Known for his imposing, monochromatic, abstract geometric paintings, Swiss artist Olivier Mosset is a key figure of post-war abstraction. While defying easy categorisation, his work is best described as a rebellious form of conceptual abstraction.Read More
Born in Berne, Switzerland, in 1944, Olivier Mosset in his youth was exposed to the works of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns at the local Kunsthalle. Inspired by them, he moved to Paris after finishing high school to study at the Ecole du Louvre. He became the assistant of kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, through him receiving the opportunity to briefly visit New York in 1967 and meet Andy Warhol.
Back in Paris, Olivier Mosset's career began to take shape. Around 1966 he became a part of the anti-expressive, anti-individualistic BMPT group consisting of Daniel Buren, Mosset, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni. They held their first exhibition, Salon Comparaisons. Peinture / Sculpture, at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1996.
BMPT—a conceptually driven Minimalist group based on Marxist-Debordian theory—challenged and interrogated the nature of painting and society. They did this by replacing figuration, expressiveness, and subjectivity with simplified repetitive patterns, seeming to break free of historical context and reducing the level of required skill. Confounding notions of authorship by signing each other's work, Mosset and BMPT sought to elevate the significance of the artwork as a material object beyond its authorship.
Olivier Mosset's practice in this period is defined by his 'Untitled' (1966–1974) series comprised of around 200 nearly identical oil paintings featuring a black circle in the middle of a white canvas. Working on these for nearly a decade, the artist developed a clean, crisp mechanical visual language that denied any impression of human authorship. These he followed up with his iconic striped paintings, their format becoming a regularly resurfacing motif.
Moving to the United States in 1977, Olivier Mosset became part of the bustling New York City art scene. His work changed, shifting from the centrally focused format of his earlier European years to very large monochromatic paintings on rectangular canvases. One of the of the few European artists to embrace American-style large-scale painting, Mosset's often vivid works of this period explored the subtleties of colour and scale. They were influential on Neo-Geo painters of the 1980s like Peter Halley.
Continuing to develop, in the 1980s Olivier Mosset engaged with appropriation and the critiques of Modernism proffered by Warhol and Pop art. In his sculpture Toblerones (1993), while retaining the traits of a Minimalist structure, the work references the form and name of Swiss anti-tank blocks (inspired by the famed triangular chocolate).
From the mid-1990s Olivier Mosset used motorcycles as ready-mades. Motorcycles have been an ongoing obsession for the artist throughout his career. In the late 1960s, he ran the first Marxist-influenced motorcycle club. He even published a book, Wheels (2018), detailing how his life-long passion intertwines with his art.
In 1997 Olivier Mosset moved to Tuscon, Arizona. A desert location, it gave Mosset a less chaotic working place than New York. He now lives and works between the two.
A 2020 retrospective at Musée d'art moderne et contemporain in Geneva presents 60 years of work and demonstrates both Olivier Mosset's variability and his consistency. From the circles of the 1960s to the imposing and unconventionally shaped monochromatic canvases of recent years, the work has consistently radiated its own identity. Evasive of questions around intended meaning, and shunning the notion of masterpieces Mosset posits himself as just another viewer.
In the course of his long tenure as an innovative Minimalist, Olivier Mosset's work has featured in many group and solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. He has had a number of retrospectives, and presented work in the Swiss Pavilion at the 44th Venice Biennale (1990) and Manifesta 10, St Petersburg (2014).
Olivier Mosset's works also feature in prominent permanent collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon; and the Musée des beaux-arts, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
Biography by Michael Irwin Ocula | 2020