Keith Sonnier

at Leo Castelli,

420 Broadway, NYC, through April 26.

Review by Flash Light, copyright 1997.

Three works in the show cause sparks."Tesla Wall," discharged an arc into wire grids crossing the main gallery. Nikola Tesla invented a high voltage coil, and other wonders such as A.M. radio tuning. Marconi was his student, but had more marketing savvy. Tesla was more a performance artist, giving dazzling displays of his work, making him a Modern Techne Master.

"Ceiling Ladder," and "Wall Ladder," in the middle gallery, are variations on "Jacob's Ladder." The Patriarch Jacob had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven (Genesis XXVII, 12). Skyward reaching phenomena have since been named in honor of that vision, and none more aptly than the electric arc which travels upward between two metal rods inclined in an open "V" formation.

Looking at arcs leaping across the Time-Space of the Castelli Gallery, I'm pleased that Sonnier has begun to explore energy fields beyond the confines of his neon sculptures. Sonnier's studies seem a step in the Meta-Kinetic direction. But step too close and you may be shocked. (Literally.)

When I first saw Dan Flavin at Castelli, I thought, "that's it? A couple of fluorescent fixtures screwed together?" It took a second look for me to realize that that was it. Through a minimalist vocabulary Flavin had introduced fluorescent light as a medium in contemporary art.

Sonnier has long worked in light. His videos & films on video were playing in another gallery. Neon was the dominant medium for most of the work in this show. But with his three sparkers, Sonnier may do for the arc what Flavin did for fluorescence. These high voltage works make the medium of electrical energy the issue. To put it semiotically: These are perfect images of "the medium as the message."

Flavin, Nauman, Sonnier, and others have introduced Post-modern Techne into the dialectic spoken by contemporary culture's "Establishment." Artists like Roxy Paine, Tim Hawkinson, the members of ASCI, and others are forming another wave. As the path of art history branches in the Neo-kinetic direction, we may hope people touring this path from the future will appreciate the arc's "Old Masters," such as Cork Marcheschi, Bill Parker, Alejandro Sina, et al., and the "Grand Master," Nikola Tesla.