In late 1960s New York, some cutting-edge young artists made waves by using industrial and ephemeral materials in surprising ways. They were called “post-minimalists,” and artists from Louisiana were prominent among them. In 1977, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) 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 was acclaimed in Europe for his architectural neon installations. This "Until Today" expo features a range of the Grand Mamou, Louisiana, native's neon sculpture and experimental media, including 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 the largest museum survey to-date of Sonnier's work.
His entry hall installation “Passage Azur” is somehow simultaneously minimal and festive. Inspired by India's carnivalesque Holi spring festival, its long, spindly tubes of colorful neon recall gestural afterimages left by sparklers waved in the night. More minimal, yet mystically buoyant, is his 1969 “Ba-O-Ba” installation (pictured) of large gray glass panels 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 lush nature interspersed with intense industrial and commercial intrusions is suggested in his 1994 “Catahoula,” a kind of steel and neon teepee that a tribe of postindustrial aborigines might have constructed, or his 1992 “Syzygy Transmitter,” an industrial antenna transformed by neon into a glowing otherworldly artifact. His playful 1968 “Neon Wrapping Incandescent II” suggests a pair of googly eyes peering out from a wall-size plate of glowing multicolored spaghetti, but his more minimal 2015 “Rectangle Diptych” utilizes architectural glass with lightninglike neon traceries. Here again, nature and culture collide, and it seems like a party.