Olivier Mosset

"T" Space

The Swiss-born artist Olivier Mosset gained attention in the last two years when his paintings were included in “neo-geo” and “new abstraction” shows, but the roots of his practice go back further. It was in 1967 that Mosset exhibited in Paris with Daniel Buren, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni under the group name BMPT in the Musée de l’Art Moderne’s annual “Salon de la Jeune Peinture.” Their aim was to demystify painting, to rid it of metaphysical overtones, and to reveal paintings material, or historical, foundation as a signifying practice. Although the format of Mosset’s work has varied considerably in two decades, his initiative remains unchanged.

Mosset’s recent exhibition of six new works, all from 1986, demonstrated a superficial shift in direction. Gone were the restrained monochromes and bicolored striped canvases of the past few years, and in their place appeared exuberant compositions of two and three high-keyed hues, four of them on vast canvases (stretching, in one instance, some 21 feet long). These works are exercises in basic divisions of space and chromatic relations. In one long horizontal canvas, Untitled, an orange diamond is centered in a cadmium red field, establishing four equal isosceles triangles at its corners, while in another, even longer canvas, Too Little Too Late, French blue and aquamarine fields meet along a diagonal line. The sharp colors are applied so as to form flat, saturated expanses, and their interaction creates a luminous effulgence at the edges of abutting fields. In two canvases–Too Little Too Late and Double Reverse—an inch-wide black line is inscribed within these fields to complicate the color-space relations. The manner in which the canvases are divided suggests that there is no formal method by which Mosset determines the resulting configuration. Instead, he appears to be experimenting with conventions common to recent painting: color-space, color-shape, flatness, line.

Looking at these reductive but cheerful paintings, I thought about the late-’70s issue of decoration. I’m not referring to pattern painting but to the sort of pictorial practice that draws its suasion from complacency, from animated structuring, and from a general acquiescence to the notion of esthetic pleasure established by bourgeois society. Mosset’s canvases develop from opposite premises. There is nothing “decorative” about these works, which explore the fundamental activity of painting—the application of pigment over surfaces—in order to expose painting’s “zero degree.” Yet Mosset seems to appeal to us to recognize painting’s coded nature as it is produced and perceived, crafted and interpreted. These austere, intelligent works dramatize the division between art’s materialist producer and its idealist receiver, who, by projecting extramaterial values onto the work, still clings to auratic ideology.

Kate Linker