Two French Masters of Neon Light Up a Santa Fe Gallery

Artsy Editorial
May 5, 2015 4:15PM

Since Dan Flavin sketched a fluorescent tube in the summer of 1961, neon has been fair game for the world’s biggest artists—an ultimate non-traditional medium that manages to harness the most ephemeral of substances: light. A new exhibition, “Up in Neon” at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art in Sante Fe brings together two French artists of different generations who produce works that move in and around neon and other avant-garde materials to condense light, space, and art history into form.

Installation view of “Up in Neon,” Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Santa Fe. Courtesy Zane Bennett Contemporary Art.

Untitled 3 , 2014
Zane Bennett Contemporary Art

In this wide-ranging exhibition, the canonical work of minimalist François Morellet (of the French Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel, which rejected the “pollution” of traditional media in the ‘60s), shares the space with Frédéric Bouffandeau, a younger artist whose sculptures and works on paper show a keen awareness of his art-historical predecessors. Each establishes his own visual language; generally tending toward pure abstraction—line, space, and pattern are highlighted. 

Bouffandeau employs a wobbly, circular motif, which is repetead and layered in airbrushed drawings and wall-hung neon works. The loose-handedness here is deliberate—neon tubes are manufactured to be straight. Manipulated neon forms like this—in artmaking and in commercial settings—most often takes the form of simple motifs or lettering used in signage, as in the work of Tracey Emin and Bruce Nauman; Bouffandeau, instead, opts to artificially imitate a more organic feel with a wiggly ovoid shape. 

Bouffandeau’s blobs are in contrast to Morellet’s straight and ordered shapes that employ lines in a studied and specific manner. In the 1950s, Morellet devised a system of four linear categories: “juxtaposition and superposition”, “interference”, “fragmentation”, and “chance,” which together, defined how his lines would interact with one another. His works display a focus on material and play with it—Jazz Line (2007) takes the simple gesture of rotating squares and dropping a line down their centers to highlight their dimensionality; this gesture is repeated in the inverse in Lamentable (Despicable) (2008), where the vertical axis is instead used to give neon lines  weight and dimension. A large group of prints move from detailed patterning to larger presentations of geometric form, yet no matter the scale, retain an open, architectural air characteristic of Morellet’s practice.

“Up in Neon” shows each of these artists identifying surrounding standards and working against them. Starting within the spectrum of standard art-making tropes, Bouffandeau and Morellet continue to reject boundaries in favor of pushing the potential of space and materials to allow for that which is inert to glow, move, and open.

—K. Sundberg

Up in Neon” is on view at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, Apr. 24 – May 22, 2015.

Discover more artists at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art.

Artsy Editorial