Keith Sonnier (b. 1941, Louisiana) radically reinvented sculpture in the late 1960s. After graduating with a B.A. from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette in 1963, he went on to receive an M.F.A. from Rutgers University in 1966. Employing previously unusual materials, Sonnier, along with his contemporaries, Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, Richard Tuttle, and Jackie Winsor, called all previous conceptions of sculpture into question. Sonnier experimented with a wide range of materials and in 1968 began working with neon which quickly became a defining element of his work.
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’s architectural neon installations in public spaces have earned him wide acclaim in an international context. More than 20 important public commissions by the artist have been realized since 1981. Sonnier’s work can be found in dozens of public and private collections worldwide, including the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany; Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz; Kunstverein St. Gallen, Switzerland; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris to name a few.