Known for coolly luminous, large-scale neon sculpture installations at venues like Germany's Munich Airport, Keith Sonnier has always been able to meld varied approaches into his unique style. Whether intimate or monumental, his work is always personal, if a tad detached. As a youth in Mamou, La., he was intrigued by the reflections of neon on water at night, an interaction of electric colors and natural forces that later characterized his work in media such as fabric, bamboo, glass and wood.
Appearing simultaneously with a large solo exhibition of his work in Baton Rouge, this Heriard-Cimino show features some smaller pieces that are quirky even by Sonnier standards. The walls of the rear gallery are covered in newspaper, a not-so-veiled reference to the BP oil disaster. Yet it is veiled because Sonnier is always oblique.
Dining Chandelier (pictured) features two gently curving neon tubes suggesting a classical urn, but it contains a chaotic series of glowing neon loops like a child's doodle rendered in light. Even more playful is Tea Service, a set of very large cups and saucers stacked as if left over from a gathering of giants. But their fuzzy, flocked surfaces, rendered in bright yellow and pink, transport us to a realm of surrealism — or Dr. Seuss; it's hard to say which. As usual, Sonnier presents us with a Zen puzzle, and it hardly matters if it has no answer or many answers.
Amid all this, Carolina Sardi's slender painted steel wall sculptures in the front gallery suggest many elaborately arranged exclamation marks, computer code, or perhaps zany hexagrams from a hitherto unknown version of the I Ching. Signifying human figures and natural forms hovering in space, they evoke devious Mad Men-era modernist decor, or coded wall accents conveying secret messages. In this they are not unlike the social rituals and ordinary human interactions that inspired her to make them in the first place. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Keith Sonnier: Flocked Relics and Light Sculpture
Carolina Sardi: Between You and Me
Through Oct. 30
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300; www.heriard-cimino.com