The 16 Sides of the Square

François Morellet

Date : 2001

Medium : Mixed media

Size : 300 x 315 cm (200 x 200 square)

Canvas on wood, 16 tubes of white argon

In this work, he uses the empty canvas to place a system of simple elements based on a kind of naval battle game. The coordinates of the system are provided by the random figures taking from a telephone book. Each pair of numbers randomly drawn is turned into coordinates on the imaginary grid of the canvas, for a line of white neon equal to one side of the square canvas.

The artist allows fate to decide how the work will turn out and what aesthetic attraction it will have.

© Adagp, Paris, 2001

The guide

The first thing we notice is the contrast.

A contrast between the intense bluish light of the neon tubes and the matte canvas, creating a real dialogue of materials.

The canvas constitutes the classic element while neon represents modernity, highlighting the miracle of electricity. Morellet deliberately leaves the technical dimension visible. You don't need to look closely to see the electrical wires left in plain view.

Look at the canvas: it is bare, untouched by paint, with an almost fuzzy surface.
It is highlighted by the glow of the neon tubes, which suggest brushstrokes of light enhancing its beauty.

Speaking of contrast, look closely: can you see another?

In total opposition are the severity of the confined space of the canvas and the random arrangement of the neon tubes, which spill out of the square.
A spatial dialogue emerges and creates an impression of depth. Morellet reuses Mondrian’s guiding principles while subverting them.
Whereas Mondrian's compositions were the result of a carefully thought-out and disciplined process, Morellet lets the whims of chance determine his composition.
Which game would you say this resembles?
Morellet is offering us a version of pick-up sticks using light in which the 16 sticks of light thrown on the canvas are the exact length of one side of the square canvas.