Keith Sonnier came to prominence in the late 1960s with a body of work using non-traditional materials including neon, liquid plastic, foam rubber and found industrial and organic materials. He belongs to a generation of Post-Minimalist artists including Richard Tuttle, Eva Hesse, Robert Morris and Richard Serra. Like his peers, Sonnier was interested in pushing the boundaries of sculpture, making a virtue of the pliability and transience of his materials.
Although best known today for his sculptural interventions using neon, Sonnier’s practice has been wide-ranging in its use of materials. Red Flocked Wall is one of a series of works the artist made using latex. This large wall-hung work is covered with layers of red fibrous flocking. It is affixed to the wall at its top edge, but drapes over the floor at the bottom. The work thus extends into the space of the gallery, hovering between a painting and an architectural intervention.
The heavy tactility of the media suggests flayed skin; the flocked latex can be read as a tanned hide. However the colour and texture of the work’s surface also suggests an earthy landscape, an implication wittily undermined by the work’s placement on the wall.
Tate’s Sculpture Conservators Derek Pullen and Melanie Rolfe have described the material of the work:
The work consists of a skin of latex ...which was painted directly onto a gallery wall with dry earth pigment and sawdust finally added to the wet material to give a matt, textured finish ... As first installed at the Ricke Gallery in Cologne the bottom section had been peeled away from the wall and was stretched forward and secured by nails to the floor at each front corner. Traces of the latex and pigment remained on the wall either side of the work where the stretched latex had been cut away from it; it was reduced in width once released from the wall. The work now hangs limply like a bedsheet but in the original photo it is clearly stretched and demonstrating its rubbery nature (Pre-acquisition report, 19 September 2008).
Tate’s acquisition includes the original 1969 work, and the provision to re-make the work. It is the artist’s preference that the work is remade each time it is displayed, maintaining its intended site-specificity.
Richard Armstrong and Richard Marshall, eds., The new sculpture 1965-75 : between geometry and gesture, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1990.
Keith Sonnier : Werke = works, exhibition catalogue, Sprengel Museum Hannover 1993.
Donald B. Kuspit, Idiosyncratic identities : artists at the end of the avant-garde, Cambridge 1996.