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French art not all about classics

François Morellet’s neon lines show new side of French art to Korean public


You would be forgiven if 19th century impressionism and its serene works by Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were the first things to spring to mind at the mention of French art.

Overshadowed by the Young British Artists and U.S. pop artists who captured the art world’s attention in the 20th century with their bold and sensational works, French artists hardly stood out in the contemporary art scene.

Now with the art world shifting again, and unfamiliar artists from emerging Asian and Latin American countries grabbing attention with exotic pieces, efforts have started in France to shine the spotlight back on French artists.

Franois Morellet, known as the master of geometrical abstract art, and who has held over 455 solo exhibitions around the world, is one of them. He was born in Cholet, France, in 1926 and is still living and working there. 
Franois Morellet. (Gallery Hyundai)
Franois Morellet. (Gallery Hyundai)
“Ni rond, ni pointu, ni carr n°1” by Franois Morellet. (Gallery Hyundai)
“Ni rond, ni pointu, ni carr n°1” by Franois Morellet. (Gallery Hyundai)

“France was rather left out in contemporary art. But by putting up Morellet in front, they are eager to show that they are not lagging behind,” said Ju Yeon-hwa, curator at Gallery Hyundai.

The Louvre Museum in Paris commissioned Morellet to make a permanent installation work for the museum last year and Centre Georges Pompidou, also in Paris, is holding a retrospective exhibition titled “Reinstallations,” focusing on his neon installations, until July.

Art aficionados in South Korea have a chance to see some of his works as well at Gallery Hyundai in Sagan-dong, central Seoul. The gallery is showcasing 30 of the artist’s representative works from his 60-year career at the exhibition “Senile Lines.” It is Morellet’s 456th solo exhibition in total but the first-ever to be held here.

Being mixtures of lines, squares and neon lights, his works appear to be simple at first glance. 
“Gesticulation n°3” by Franois Morellet. (Gallery Hyundai)
“Gesticulation n°3” by Franois Morellet. (Gallery Hyundai)

Keep it that way, no matter how complicated they seem to get as you spend more time in front of them, because Morellet never intended them to be abstruse.

“I am attracted to extremely simple things in geometrical shapes which are almost nothing,” he said.

His lines, which have been his favorite design since the 1950s, are not precisely measured as with most geometrical abstract artists. Instead, he lets them create different squares accidentally.

When the lines and squares got boring, he pepped them up with neon lights or witty titles. Neon is now a popular material used in art but Morellet was one of the first artists to use it in the 1960s.

Long and descriptive titles such as “Strip-teasing sur la pointe tirets 45°-90°,” or “Strip-teasing lozenge, dashes 45°-90°” in English; and “Ni rond, ni pointu, ni carr n°1,” meaning “Neither round, nor pointed, nor square n°1” explain the works and add humor. Morellet thinks of the title as a part of the artwork and gives deep consideration to each one, so he prefers the title to used in its original French, said the curators at Gallery Hyundai.

The best way to enjoy his works, however, is to forget about any explanations and just relish them in whatever way you can. After all, Morellet said that real art lovers are those who give artworks totally different meanings that often even contradict what the artist or other critics say.

“I have come to the conclusion that visual art is in most part a way to help viewers discover what they want in them; in other words, what they have brought themselves. In that sense, an artwork is a place for a picnic, like a Spanish pub where people eat what they brought themselves,” said Morellet.

“Senile Lines” runs through June 19 at Gallery Hyundai in Sagan-dong, central Seoul. For more information, call (02) 2287-3500 or visit www.galleryhyundai.co.kr.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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