Keith Sonnier calls his new wall drawings in neon, wire and electrical transformers “portals,” and their design motifs and titles do refer to forms from ancient Roman and medieval architecture, often ecclesiastical. Elegant and deceptively simple, they display a masterful hand.
Humor is part of the reason why. In 13 recent works at Maccarone Gallery, Sonnier stirs it in with a subtle hand.
In these sculptures, the white wall is an idealized plane separating space and metaphorically opened by the glowing illumination of neon color. The shapes are drawn in bent glass tubing and draped wire and they often protrude, sometimes at oblique angles, into the room.
Posts, arches, vaults -- the architectural analogies of those shapes sometimes merge with schematic body parts, such as breasts, buttocks and phalluses. Bodily orifices are another form of opening into other realms, and Sonnier deftly conjures them.
It would be easy to wax poetic about “numinous passages to other spheres,” which is what a portal provides. Indeed, the veteran New York artist has said that Jean Cocteau’s classic 1950 film “Orpheus,” tracing journeys of love and loss between life and the underworld, was an inspiration.
But Sonnier keeps these impressive works at least as playful as they are earnest. Perhaps that is why his cut-paper studies for the neons sometimes suggest a jester’s mask. They are all the more complex for it.
Maccarone Gallery, 300 S. Mission Road, Los Angeles, (323) 406-2587, through May 7. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.maccarone.net