Art Criticism

François Morellet: Deep Dark Light Blue and Neons by Accident

François Morellet: Deep Dark Light Blue and Neons by Accident (Kamel Mennour, 2009).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), no. 32, May 2009, p. 127.

“Minimalism is as serious as it is really boring”, François Morellet loudly claims at the preview of his show Deep Dark Light Blue and Neons by Accident. According to the eighty-three-year-old French painter and light artist, who did minimalism before its time, there is a French paradox he embodies: a highly obsessive taste for meticulousness and precision, coupled with total absurdity or nonsense. In other words, humour and derision are essential components in Morellet’s system of objectivisation. For an artist who has been classified as preminimalist, concretist or conceptualist, but rather gladly defines himself as a ‘rigorous grinner’ (‘rigoureux rigolard’), irony, basic geometry and sometimes a bit of randomness help to distance oneself from intense and romantic displays of subjectivity, as well as the solemnity he despises.

For the exhibition, his first at Kamel Mennour, Morellet presents four works from a new series of abstract geometric paintings combined with neon tubes, Deep Dark Light Blue (no. 3, 4, 5 and 6, all 2009). In each of these paintings, light blue neon tubes are assembled on the canvases so as to respond to and complete black-and-white elementary figures such as crosses and squares. All these combinations of light and painting give form to simple repetitive patterns that obey, in Morellet’s words, ‘predefined rules’: basic geometric principles or constraints determined by the artist beforehand in order to strictly guide creation and prevent all signs of subjectivity. The borders of the canvases end each assembling game. Generated by a logic that implies zero intervention, the pieces, one is hardly surprised to discover, are not fabricated by the artist himself.

In contrast to his simple but rigorously predetermined geometrical systems, Morellet’s noninterventional logic makes use of randomness in the two earlier works that complete the show. The most recent one, Lamentable Bleu (Pathetic Blue, 2006), is an abstract sculpture made with arcs of light blue neon tubes joined in such a seemingly random way that they actually don’t recall any geometrically defined figure. Even though they could have been assembled in order to make a perfect circle, the neon tubes rather aimlessly and loosely hang from their heights to the ground, where they vaguely spread out. We might guess that somehow this failure to complete a simple circle, and the overall clumsiness for which the sculpture seems to stand, are the reasons why the artist ironically qualified it as lamentable. The last piece, Neons by Accident (2003), seems to be literally the result of an unfortunate crash: red neon tubes scattered all over the floor and walls of a room whose entrance is blocked. Viewers can contemplate the accident through a window on the street side, as perhaps an actual collision would be too much to take.