Keith Sonnier

Three Neons / Three Decades

January 28—October 8, 2017

A pioneer in the use of industrial neon as an art medium beginning in the 1960s, Keith Sonnier (American, born 1941) has experimented with illuminated colored light for nearly five decades. These three major works—from the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s―belong to different series that highlight distinct concepts in Sonnier’s continually evolving style. The pivotal work Neon Wrapping Neon (1969) explores the three-dimensional space between the wall and the floor, with neon projecting across the gallery space and down to the floor. The flat, gestural forms of Expanded Sel IV (1979) derive from an early, abstract form of Chinese writing called Sel-calligraphy. Dyad III (Dot Dash) (1988) shows the artist’s interest in science and technology. The painted glass elements interconnected with neon tubes―interrupted by dashes―suggest circuitry and the text language of Morse code. Throughout his extensive exploration of neon, Sonnier has continued to reveal a wide range of interests.

The three neon sculptures presented in this exhibition were part of a major gift to the Wadsworth Atheneum in 2004 by the Castelli family in honor of Leo Castelli, a prominent American art dealer for major contemporary artists of the twentieth century.

Mobile Tour
Click to access the Three Neons / Three Decades mobile tour from any location on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Exhibition Support
Supported in part by Jeffrey G. Marsted and Marcia Reid Marsted.

Support for the Wadsworth Atheneum is provided in part by the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign.




Image: Keith Sonnier, Expanded Sel IV, 1979. Neon and transformer; 83 1/2 x 105 in. Gift of Jean-Cristophe Castelli, Nina Castelli Sundell, and Barbara Bertozzi Castelli in honor of Leo Castelli, 2004.15.7.