Keith Sonnier: Smizz’s Review

Keith Sonnier At Mary Boone

These days I struggle with the spectatorship of sculpture because the more historical and theoretical context I learn, the more difficult I find looking at something with so much physicality and historical background.  It strikes the questions of whether it is indeed the way of looking, or the actual object that reflects onto the specularization of spectatorship. To put it another way, does the physicality of sculpture change the way one can relate and interrupt it?


Sonnier is one of those artists whom has a huge backlog, and spreads over a variety of mediums; from film to sculpture to even painting. This is an interesting mix in a practice that has developed over 40 years. A key player in the 70’s conceptual arts movement, Sonnier came out with some neon sculpture, when Neon made its first major play off in the artworld. You could say that his flirtation with neon to find a medium that depicted colour in such a formal and modernist system is the early inspirations for the neo-formalists.

But this is so much more to this than ‘dense’ neo formalism.


What does the use of such a medium derive from, and what does it actually imply? This exhibition was refreshing in the sense of a decent display of the questions of phenomenological curatorship and works. Ironically more so, than say the new New York Waterfalls by Olafur Eliasson, whose main aims are supposedly to be a transcendal phenmonology experience of the New York water scene. It rarely does this, but more seductively at night with dim intimate lighting against the brashness of a twilight cityscape. However, this isn’t the point.


How one moves through the empty spaces, of the Mary Boone gallery, are consequently mirrored within the pieces of Sonnier’s work throughout the exhibition space.  The process of passing through the empty space of a particular environment is, in an act of cultural re-location. As such, it reconnects us to the lived reality of what preceded us.


Lending heavily from Sartre’s idea of societal boundary breakdown[1] the Existentialist ideas towards architecture are such that the landscape and buildings should reflect the desire to dissolve physical boundaries. This concept tries to eradicate the barriers with elements specific to site and spatial requirements. Sonnier’s work seems to only re-literate this.


Glass from neon or mirror façades within the artworks is maintained throughout all the individual pieces of the work. However, it is noticeable that the building has reflections of the work on its walls, through reflective frames or mirrors that flank the buildings perimeter. These are in fact works beyond the perceived external façade. This means the reflections of the works are seen twice, the second doorway or wall is seen twice, the real wall is seen once. A numerable amount of works and walls can be seen when only five are real.     


It provides both Merleau-Ponty essence of experience and the dissolution of boundary identified within Sartre’s work. Furthering the element associated with the contemplation of memory and reflective consciousness in its conceptual existentialist nature.


Making my spectator relationship with the work even more seductive to my ontological yearnings. One likes to coin the terminology of a phrase, “conceptually existential architecture.” By this I refer to it as both a conceptual idea and abstract in a metaphysical transcendental phase within the construct of architecture. Whether this will be the building itself, the actual designers and architects or its inhabitants of the architecture whom control how people move through spaces, and what is seen.


Sonnier’s works are consequently architectural in style, so it’s even more interesting to apply the term “conceptually existential architecture,” as it becomes double barrelled in meaning; becoming just as struggling and suggestive as the works themselves. Equally a mirrored façade in transcendental phemenology or just an abstraction of something so simplistic such as colour.  Colour: the building blocks of the visual arts and architectural linear plans (blueprints) for architecture.

Personally, I feel like the works speak for themselves, regardless of the curational deal – but the size of the space and the placement of the works with the correct materialist setting provides the perfect backdrop for the viewing of the work revealing Keith Sonnier’s true potential in his art objects that systematically are metaphysical or just simplistic extensions of form and aesthetically pleasing objects.



[1] Sartre challenged the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of his upbringing, which he considered bourgeois, in both lifestyle and thought forming hierarchical social boundaries

Published by smizz

I've had this blog since I was 17. I use it process thinking & work. It's changed with how my life has changed. Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

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