1925, Cholet, France – 2016, Cholet, France
François Morellet was a French Conceptual sculptor and light artist known for his intricate geometric forms and patterns. Born on April 30, 1925 in Cholet, France, Morellet initially made figurative paintings before turning to abstraction, painting a series of crisscrossing lines that formed squares, triangles, and other geometries. In 1950, he created his first abstract works, and held his first solo show at Galerie Creuze in Paris. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Morellet became interested in the structure of the pictorial plane, focusing on the ways in which the image could reach beyond the boundaries of the canvas. During this time, he experimented with geometric forms, including lines, squares, and triangles.
In 1960, Morellet co-founded GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d”Art Visuel), a group of Kinetic artists who used scientific and experimental techniques to explore the possibilities of visual art. As part of this new, more experimental phase in his work, Morellet began using neon lights in 1963, becoming concerned with the relationship between perception and environment, and creating installations with neon tubes that switched on and off intermittently. Morellet rejected the idea of the individual genius-artist and adopted a stance that artists are facilitators. “By the early Sixties, my friends in the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel and I had become convinced that the age of painting, of canvases and sculptures had come to an end, over forever,” Morellet explains. “We were passionate about modern materials that hadn’t yet been ‘polluted’ by traditional art. We particularly liked anything that could produce movement or light.” Working primarily in neon, which appealed to Morellet because it combines line, light, and, when blinking, movement, Morellet gave his enigmatic pieces incongruous titles, using puns and palindromes, to keep them from appearing too solemn.
In 1965, he participated in the important exhibition The Responsive Eye, held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. His interests in Minimalism and spontaneity have earned him comparisons to Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, and John Cage. Morellet was notably included in the major 2011 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, “Themes & Variations. Script and Space.”
Today, his work can be found in the permanent exhibitions of the Tate Britain in London and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Los Angeles Museum of Art, Seoul Museum of Art, Tel Aviv Museum, the Kunsthaus Zurich. 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. In addition, 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.
He died on May 11, 2016, in Cholet (France), days after his 90th birthday.