Beginning with his first major commissioned work, "Time Landscapes" in Greenwich Village, NYC, Sonfist received critical acclaim for his innovative use of urban spaces to design havens of nature. His early work in the 1960s and 1970s helped pioneer the burgeoning movement of site-specific sculpture. Today, he continues to promote sustainable energy and strives to raise awareness for global climate change with his international projects. Recently, Sonfist collaborated with city planners in Pori, Finland and Tampa, Florida to create public spaces that visualize natural landscapes from the past.
After growing up in the South Bronx of NYC near the Hemlock Forest, which later became a major inspiration for his art, Sonfist attended Hunter College, where he received a Masters in Art. In addition to his studies at Hunter College, he also studied with Gestalt psychologist, Hoyt Sherman at Ohio State University. His research there concerned the language of visual culture and its relationship with human psychology. Later, he went on to pursue a Research Fellowship in visual studies at MIT, Cambridge, MA.
His first major publication was on his lecture series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969. Sonfist edited "Art in the Land," an anthology on environmental art which was republished in Europe and Asia due to its reception by critics and artists alike. He has been included in multiple major international exhibition catalogs such as the Dokumenta, the Venice Biennale, and the Paris Biennale. Recently, Dr. Robert Rosenblum wrote an introduction to Sonfist's "Nature: The End of Art" which was distributed by Thames and Hudson, and published by Gil Ori.
Throughout his career, Sonfist has given several keynote speeches for public and private events and organizations such as Pennsylvania State University, the Southern Sculpture Conference, and the American Landscape Association in Miami. He has been a featured speaker in numerous symposiums at major institutions and conferences including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Midwest College Association, the U.N. Ecological Conference in San Paulo, Brazil, and the Berlin Ecology Conference. Sonfist has been a featured lecturer at numerous major institutions including the Whitney Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago.
Sonfist has received major awards and grants from private and governmental organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation for Art and Architecture, the Chase Manhattan Bank Foundation, and the U.S. Information Agency. Sonfist's works are included in many international public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Villa Celle, in Tuscany, Italy, the Today Art Museum in Beijing, and the Museum Ludwig in Koln, Germany.
Some of his most notable solo exhibitions include "The Autobiography of Alan Sonfist," at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, "Alan Sonfist Landscapes" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, "Trees" at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA, and "Trinity River Project" at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. A few of his commissions include, but are not limited to: "Lost Falcon of Westphalia," commissioned by Prince Richard of Germany, "Time Landscape of Indianapolis," commissioned by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and "Circles of Time," on the Gori Estate in Florence, Italy. Sonfist's current projects include "Ancient Olive Grove," in Florence and a xeroscape landscape for the city of Los Angeles. He has created a team of specialists to address all of the issues involved in creating a functional ecological landscape that will naturally adapt to their contemporary urban and suburban environments.
Today, he continues to promote his message of ecological sustainability and timeless respect for the fragility of nature in his work.
"He tells the stories of cultural and natural habitats. And awakens our responsibilities to the conservation of our environment." - C.S. Johnson, Horticulture Magazine.
"The concept of a year round natural microcosmic forest, which would contain plants and trees indigenous to pre-colonial New York is fresh and intriguing and is desperately needed for our city." - Ed Koch, Former New York City Mayor
"After making art of quiet distinction for over 30 years, Alan Sonfist suddenly finds himself close to the spotlight. His concern for the fragility of nature, rather than for its sublimeness or monumentality, makes him a forerunner of the new ecological sensibility." - Michael Brenson, New York Times
"As we have entered the 21st century, we confront a new horizon of the way in which nature will interact with the urban environment; the essence of my art reaches to inspire a dialogue with urban dwellers regarding their impact on the Earth. Each one of my site-specific sculptures addresses the issues of its surrounding location as well as the land's unique, natural heritage." - Alan Sonfist