Critical Reflections: Olivier Mossett

Zane Bennett Gallery <br /> 504 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe

Date June 30, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Author Richard Tobin

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


Déja  Vu: Visitors to the Olivier Mossett show of major works from the last twenty years might question whether they are looking at art or art history. The show's two large series deal with shaped canvases, one involving iterations of a large red arch, the other of a bright yellow circle. This shaped-canvas format has its source in late-Modernist paintings by Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly.

The remaining work, mostly 27-inch square silkscreens, evoke Ad Reinhardt, Pop, and optical currents of the late 1950s and 1960s. The sense of déja  vu might be reinforced by the space itself, renovated for the new Zane Bennett Gallery with a chrome-and-glass fifties-style less-is-more look. And a fair assessment of Mossett's work here should take into account some very unfortunate display decisions for the show. The guiding concept behind the layout seems to have been to put the pieces where they fit, rather than how they fit together. The result is a kind of exploded view of the two major series, with the red arch canvases scattered throughout the space and the three yellow circle paintings-Three Tondos-hung separately on small portable walls in echelon, i.e. each row behind the other and all rows perpendicular to the viewer. The effect is to short-circuit any potential impact that these works might have when viewed side by side, as a series.

That said, what comes to mind is the old saw about being careful what you wish for. A brief bio on Mossett in the Whitney Biennial last March traced his activities as a painter in Paris in the late 1960s as a member of a four-man group of artists (including Daniel Buren) that "sought to democratize art through radical procedures of deskilling. They also deftly deconstructed such modernist shibboleths as the primacy of authorship and the value of originality"€¦."€

Roland Barthes published his essay "The Death of the Author"€ in 1967, the same year in which Jacques Derrida laid out his critical procedure-called deconstruction-which Derrida claimed would uncover the cultural prejudices within the "text"€ of Western literary (and by extension, artistic) production.

In a way not intended by Mossett, the paintings here underscore the importance of authorship and originality by the conspicuous absence of either in the show. Arguably the monotonic and non-relational approaches of hard-edge painters like Kelly and Stella helped bring about the Postmodern rejection of formalist painting and the embrace of what architecture critic Robert Venturi characterized as "messy vitality over obvious unity."€ But for all their simplicity and detachment, Kelly's bold monochrome and shaped canvases continue to hold up as distinctive and inventive, as are Stella's early grid paintings and later multicolored shaped canvases. Mossett's work at Zane Bennett is neither.