François Morellet (1926–2016) made Sphère-Trames (1962) during his years with the Groupe de Recherches d’Art Visuel (GRAV), between 1960 and 1968. This was his first structure in space: hanging on a cable at eye-height, free of a base, this stainless steel sculpture was exhibited at the third Paris Biennale in 1963. That was also the year when the artist first introduced artificial lighting into his work. Comprising an orthogonal grid that pivots slightly on its axis, Sphère-Trames abolishes the notion of a privileged viewpoint: depending on where the viewer is positioned, either looking frontally at the sphere or through the sphere, it appears alternately full and empty. In this sense, the work derives directly from Morellet’s paintings of the 1950s. It is as if the grid was now projected onto a sphere, in an absurd attempt to capture and represent the sphericality of the square. Sphère-Trames is a decisive step in Morellet’s six-decade career.
His work is faithful to the tradition of geometrical and anti-lyrical abstraction, deliberately distancing itself from the romantic idea of the creative artist blindly following his sensitivity—a widespread notion throughout the twentieth century. Influenced by the collages of Sophie Taeuber and Jean Arp, but also by the Oceanic tapas that he saw at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, as well as by the monochrome—or “monochroidal”—paintings of Alphonse Allais’ Les Arts Incohérents, Morellet reinvented the relatively neutral figure of the grid in Sphère-Trames. In this he found the three qualities that enabled him to analyze any kind of visual man-made phenomenon: simplicity, neutrality, and regularity. However, the rigor and geometrical austerity of Morellet’s works, and the articulated system of rules behind them, do not add up to a rational world: far from it. By revealing the excess behind any unyielding system, the artist veers to the opposite extreme, that of absurdity and wild liberty, profanatory and iconoclastic. His simplified, controlled universe remains elusive, prone to accident, to imprecision, to ambiguity, to limits, and to chaos.
With Sphère-Trames, Morellet, that “post- modern Pythagorean” (to quote Thomas McEvilley), proceeds by eliminating everything that is superfluous, by reducing the artist’s intervention, and by engaging in a quest for emptiness and neutrality that have the effectiveness and the power of a paradox, a Zen koan.
- Riccardo Venturi From the book 'Suspension', by Matthieu Poirier, published by Olivier Malingue Ltd and Skira, Paris, 2018. Book available to purchase from the gallery for £35.
Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf Private Collection.
London, Olivier Malingue, Suspension – A History of Abstract Hanging Sculpture 1918–2018, 1 October - 15 December 2018.