French Artist François Morellet Dies at 90

Over 20 exhibitions of his work are scheduled this year.

François Morellet poses in front of light installations on February 28, 2011 at his retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Photo: Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images.

Artist François Morellet has died, just a few days after turning 90. The news was confirmed to Le Monde by his Paris-based gallerist Kamel Mennour.

Born in Cholet in 1926, Morellet is widely recognized as one of the key figures in concrete and kinetic art.

He enjoyed a long and illustrious international career, which included more than 130 solo exhibitions at institutions like Paris’ Centre Pompidou and Musée d’Art Moderne, as well as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. His work is in a number of museum collections, including the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim.

Morellet began painting in 1946 in a semi-figurative style, gradually evolving towards abstraction in the decades to follow.

By the 1960s—around the time he joined the Kinetic-inspired group GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel) as a founding member—Morellet turned to sculpture and pioneered the use of neon as an artistic material.

Installation image of François Morellet’s “90” at Annely Juda Fine Art, London. Photo: Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art.

Installation image of François Morellet’s “90” at Annely Juda Fine Art, London. Photo: Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art.

Throughout his career, Morellet employed chance and simple mathematical formulas to produce complex grids and patterns in his paintings and installations, which often demanded viewer participation.

His use of humor and wordplay earned him the nickname “precisionist punster,” and in a recent interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist—which turned out to be his last—the artist said: “Without humor, everything can become indigestible, that is to say in my work and in my life in general. If I had to speak seriously about humor, this could impair my own health.”

Only last week, Morellet caused at stir at Frieze New York, where Galerie Hervé Bize presented a solo booth with early works by the artist, demonstrating that the cool factor has nothing do with age.

In fact, Morellet’s death coincides with a particularly prolific period in his career.

As part of the international celebrations of his 90th anniversary, his work is currently on view in a slew of exhibitions, including five solo shows, at Annely Juda Fine Art and the Mayor Gallery, both in London; and at Dan Galerie in São Paulo; at Galerie M, Bochum, Germany; and at Art Affairs, Amsterdam.

“It is a very sad end of an era,” James Mayor, from the Mayor Gallery, told artnet News. “His wit and personality was so apparent in his extraordinary body of work over more than 60 years. He was always evolving his art showing his extraordinary lust for life. He will be sorely missed.”

Morellet’s work is currently on view at the Ghisla Art Collection, Locarno, Switzerland; Fondazione Ragghianti, Lucca, Italy, 21er Haus in Vienna, Austria; and the Musée d’Art Contemporain, Lyon, France, among other institutions.

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