Sunday, April 7, 2019

Keith Sonnier: "Until Today"

In late 1960s New York, some cutting edge young artists began making waves by using industrial and ephemeral materials in surprising new ways. They were called “post-minimalists,” and artists from this area were were prominent among them. In 1977, the New Orleans Museum of Art staged an iconic exhibition, "Five from Louisiana," featuring work by Lynda Benglis, Tina Girouard, Richard Landry, Robert Rauschenberg and Keith Sonnier. While Benglis and Rauschenberg became American art titans, Sonnier became widely acclaimed in Europe for his architectural neon installations. "Until Today" features a range of the Grand Mamou, Louisiana, native's neon sculpture among more experimental media such as Fluorescent Room 1970 - 2019, above right, as well as performance art and video. Building on the 2018 iteration of “Until Today” at the Parrish Art Museum in New York with work from NOMA's collection, this show is Sonnier's largest museum survey to date.

His entry hall “Passage Azur” installation is somehow simultaneously minimal and festive. Inspired by India's carnivalesque “Holi” spring festival, its long, spindly tubes of colorful neon recall colorfully gestural afterimages left by sparklers waved by children in the night. More minimal, yet mystically buoyant, is his 1969 “Ba-O-Ba” installation, top, of large gray glass panels with trimmed with richly muted neon amid ambient reflections. Named after the Haitian term for “the effect of moonlight on the skin,” “Ba-O-Ba” harks to Sonnier's childhood memories of foggy nights in Mamou where the glistening mists were made luminous by moonlight and neon from the dance halls on the highway. This state's odd mix of intense nature interspersed with intense industrial and commercial intrusions is suggested in his 1994 “Catahoula,” a kind of steel and neon teepee like something a tribe if postindustrial pygmies might have concocted, or his 1998 “Syzygy,” an industrial antenna transformed by neon into a glowing otherworldly artifact. His playful 1968 “Incandescent Wrapping II” suggests a pair of googly eyes peering out from a wall-size plate of glowing multicolored spaghetti, but his more minimal 2015 “Rectangle Dyptich,” above utilizes architectural glass with lightning-like neon traceries. Here again, nature and culture collide, and then somehow seem to get together and throw a party. ~Bookhardt / Keith Sonnier: Until Today, Through June 2, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.