October 28, 2017 - June 2, 2018
François Morellet was born in Cholet, France, in 1926. He began painting at age 14 and studied Russian literature in Paris. Upon completing his studies, he returned to Cholet in 1948, continuing to paint while running a family-owned toy factory until 1976. This position allowed him to finance his early artistic career while bringing him into dialogue with fabricators and exposing him to material production techniques, which greatly invigorated his artistic practice. In 1950, he visited Brazil, where he first encountered the Concrete Art movement and the innovations of its progenitor, Max Bill.
Following his return to France in 1951, Morellet’s stylistic approach to painting shifted, becoming more geometric and analytical. In 1952, he visited the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, which was a revelatory experience. It was during this year that he embraced systems and geometric abstraction. He also became friends with Joël Stein and was introduced to the work of Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian. In 1961, he founded the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) with Stein and fellow artists Julio Le Parc, Jean-Pierre Yvaral, Francisco Sobrino, and Horacio Garcia Rossi. The group pursued what Morellet termed “programmed experimental painting”: a mode of art-making which sought to actively engage the viewer through immersive, multi-sensory installations. In 1963, Morellet began working with a neon fabricator to generate arrangements of light combined with handmade mechanical timing systems which established a specific lighting rhythm for each panel.
After GRAV disbanded in 1968, Morellet’s interests in site-specificity gained momentum, and his grids expanded onto architectural structures. He also began to create dense compositions of segmented lines rendered in neon tubes, seemingly suspended in the air. The artist denied the significance of “information-bearing painting” with wit and humor, an approach that he shared with artists such as Bruce Nauman.
Morellet’s work has been included in important international group exhibitions including The Responsive Eye at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1965), Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1964 [with GRAV], 1968, and 1977), and the Venice Biennale (1970, 1990, and 2011). In 1971, his first solo museum exhibition originated at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and traveled throughout Europe. His work was the subject of an American retrospective in 1985, which traveled to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Center for the Fine Arts in Miami. Other major retrospectives of Morellet’s work have been held at the Centre Pompidou (1986 and 2011) and the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume (2000–01) in Paris. His work is housed in major public collections around the globe, including the Los Angeles Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Seoul Museum of Art, Tate Britain, the Tel Aviv Museum, and the Kunsthaus Zurich. He is one of three contemporary artists to have a permanent installation at the Louvre in Paris, installed in 2010 in the Lefuel staircase.
In 2016, the artist died in his Cholet home at the age of 90.
December 1, 2017