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Keith Sonnier, Early Sculpture and Drawings

Leo Castelli Gallery
18 East 77th Street, 212-249-4470
Upper East Side
May 5 - June 27, 2009
Reception: Tuesday, May 5, 6 - 8 PM
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Leo Castelli Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of Keith Sonnier’s works from the late sixties. On view will be four sculptures created with glass, neon and incandescent bulbs, together with a selection of drawings.

During the sixties, Keith Sonnier was one of the first artists to employ colored light, particularly neon as a medium. Sonnier used neon in a way that extended color and allowed him to create sculptures that were colored without being painted. Lit Circle Blue with Etched Glass, 1968, is a circular piece of glass that leans against the wall; the top half of the circle is clear and the bottom is etched. A half-circle of blue neon wraps the edge of the lower half.

With Dyad Cut Ba-O-Ba, 1969, Sonnier creates an interaction between two pieces of glass, one a semi-circle and the other a trapezoidal shape which lie against the wall and extend farther down to the floor. A strip of red neon runs along the top edge of the semi-circle and a strip of blue neon runs along the top edge of the trapezoid. Paint is added to these glass shapes to dissect their form. This work is part of a larger series of sculptures entitled Ba-O-Ba; the title is a French Haitian word suggesting “bath in moonlight” that the artist saw painted on the side of a boat on one of his many trips to Haiti.

In Neon Wall Slant, 1968, a glass trapezoid leans against the wall with a strip of blue neon at the top edge and red neon on the bottom edge, above is a third neon attached to the wall. With this work, as well as the other works in the exhibition, Sonnier overcomes the notion that sculpture must be freestanding. The sculpture has a floor to wall relationship; the floor and wall become the sculptural support. The artist intentionally leaves the electrical system visible with the cables and transformers becoming part of the work.

The fourth sculpture, Neon Wrapping Incandescent, 1968 uses neon tubes of pink and blue that intertwine around each other and encircle two incandescent bulbs causing one colored light to interact against the other. In this sculpture, Sonnier takes advantage of the malleability of glass tubing. Richard Kalina writes “the neon curves and twists, and the colored lines it forms feel as spontaneous and freely drawn as a swoop of pastel.”

A series of drawings from the artist’s sketchbooks and notes that relate directly to the sculpture in the exhibition will also be on display.
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