François Morellet

7 Mar-14 May 2024

Annely Juda Fine Art
London W1S 1AW


François Morellet (1926 – 2016) developed a radical approach to geometric abstraction; from the first works characterised by the optical and kinetic activation of surfaces and spaces - to the installation works incorporating the plastic interference of electric neon tubing, steel, and iron - Morellet aimed to simultaneously deconstruct and reconstruct the abstract language in an open dialogue between systems and randomness. 

The early system works were characterised by the use only of square panels, with lines drawn across them according to proper mathematical fractions but by the 1970s Morellet also introduced the possibilities of random numbers to create elements such as diagonals and colour.  Also from 1963, neon had become a central material in Morellet’s work.  What interested him in neon tubing was its specific material properties: its luminosity, the way it could be made to shut on and off automatically and that it was a manufactured, industrial material.  Referring to both Morellet’s strict adherence to systems and his unorthodox use of artificial light to minimise expressions of his own individuality, Jonathan Watkins in his text for the exhibition catalogue, notes that “Morellet was a positivist, much preferring the no-nonsense of science to the air of mystery that wafts around art..  In 1966 he (Morellet) wrote about light sources as “plastic material” “Only habit and traditions have prevented the direct sources of artificial light (bulbs, neon tubes) from taking up their rightful place in the artistic canon”. 

Later, by the mid 1980s, in counterbalance to the strict dogma so often associated with minimalism and abstraction, Morellet began to use wordplay in his titles rather than the previously prescriptive mathematical formulas, indicating a natural sense of humour and irreverence. For example, the large-scale neon installation Sous-Prématisme no.1, no.2, no.3, of 2010 refers directly to the work of Kasimir Malevich - whose strict brand of Constructivism or ‘Suprematism’ made a significant impression on Morellet but which he ultimately found overly “serious”.  In subsequent works other self-imposed rules were also relaxed including his breakaway from the square and the limitations of the vertical/horizontal.

Biography: Born in Cholet, France - where he lived and worked all his life - Morellet studied literature in Paris before returning to run his family-owned toy factory.  Morellet created figurative paintings before turning to abstraction after a highly influential trip to Brazil in 1950, where he discovered Concrete art and the work of Max Bill and Theo van Doesburg. In the late 1950s he discovered the ‘Duo-Collages’ of Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp through his friend Ellsworth Kelly, which led him to introduce chance as a central principle, creating works based on random numbers found in his local phone directory or the infinite sequence of decimals of the number pi.  Morellet was a founding member of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV), an experimental artist’s collaborative that emerged in France in the early 1960s. The group explored the possibilities of Kinetic Art and the viewer’s active engagement, while demystifying the romantic notion of the individual genius artist.

Exhibitions:  In 1965 Morellet took part in ‘The Responsive Eye’ an important group exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and from 1984-85 a retrospective of his work toured North America including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, Brooklyn Museum, Center for the Fine Arts in Miami & Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal, Canada.

Morellet’s work has been included in a number of landmark international group exhibitions including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1964 [with GRAV], 1968, and 1977), and the Venice Biennale (1970 and 1990). His first major solo museum exhibition was organized by the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in 1971 and toured throughout Europe - at each venue the works were displayed in different orientations; horizontal, vertical or upside down. Major retrospectives have also been held at the National Galerie in Berlin (1977), the Centre Pompidou (1986 and 2011) and the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (2000 – 2001) in Paris. His work is represented in major public collections including the Centre Pompidou, Dia Art Foundation, Los Angeles Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Seoul Museum of Art, Tate Britain, the Tel Aviv Museum, the Kunsthaus Zurich and the National Galerie Berlin. In 2017, Dia Art Foundation in the US presented a major survey of Morellet.

Morellet’s work is widely held in public collections and museums in France, Germany, across the rest of Europe and worldwide including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, Tate Modern, London, Kunsthaus Zurich, Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Los Angeles Museum of Art, MOMA New York, Hirshorn Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, USA

The show at Annely Juda Fine Art is presented in conjunction with a concurrent exhibition at Invernizzi in Milan (opening 12 March) : this expansive show will be the sixth solo exhibition of Francois Morellet at Annely Juda Fine Art since the first in 1977.   A joint catalogue with essays by Francesca Pola and Jonathan Watkins accompanies the exhibitions.