"BA-O-BA LEVER HOUSE" is the most recent manifestation of artist Keith Sonnier's ongoing exploration of the visual interaction between neon light and architecture. The architecture of Lever House, especially the glass-encased lobby and stainless steel columns, is perfectly suited to Keith Sonnier's investigations of immaterial light and structural weight. This light sculpture was commissioned specifically for the lobby space, and the rods of colored neon articulate and expand the horizontal and vertical thrusts of the buildings design. The experience of the artwork is heightened by the endless reflections of red, yellow, and blue gases in the expansive panes of glass, which also appear to project into the adjoining outdoor plazas.
Sonnier has stated: "I create a volumetric three-dimensional color space—as a sculpture without a wall and without a base, and made of a gaseous, electrically charged volume of light. In "BA-O-BA LEVER HOUSE" the front reflects the back and one side reflects into the other. All four sides of the architecture help to make the color reflected volume. Light offers me the possibility of creating space within an already existing space. I use primary colors; the elementary color red, which is the actual color of neon gas, and blue, which is the color of argon gas.
From these two gases all the colors of the spectrum are made in neon fabrication. So by using neon and argon you already have the two primary poles, one hot and one cool." Sonnier chose the title "BA-O-BA" from a term in the Haitian-French dialect of Louisiana, meaning "bathing in light."
Keith Sonnier was born in Mamou, Louisiana, in 1941, and studied at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, and Rutgers University, New Jersey. He lives and works in New York City. Sonnier has had numerous museum exhibitions of his light sculptures since 1970, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musee d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany; and Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria.
Keith Sonnier has also completed a number of large, public commissions in neon, including ones at the Munich International Airport; Lycee Dorian, Paris; Miami International Airport; Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, Washington, D.C.; Church of St. Francis, Steyr-Resthof, Austria; Munich Re Group Corporation, Germany.
His most recent installation was commissioned for the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and it specifies the architecture of Mies van der Rohe's building with vertical and horizontal rods of red, blue, and yellow neon, similar to the current work installed in the Lever House. Projects now in progress include a neon installation for the Caltrans Highway Department in Los Angeles and a large outdoor work composed of a seventy-foot structure with water and light for the Kansas City International Airport, both scheduled for completion in 2004.
Richard D. Marshall
Curator, Lever House Lobby Gallery