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Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement

The Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, first presented in 1988, celebrates the career of an artist who, among other distinctions, has demonstrated particular commitment to his or her work throughout a long career and has had an important impact nationally and internationally on the field.

2015 Winner

Keith Sonnier

Keith Sonnier

Keith Sonnier left his small hometown of Mamou, Louisiana in 1966, and headed for graduate school at Rutgers University. After graduating, he moved to New York City, at a time in the American canon where social and political unrest inspired artists to challenge convention and reinvent art. It was at this time that Sonnier began to create works of art that would forge a new path for sculptors, and leave an indelible mark on the history of contemporary art. Sonnier’s experimentation with less traditional sculptural materials—a radical act at the time—contrasted with previous formal concepts. Materials like fabric, latex, rope, and found objects, were, in the artist’s own words, “deliberately chosen to psychologically evoke certain kinds of feelings.” Sonnier called upon viewers to invoke their own personal histories in the experience of each piece.

It was only a matter of time before he expanded his exploration into light, his signature material today. Using primarily neon gas enclosed in glass tubes, Sonnier creates radiant pieces that use the evocative properties of light and color to physically draw in the air. Drawing inspiration from both Eastern and Western culture, including his native Louisiana, Sonnier constructs a linear language in a vivid spectrum of colors, evoking a sensuous experience of wonder in the viewer. His attention to detail does not go unnoticed—the wires and electricity that power these works are components that are just as essential to his visual vocabulary.

Sonnier’s careful consideration of architecture and the physical placement of a sculptural work have made him a master of larger, site-specific public commissions. These commissions in major cities across the globe—including installations at the Munich International Airport and in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC—have earned him international renown, granted an immeasurable number of people access to his works, and surely secured his legacy for generations to come.

Jury: Roy Dowell, Otis College of Art and Design; Darby English, Clark Art Institute; and Susan Taylor, New Orleans Museum of Art.

Past Winners

One of CAA’s most illustrious prizes, the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement has recognized the long, prominent, and influential careers of many contemporary artists, among them Joan Mitchell and Louise Bourgeois in the 1980s; Willem de Kooning, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and John Baldessari in the 1990s; and Alison Knowles, Elizabeth Murray, and Chris Burden in the present decade.

Read a list of all winners of the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from 1988 to the present.

Award Nominations

CAA has begun accepting nominations for the 2016 awards. Please review the guidelines to familiarize yourself with the nomination process and to download, complete, and submit the requested materials. Deadline: July 31, 2015, for the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Awards, and the Frank Jewett Mather Award; August 31, 2015, for all others.

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