Keith Sonnier, a 70-year-old international art star born in Grand Mamou, first constructed his “Fluorescent Room” in 1970 at the height of the psychedelic period. But Sonnier’s art was never about posies and paisley. Sonnier was a master of minimalism who used neon tubes and mirrors to produce some of the most elegantly hard-edged art installations the world had ever seen.
At NOMA, powdered fluorescent pigment was perfect for Sonnier. He poured sacks of the stuff over refrigerator-sized rectangular blocks of foam rubber to produce an ultraviolet environment so bright that visitors take on the fiery orange or ghostly aqua aura of the shapes around them. They wear disposable surgical shoe covers to keep the pigment from being tracked into the rest of the New Orleans Museum of Art. “Fluorescent Room” has been seen only three times before, and never in Louisiana. Sonnier gave the piece to the New Orleans Museum of Art to celebrate its centennial.