Remembering François Morellet

May 11, 2016 | By French Culture

We are saddened by the news that contemporary French painter, sculptor and light artist François Morellet died on May 11, 2016 in his native Cholet, France at the age of 90.

After dabbling in representational art early in his career, Morellet turned his focus to geometric abstraction. Morellet co-founded GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel), the kinetic art-inspired group, in 1961, with his of fellow artists, including Julio Le Parc. It was around then that he began experimenting with lighting. With momentum from GRAV, Morellet was an early pioneer in the use of neon lights as an artistic installation and sculpture material. 

As Emmanuelle Lequeux writes in Le Monde, the artist was "at once mathematical and playful; lighthearted and inscrutable." Formally trained in painting, Morellet was inspired by the American Ellsworth Kelly as well as by Oulipo, a group of writers who used strict formal constraints to counter-intuitively inject freedom into their art. Morellet, for example, often structured his pieces around mathematics, riffing off the number Pi or arranging 40,000 colored squares on a canvas. His titles were often infused with word play (he was known as the "precisionist punster") and he continually invented self-referential systems within his artwork.

Throughout his prolific career, Morellet has presented more than 130 solo exhibitions at institutions including Paris' Centre Pompidou and Musée d'Art Moderne, as well as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

His passing coincides with a global celebration of his 90th anniversary. His work is currently on display in several countries, including Italy, France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, England, the Netherlands, and Brazil.

A set of works by François Morellet dating from 1961 to 1986 were on view during Frieze New York from May 5th through 8th, 2016 at the Galerie Hervé Bize booth. The artist's works were also presented in New York in 2014 at an exhibition called Preliminaries, organized by Galerie Hervé Bize in collaboration with Josée Bienvenu Gallery and the French Embassy's International Platform on Contemporary Art, ART².

His jovial and light personality ever-apparent, Morellet spoke about the important role of humor in his work in one of his last interviews, "Without humor, everything can become indigestible, that is to say in my work and in my life in general. If I had to speak seriously about humor, this could impair my own health."

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