Geometric symbols are a universal language that accompanies us through day-to-day life, from pieces of cloth to street markings, from the meandering curve of the stock market to layered facades, from floor tiles to road signs. Olivier Mosset draws from this store of mostly anonymous symbols, funding a conceptual approach to painting that is always up to date—and, indeed, timeless.
In 1986, during a legendary panel at Pat Hearn Gallery in New York, Sherrie Levine offered reasons for Olivier Mosset being an important forerunner of her own practice. She cited his “borrowing” of the stripe pattern used by his colleague Daniel Buren as instructive, “not in the sense of merely copying it, but as an object lesson.” It is commonly known that the painterly tally of Mosset’s early work consisted of a small circle placed in the middle of a square canvas. As part of the collective BMPT (an acronym for the names of the artists involved: Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, Toroni) each of the artists had a distinct symbol. Tired of his personal association with the circle, Mosset took the stripes over with consequences. Buren was not ready to consider his work as a sheer readymade, or to take an “object lesson,” as Levine put it. He claimed the striped paintings just for himself.
Mosset’s non-personal use of the primary symbols of abstract painting kept him at the center of attention for more than just one generation. He went from the radical position of not showing any painting (staging the void) to owning a personal trademark, to a more postmodern understanding of “paintings as props,” so to say. The actuality of his approach is rooted in the fact that he gave up the distinct symbol (or the concept of formal ownership altogether) for a wider mindset, resulting avant la lettre in a neo-conceptual thinking.
He gave up the distinct symbol for an avant-la-lettre Neo-Conceptual thinking.
For his upcoming show at the Power Station in Dallas, Mosset proposes a retrospective framework that builds upon two historical paintings, representing the iconic trigger points of his oeuvre: One of the very early BMPT-era circle paintings, executed on-site and shown in 1967 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris as part of the 18ème Salon de la Jeune Peinture, as well as one stripe painting that dates back to the conflict zone with Buren. Together with the paintings comes Ford Galaxie, a collaboration with New York artist Sérvane Mary. The beautiful cruise ship recalls the golden age of the US car industry, but also the road and, foremostly, the sideric landscape (à la Baudrillard) of the American West, an important source of inspiration for Mosset’s monochromes.
Earlier this year, a very special soccer game took place in the courtyard of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Two teams faced each other in a friendly match, each dressed in highly unusual jerseys: one team’s with a black circle on their chest, the other’s adorned by a set of vertical red stripes. The symbols competing directly with each other were a distant recall of the feud that took place almost fifty years earlier in the same city. The artist behind the performance, titled Recreation of a Soccer Match, was of course Mosset—but for him, it didn’t really matter who won the game.
Olivier Mosset (Swiss, b. 1944) is an artist who lives and works in Tucson. He is represented by Campoli Presti, London/Paris; Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich; Christopher Grimes Gallery, Los Angeles; and Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London.
Olivier Mosset’s upcoming projects include a two-person exhibition with Mai-Thu Perret opening on 16 October at VNH Gallery, Paris; and a solo show at The Power Station, Dallas, from 23 October.
Gianni Jetzer is an independent curator and critic based in New York as well as Curator-at-large at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.
Portrait of Olivier Mosset, Photo credit: Nathanael Turner