The French Kinetic and Neon artist Francois Morellet has died age 90. Morellet’s work is currently on show in London at two west end galleries, Annely Juda Fine Art (until 24 June) and the Mayor Gallery (until 27 May). Both shows alongside a third at Dan Galeria, Sao Paulo were in honour of the artist’s 90th birthday. In fact 2016 has an unprecedented 11 solo exhibitions worldwide. The exhibitions offer an exceptional opportunity to review the long and pioneering career of Morellet. 16 new and recent neon works and paintings are on show at Annely Juda. Sadly, they now become memorials to his life and work.
Born in 1926 in Cholet, western France, he was a self-taught artist. He started out as a semi-figurative painter and sculptor, turning to abstraction in 1950. In 1960, he co-founded the activist collective of kinetic and optical art Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) with Julio Le Parc and others. Their aim was to provoke visual aggression in their spectators through works and performances that harnessed the properties of light. Morellet worked with industrially-produced neon tubes but it took 20 years for these works to gain commercial and international recognition. His work has expanded the very definition of what abstract art can be, whilst also seeking to free the artist from his subjective function in the act of making. This pioneering approach has included using chance and simple mathematical formulas to produce complex grids and patterns for his paintings. In France, Morellet is considered among the most important artists of his generation. In 2010 he redesigned bay windows and oculi for the Lefuel staircase, in the Musee de Louvre, to let in new light and in 2011 the Centre Pompidou in Paris held a major retrospective.
Few artists have enjoyed such a long and illustrious international career or have exhibited more widely, with more than 130 solo exhibitions to his name, apart from the 2011 major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, there have been exhibitions at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Modern Art Oxford and MoMA, New York.
Morellet’s work is held in numerous important public collections around the world, including Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LA and The Guggenheim Museum but it is the element of play and playfulness which continues to animate and inspire this great artist to create work in his 9th decade.
Francois Morellet (1926-2016)