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François Morellet

Triple X neonly, 2012

Ex. 2 / 5

Neon tubes, transformators

323 x 330 x 238 cm

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

Photo: Gerhard Sauer


To mark their participation at the Paris Biennale in 1963, François Morellet as one of the co-founders of the GRAV, the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel showed for the first time two room installations. In one of the booths he presented his first Light Art piece, consisting of four square neon panels which, hanging there on the walls, flickered in different cycles. This installation made of picture-like components pointed to Morellet’s many years of work as a painter, while at the same time establishing him as one of the pioneer artists who, from the 1960s onward, presented light sources directly in their work. The light of the neon tubes served Morellet not merely as a simple, linear artistic device, but over the course of his career became increasingly a medium which, through the use of mathematical systems, defined, shaped or even seemingly overcame the givens of the room architecture. In this respect his approach is comparable to that of US Americans such as Keith Sonnier and Dan Flavin, who at much the same time began to produce light artworks which they expanded to include the architectural context.


The light installation Triple X neonly from 2012 demonstrates both Morellet’s investigations into the relationship between surface and space, and the way he meditates on the nature of picture ground and picture element. At the same time the title of the piece shows that while bound to the principles of objectivity, geometry and systems, his work also draws strength from play, levity and chaos. On taking a front-on look at the installation mounted in its corner, one can distinguish three superimposed, radiant blue X-shapes made of slender neon tubes. That the work consists of nothing but neon tubes is conveyed by the humorous port-manteau “neonly” made up of “neon” and “only”. The seemingly planar chain of three identical crosses derives in fact from the fusion of two X elements attached flat to the walls, with a further element that spans the corner. Through this transition from surface to space, the light figure releases itself from its support and moves out as a corporeal object into the actual room. The consequence is that the perfectly arranged, dynamically pulsating union of image, object, wall and architecture disappears the moment the viewer leaves that ideal position. The strict system of arrangement starts to wobble, the symmetrical forms become distorted and dissolve into chaos or – to put it otherwise – they join together in keeping with the altered perspectives to form new, unsuspected constellations. 


François Morellet

1926 born in Cholet (FR)

2016 died in Cholet