Art Basel Miami Beach Spotlight: François Morellet
Lévy Gorvy recently announced our representation of the estate of French artist François Morellet (1926-2016) in the United States. Never formally trained, he relied on a reduced vocabulary of lines, grids, and simple shapes such as circles, triangles, and squares. We are thrilled to share Morellet’s work with the engaged audience at Art Basel Miami Beach.
Enjoy this spotlight on Tableau 5° 95°, une ligne 45°, une ligne 135° (1980), on view at Lévy Gorvy’s presentation at Art Basel Miami Beach, Booth E6.
Over the course of more than six decades, Morellet developed a singular approach to geometric abstraction, pursuing methodologies of rigorous objectivity with a sense of irreverence and unpretentious humor. Insisting that “art is frivolous even when it takes itself seriously,” he strove to produce an art that was accessible to all, unencumbered by messages and meanings beyond its immediate content. Morellet’s mature production dates to 1952. That year, drawing on such diverse sources as the decoration of the Alhambra, the concrete art of Max Bill, and the musical compositions of John Cage, he began to pursue a form of what he termed “programmed experimental painting.”
Rejecting the subjective, emotional style of Art Informel and its American counterpart, Abstract Expressionism, he relied on a vocabulary of straight lines and simple shapes such as circles, triangles, and squares. Seeking to achieve what he described as “impersonality” or “neutrality,” he introduced systems and algorithms into his work, using such structures as the digits of pi (π) and numbers randomly chosen from the telephone book to generate patterns. Around this time, he also decided to use square, rather than traditionally rectangular, canvases. Defined by “a single arbitrary decision”—the choice of the length of one side—the square offered Morellet a form that reduced his personal decisions to a minimum, while also invoking some of the 20th century’s most vanguard artists, including Kasimir Malevich and Josef Albers, both of whom Morellet has named as influences.3 Black and white appealed to him for similar reasons. Lending themselves to “precise, simply and obvious definition (to common sense),” the two contrasting colors were equivalent to “the yes/no or 0/1 of the binary system,” he explained.
The present work declares its logic in its title. It consists of two straight lines that have been titled 45° and 135° from the vertical, respectively. Spanning the full extent of their support, they meet in a right angle near the canvas’s center. After executing the lines in acrylic, Morellet rotated the canvas 5°, such that it hangs slightly askew on the wall. Strikingly minimal, this painting distills two of Morellet’s signature forms—the trame, or grid, and the tiret, or dash—into a single X-shaped form. First appearing in his work in the early 1950s, Morellet’s grids and dashes allude to Piet Mondrian—an abiding influence on his work—whose Pier and Ocean paintings of 1917 used short orthogonal lines to suggest the play of light across water. Dispensing with Mondrian’s figurative reference, Morellet’s painting claims no higher or hidden significance. His use of diagonal lines makes further reference to Mondrian, who famously abhorred all spatial coordinates except for strict verticals and horizontals. Through the canvas’s 5° rotation, Morellet challenged what he described as the “sacrosanct horizontality-verticality” of the Western pictorial tradition, introducing effects of slant and skew that playfully disorient the viewer.
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