February 6 – March 14, 2015 | Koenig & Clinton
Olivier Mosset isn’t really an abstract painter, because his paintings aren’t abstractly real. This might seem like a tautological game, but it is actually at the root of Mosset’s raison d’être. His recent show of monochrome works at Koenig & Clinton continues the artist’s longtime presentation of intimately actualized surfaces, proportional discretions, and subtle colorations that retain a fulsome sense of the real without being representational or subject to the burden of mimetic ventriloquism. His work is radically immanent in the best sense of the concept, a concept which states not only “what you see is what you see,” but, and more importantly, “what you sense is all that you will ever see.”
Mosset’s work is obdurately finite, and this quality is what gives the paintings in his present show largesse of possibilities in the real. Here, the specific proportions of these possibilities include seven paintings in total, four large equilateral squares and three smaller, vertical, and stele-like rectangles. Each larger square painting is titled with the names of artists that Mosset has felt to be influential figures or peers in the five decades he has been involved in the New York and international art community. “Leslie” (2014), for instance is dedicated to Alfred Leslie, an experimental filmmaker and painter who worked through the dramatic gesticulations of Abstract Expressionism in his early career to eventually paint aggressively realist paintings. The energy with which Leslie imparted his earlier abstract work was carried over into an intensely realized figurative mode. It is easy to see why Mosset might cite Leslie as a shape-shifting avatar of the actual, since the sensuous real is so elegantly subsumed within Mosset’s monochromes. “Leslie” is painted in a blue that is simultaneously aqueous and airy.
All of the paintings in the show are thickly spray-painted in an almost industrial fashion and at first resemble the surface of sandpaper or a minutely granular yet immaculate motel wall. Mosset builds up these surfaces with the same polyurethane paint that is used to achieve a non-slip surface on pickup truck cargo bed liners. His choice of materials is just as allusive as his choice of artistic influence. Both are redolent of the continuously tactile and potentially abrasive real.
Another of these larger square paintings is titled “Breer” (2014), in a lighter blue, and is in homage to artist and filmmaker Robert Breer. Breer’s early paintings and sculptural works were influenced by neo-plasticism and reductive abstraction before he moved on to making films. In a quote from a 1976 interview Breer explains the logic of this progression: “The notion that everything had to be reduced to the bare minimum, put in its place and kept there. It seemed to me overly rigid since I could, at least once a week, arrive at a new ‘absolute.’ I had a feeling there was something there that suggested change as being a kind of absolute. So that’s how I got into film.” For Mosset, Breer’s change-as-absolute must translate into the absolute as the continuity of difference, in that Mosset stuck with a minimalist presentation of static finitude in order to bring into sharper focus an immanent sense of being in the world (as opposed to a Heideggerian “Being” in the world, or a never-ending phenomenalist argument of sense and perception). An actualized phenomenology of being has a part to play in Mosset’s works only to the extent that it imparts a reassuring fullness to a quotidian satori. In other words, Mosset’s work doesn’t rely upon any historical dialectic of the ontological narrative and its attendant “facticity,” so much as it calls forth a direct encounter with the materiality of being sans the argument of the fact. Curiously, it’s this minimally affected mode that constitutes the poetic dimension of the work. Mosset’s paintings embody the poetics of being in a monumentally unheroic and contradictory glory: simultaneously abstract and real.
What is fascinating about Mosset is that in his paintings, sculptures, and related collective projects (such as BMPT, a group of artists organized in Paris in the 1960’s and the Radical Painting Group, organized in New York in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s) he has consistently perceived and realized his “self-nature” in terms of his non-self-nature. A good example of this would be the anti-authorial gestures of the BMPT. The group, which included Mosset, Daniel Buren, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni, would often sign each other’s work or collaborate on artistic projects. He is an artist who embraces life’s multiple occurrences and temporary identities in their fullness in order to retain a heightened self-awareness. In Mosset’s work, this contingent yet minimally transcendent identity becoming form crucially informs (somewhat uncannily) what would otherwise be simply absolute, formal abstractions. This resilient concretion of being has its effect on the viewer as well. One senses in almost any Mosset painting all that you will ever see, by way of communion with all that he is able to expose: all that is wanting in each occurrence of the real.