OLIVIER MOSSET ++
«LEAVING THE MUSEUM»
21 APRIL–17 JUNE 2012
The exhibition «Olivier Mosset ++. Leaving the Museum» is the final project to be staged by the Kunsthalle Zürich at its temporary home in the Museum Bärengasse before it returns to its renovated and extended premises at the Löwenbräu art complex. Over the past year and a half, wide-ranging encounters with contemporary art have taken place in the houses of the Museum Bärengasse, which were built in 1670 and feature tiled stoves, decorative stucco work and wood panelling. We have now come full circle with this last exhibition by Olivier Mosset (born in Bern in 1944, lives and works in Tucson, Arizona), which is staged in 16 rooms of the Museum Bärengasse and presents a range of works which have been integrated into the features of the space. «Leaving the Museum» combines a large selection of Olivier Mosset’s paintings with works created in collaboration with other artists, works which arose in his circle and works inspired by him. Olivier Mosset approaches the Museum Bärengasse’s numerous individual rooms as individual exhibitions in themselves, which together provide an insight into his wide-ranging œuvre and artistic practice.
Olivier Mosset is an “easy rider”. His rejection of the norms of painting finds analogous expression in the vast expanses of unspoiled landscape found in his adopted home of Arizona and his love of motorbikes that often feature in his art and presentations – for example one of his motorbikes, a 1950s “Vincent”, appears in a curious presentation in one of the small rooms on the top floor of the Museum Bärengasse. The motorbike rhetoric is reflected in the delicate irony of the folk-rock songs of Al Perry, a musician and composer from Tucson who has a cult following and with whom Mosset produced a record, which can be heard at the exhibition. A motorbike tour through Switzerland organised by Mosset in 2009 was filmed by Cristina Da Silva and can also be viewed at the exhibition along with Mosset’s own video work Last Run at Montriond 14 (2004). The latter documents how, in his exhibition of the same name at Circuit contemporary art centre in Lausanne, Mosset presented a revving Chevrolet Malibu SB 350 whose spinning tyres left black rubber tracks on the floor of the exhibition space.
Olivier Mosset left Switzerland as a young man and settled in Paris. He worked as an assistant for Jean Tinguely and Daniel Spoerri, and together with Daniel Buren, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni established the BMPT group in the mid-1960s. The group, which explored the essence of painting and undermined traditional institutional structures, raised questions about authorship and originality, leaving all attribution of meaning in its work open. Mosset became known for his circle paintings during this period. By 1974 he had painted 200 of these works, all 100 x 100 cm, in oil or acrylic on canvas and showing an identical black circular ring on a white background. This repetition and limitation to a single, simple motif reduced the manifestness of painterly practice and the individual artistic effort to a lowest common denominator. Serge Bard’s film Fun and Games for Everyone was made at an opening of an exhibition of Mosset’s circle paintings in 1968. In the film, the coming and going of the visitors becomes a psychedelic improvised game, in which the light makes the faces of the visitors appear completely expressionless and transforms them into graphical surfaces, which disappear into Mosset’s paintings through the formal interplay of sharpness and blur and become paintings in themselves. “I had nothing to do with the film, it was just filmed at my exhibition.” (Olivier Mosset)
Mosset also continued his interrogation of traditional ideas in the stripe paintings which he produced from 1972, and which – inspired by Buren’s stripe motifs – opened up a literal field of experience by associating two initially neutral and then more intensive colours. This led to a radical reduction to monochrome in 1977 and saw Mosset become an important proponent of Radical Painting. Mosset’s painting is always based on the material reality of the work: dimension, format, ground, colour and the uniform application of the paint which is completely devoid of painterly gesture. The central focus of Mosset’s work is the exploration of what painting is and how an artist must paint so that painting functions exclusively as such, without being systematically programmed or dictated by chance. Painting is colour and colour alone. In the 1980s, Mosset produced two-coloured abstract paintings which can be located in the Neo-Geo movement – a style characterised by a geometrical, abstract and formalistic visual idiom. Since the 1990s, Mosset has been producing “shaped canvases” – canvases which take the shape of stars, letters and dollar signs or refer to the circle motif of his early works and hence question the traditional rectangular format.
The road movie T.S.O.Y.W. (2007)by Amy Granat (born in Saint Louis in 1976, lives and works in Brooklyn) and Drew Heitzler (born in Charleston in 1972, lives and works in Los Angeles), which transfers the story of Goethe’s Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774) to a rock and desert landscape, was also inspired by Mosset and Steven Parrino. On his aimless quest for self discovery, Werther rides a Harley Davidson through the endless expanses of the barren landscape until he disappears in the dissolving images.
Collaboration with other artists has been a feature of Mosset’s artistic activity from the outset. He has worked with artists like Parrino, John Armleder, Sylvie Fleury and Andy Warhol. In 1985, the latter signed a yellow square painted by Mosset in 1979. The work of the American artist Michael Zahn (born in 1963, lives and works in Brooklyn), which is presented in the exhibition, also adopts this concept: Mosset recently signed a work by Zahn who combines minimalism and the American cult of the superficial in his art, transforming the binary codes of computer language into painting. The series Kramgasse 61 was created in cooperation with the photographer Dominique Uldry on the occasion of the exhibition «Born in Bern» which was staged at the Kunsthalle Bern in 2011. The exhibition, which revolved around Mosset’s childhood and youth and was based on historical documents and the re-staging of certain events from the artist’s early years in Bern, led him back to a house in Kramgasse 61 where, based on an early memory, he tracked down a ceiling painting with biblical motifs by the Bernese painter Albrecht Kauw (1621–1681). The images from this painting, which were taken in the 1660s house in Bern, are displayed here in one of the ballrooms of the Museum Bärengasse’s two former residential buildings, which were built around the same time.