Paris

François Morellet, Pier and Ocean, 2014, thirty-eight blue argon neon tubes, wooden pier (by Tadashi Kawamata). Installation view.

François Morellet, Pier and Ocean, 2014, thirty-eight blue argon neon tubes, wooden pier (by Tadashi Kawamata). Installation view.

François Morellet

Kamel Mennour | Avenue Matignon

François Morellet, Pier and Ocean, 2014, thirty-eight blue argon neon tubes, wooden pier (by Tadashi Kawamata). Installation view.

Spread across Kamel Mennour’s two Left Bank galleries, “François Morellet, c’est n’importe quoi?” (François Morellet, Does It Make Any Sense?) showcased a variety of emblematic works—including three-dimensional assemblages of white-painted canvas squares; linear, site-specific wall drawings made with black adhesive tape; and a glowing blue-neon installation that filled a whole room—all made during the past five years. The show’s surprise highlight, however, was works dating back to the very beginning of the artist’s six-decade career. Tucked into a carpeted alcove in the rue Saint-André des Arts showroom, a salon-style hanging of more than two dozen rarely seen paintings and sculptures reconstituted a portion of Morellet’s first solo show, held at Galerie Raymond Creuze in Paris in 1950, when the artist was twenty-four. Though the naive-style representational panel paintings and pedestal-mounted fertility figures initially seem a far cry from the geometric Minimalism Morellet embraced shortly thereafter, these nascent works bear subtle hints of his mature style.

Inspired by the tribal art collection at Paris’s Musée de l’Homme and the Lascaux cave paintings, the young Morellet experimented with bright colors, bold patterns, and stylized depictions of animals (serpents, birds, felines, ruminants) and humans. An oblong piece of painted wood, retitled 49013, 1949, features an assortment of black and white birds and leaves. Morellet created the painting’s background motif of short vertical and horizontal black lines on yellow using a wooden stamp, a primitive version of the tool the artist has employed more recently to design wall drawings, examples of which—Tamponade n°2 (Stamping n°2) and Tamponade n°3, both 2014—were on view nearby. Meanwhile, the tightly spaced curvaceous black lines surrounding the serpent and cow in 49020, 1949, presage Morellet’s meticulous pencil drawings of concentric circles, two of which, Cruibes n°20 and Cruibes n°21, both 2013, were also shown; their untranslatable title is a mash-up of the French words for “curved” and “straight,” courbes and droites.

At Mennour’s rue du Pont de Lodi gallery, a large-scale neon installation, Pier and Ocean, 2014, gave the impression of a calm body of water at dusk. In a subterranean windowless room, a wooden boardwalk designed by Tadashi Kawamata provided a central viewing platform amid the rhythmic flickering of thirty-eight five-foot-long argon-neon-filled tubes adorning the floor and walls. Since 1963, Morellet has incorporated neon into his abstract paintings—two 2013 works combining right-angled white neon tubes and geometric black-on-white paintings were on view on the gallery’s ground floor—and used the glowing tubes to make linear sculptures. With Pier and Ocean, however, he created an immersive impressionistic environment. Though the work’s title is a reference to Mondrian’s 1915 painting Composition No. 10 (Pier and Ocean), Morellet’s implied watery mirror has more in common with Monet’s “Water Lilies,” wherein reflections of tree branches and clouds next to floating lily pads and gentle ripples confuse the viewer’s sense of space and perspective. Appreciated within the context of Morellet’s early- and late-career works, Pier and Ocean reinforced the exhibition’s reflective function as an open invitation to look back and consider the overlapping waves of sixty-five years of artmaking.

Mara Hoberman