Keith Sonnier during the Abaca Code project, Gemini GEL, Los Angeles, 1976. Image courtesy Keith Sonnier Studio, New York. Photographer: Shigeo Anzai

Keith Sonnier was born in Louisiana in 1941 and studied at the University of Louisiana. He received his BA in 1963 and travelled to France to spend a year painting. Upon his return to the United States he attended Rutgers University and moved to New York, where he began to make sculpture and installations from found objects that typically included latex and rubber. Sonnier began working with neon light in the late 1960s and three examples of this type of work are held in the National Gallery’s International Painting and Sculpture collection.

At Gemini GEL in 1973, Sonnier made the Video still screen series, video being another of his favoured mediums. The series is comprised of five prints, each of which is a combination of four individual video stills screen–printed onto sheets of transparent polyester film. After printing, the individual film sheets were aligned and mounted on white paper. This layering process recreates the effect of a flickering video still on a television screen.
Emilie Owens


Born Mamou, Louisiana, United States of America

Studies Art and Archaeology, receives Bachelor of Arts from University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette

Moves to France to paint

Returns to United States of America

Receives Masters of Fine Arts from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; moves to New York City, New York ; solo exhibition, at Douglas College, Rutgers University

Solo exhibition, at Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne, West Germany

Begins to use neon as primary medium; included in exhibition, New methods: new media; Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition at Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; included in exhibition, Information, at Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Annual exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

Creates New Delhi sound piece incorporating speakers, microphones, and amplifiers; solo exhibition, Projects,at Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Completes Video still series of five screenprints at Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles; included in Biennial exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; Some recent American art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Receives John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; exhibits Radio mix at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York City; wins First Prize Tokyo prints biennale, Japan

Completes multi-media project at Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles (includes wax-coated screenprint, and LP records with album covers); included in Dokumenta 5, Kassel, West Germany; Sculpture: American directions 1945–75, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Exhibits Porte-voix audio installation at The Clocktower, New York City

Interested in public communications – researching and commandeering a satellite system to create Send-receive, between New York City and San Francisco; solo exhibition, at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France

Solo exhibition, at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York City

Travelling exhibition originating at Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; included in exhibition, Neon fluorescent & Cie, Institut Superieur pour l'Etude du Langage Plastique, Brussels, Belgium; Gemini G.E.L.: art and collaboration, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Included in exhibition, Temporary/contemporary, at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

Solo exhibition, Keith Sonnier: neon sculpture, at Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; included in exhibition, Sculpture since the sixties, organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

Solo exhibition, at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

Solo exhibition, Expanded file series: 69–89, at Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany; included in exhibition, The new sculpture: between geometry and gesture, at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

Travelling exhibition, Keith Sonnier: werke/works, at Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany; included in exhibition, Gravity and grace: The changing condition of sculpture: 1965–1975, at Hayward Gallery, London, England

Keith Sonnier currently lives and works in New York City

Barbara Delano © Tyler Graphics Ltd., revised Kate Buckingham, 2006
This chronology provides an overview of selected biographical information, major solo and group exhibitions held within the artist's own lifetime.

Further information will be added to this site as the National Gallery proceeds with its research and documentation.

Last updated January 2017