A neon piece called “Ba-O-Ba II”, made in 1969 by Keith Sonnier and now refreshed for a solo show at Mary Boone Gallery in New York. I’m old enough (just) to remember how neon seemed the Next Big Thing in the early 1970s, and plenty old enough to remember how out of place those neons seemed in museums in the 80s, when we’d collectively decided that the way forward for art would have to do with content rather than color and shape, line and light. And now, after the passing of so many years, vintage neon’s looking good again, as the last but powerful gasp of the modernist tradition, and as more deeply rooted in social realities than we’d been able to see when first it went out of style. As Sonnier says in the press release, “Our type of work was somehow counter-culture. We chose materials that were not 'high art' …. We were using materials that weren’t previously considered art materials.”
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