their own.    

In the 1990s, Sonnier began to combine his signature neon with found objects and other unexpected materials including detritus from his family home in Louisiana. Los La Butte(1990), from the Tidewater series, combines looping segments of vibrant yellow neon with empty plastic bottles and other found materials. This assemblage is presented like a classic portrait bust, placed on a pedestalSonnier‘s emphatic reclamation of a traditional sculptural trope that he had deliberately avoided.

While Sonnier’s sculptures convey a lively sense of immediacy, they are carefully thought out constructions that begin with drawing. A bold example of this relationship is the 2004series incorporating the word Blatt (“leaf”) in its title. Palm: Saw Tooth Blatt and Zahidi Palm Blatt, executed after studies Sonnier made of palmetto and saw tooth leaves in a New Orleans garden, are drawings in light that bring gesture to the fore.

The exhibition concludes with large-scale neon constructions and an immersive neon installation. Mastadon, 2008, is a nearly 12-foot tall free standing sculpture from the playful Herd series inspired by Sonnier’s interest in Africa, anthropology, and animals. Along with the later neon and acrylic work such as Schmoo—O.G.V. (2013), it engages color and light with humor and optimism. Passage Azur (2018), a variation of a work presented at Sonnier’s solo exhibition at MAMAC, Nice, in 2015, will be installed with Quad Scan in the Charlotte Moss and Barry Friedberg Gallery at the Parrish. 

On view concurrently with Until Today at the Parrish Art Museum, two works by Sonnier will be presented by the Dia Art Foundation at the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton. Dis-Play II (1970)—an environmental installation of foam rubber, fluorescent powder, strobe light, black light, neon, and glass—will be shown with Film and Videos 1968–1977, a selection that reflects Sonnier’s decade-long exploration of sound and media work. First exhibited in Sonnier’s solo exhibition at the Castelli Warehouse in New York in 1970, Dis-Play II brings together the artist’s ongoing interest in film, light, and experiential art environments. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 160-page book, with essays by Grove, architecture critic Martin Filler, Katie Pfohl, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and an in-depth interview between Sonnier and Sultan.

Keith Sonnier: Until Today is made possible, in part, by the generous support of The James and Charlotte Park Brooks Fund; Douglas Baxter; National Endowment for the Arts; Pace Gallery, New York; Barbara Slifka; Compass; Dorothy Lichtenstein; Barbara Bertozzi Castelli; Linda Hackett and Melinda Hackett/ CAL Foundation; The Hamamoto Family; The Evelyn Toll Family Foundation; The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Fund for Publications; Gillian Spreckels Fuller; Linda and Gregory Fischbach; and the Herman Goldman Foundation. Additional thanks to Ellen Cantrowitz; William and Bettina Cisneros; Sandy and Stephen Perlbinder; Michèle and Steven Pesner; Fred and Robin Seegal; and Michael Straus.


Keith Sonnier


Keith Sonnier (b. 1941) was born in Grand Mamou, a rural, bilingual town in Louisiana. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette in 1963 and received an MFA from Rutgers University in 1966.

Sonnier has been the subject of more than 140 solo exhibitions and has participated in more than 360 group exhibitions throughout his career, including: Documenta 5, Kassel (1972); Keith Sonnier: Neon (1989) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Keith Sonnier: Porte Vue (1979) at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Projects: Keith Sonnier (1971) at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Venice Biennale (1972, 1982); the Whitney Museum of American Art’s1970 Annual Exhibition: Contemporary American Sculpture, Biennial Exhibitions (1973, 1977), The New Sculpture 1965 1975: Between Geometry and Gesture (1990) and the groundbreaking Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials in 1969; Fondazione Prada in Venice as part of “When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013, a remaking of the radical Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information, curated by Harald Szeemann in 1969.

The artist has shown recently with Castelli Gallery, Pace Gallery, Mary Boone Gallery, The National Exemplar and Tripoli Gallery in New York; Maccarone in New York and Los Angeles; usler Contemporary in Munich and Zurich; Galerie Forsblom in Helsinki; Jürgen Becker in Hamburg; Galerie Mitterend in Paris; the Whitechapel Gallery in London; the Hall Foundation in Vermont and the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMAC) in Nice. Sonnier’s work can be found in public and private collections worldwide, including the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz; Kunstverein St. Gallen, Switzerland; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museu dArt Contemporani de Barcelona; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany and the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Over the past two decades, Sonnier has received international recognition and acclaim for his large-scale works specific to renowned landmarks, and his architectural installations in public spaces.  More than 20 important public commissions by the artist have been realized since 1981 including Lichtweg (or Lightway) at the New International Airport, Munich (1989-1992) and Motordom (2004) for Thom Mayne’s Caltrans District 7 Building in downtown Los Angeles.

Sonnier was awarded first prize at the 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo in 1974. He received the National Endowment for the Arts Grant twice (1975, 1981), and was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1974. He lives and works in Bridgehampton.


Jeffrey Grove

Jeffrey D. Grove, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized curator and scholar and Director, Museums and Publications at Sean Kelly Gallery. Grove previously held senior curatorial positions at the Cleveland Museum of Art, The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Dallas Museum of Art, where he most recently served as The Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art. Grove has been published widely and organized the first US museum exhibitions of then-emerging artists Matt Connors and Karla Black. Recent exhibitions include Michaël Borremans: As Sweet as it Gets; Isa Genzken: Retrospective; and Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take. Grove received his doctorate in Art History from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland an M.A. in Art History & Archaeology from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and B.F.A. in Industrial Design from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


Essayists: Martin Myles Filler is an American architecture critic whose essays have appeared in The New York Review of Books since 1985, and the author of Makers of Modern Architecture, published by New York Review Books. Katie Pfohl is the curator of modern and contemporary art at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Prior professional experience includes LSU Museum of Art (curator), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.



Inspired by the natural setting and artistic life of Long Island’s East End, the Parrish Art Museum illuminates the creative process and how art and artists transform our experiences and understanding of the world and how we live in it. The Museum fosters connections among individuals, art, and artists through care and interpretation of the collection, presentation of exhibitions, publications, educational initiatives, programs, and artists-in-residence. The Parrish is a center for cultural engagement, an inspiration and destination for the region, the nation, and the world.



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