Most of the reviews you’re likely to read about Olivier Mosset, conceptual/minimalist/anti-art painter, begin with a history lesson—a well-padded rundown of this prolific 66-year-old artist’s career, including his early days working as an assistant for Jean Tinguely and Daniel Spoerri in Paris, his friendship with Duchamp and his involvement with the anti-art BMPT group. Judging from this strongly confrontational two-venue exhibition of paintings, reviewers can leave Mosset’s dossier unopened. The work itself asks us—perhaps even challenges us—to encounter it on its own announced terms.

All of Mosset’s output in these shows looked fresh enough to have been made yesterday. And, indeed, to a large degree, it was. The 39 untitled works (all 2010) that were on display at Leo Koenig’s Chelsea space are entirely black canvases painted with a rubberized polymer commonly used for truck-bed linings (to keep out moisture and prevent slippage). The paintings both absorb light and reflect it, depending on your position and the time of day. Most are 4 feet square, save for one large rectangular canvas (7 by 21 feet) installed in the back gallery. The smaller works impressively engaged the space, creating a tight grid on the gallery walls and a resulting figure-ground “pop.” In addition to a weird smell (somewhere between hardware store and truck stop), the works had a quiet presence that rendered the space theatrical (think of sound-absorbing stage flats or acoustic panels). Suddenly, footsteps became more noticeable. Likewise, the smells of takeout lunch and trivial workaday conversations behind the gallery’s front desk. There were no distractions of color and form and, perhaps most importantly, the ponderousness of an artist’s “intent” hanging about the room. It’s as if the paintings, in filling the space, were asking not to be noticed.

Mary Boone’s uptown gallery (its front room hung with minimalist Mosset works ranging in date from 1984 to 1990) was party central by comparison. Here were canvases in a high-key palette of juicy oranges and pinks, hot red, lime and sea greens. Juke (1990, 7 by 19 3/4 feet) resembles a line graph; the only slightly smaller EN (for enough), 1988, features the abstracted forms of its titular letters. Boone’s buffed floor reflected the riot of color like a calm sea under a flotilla of carnival boats. Meanwhile, in the side room, a “sister” grouping of the paintings at Koenig lay as if in wait. All were made in 2010 of the same rubberized polymer material, only this time in off-white—and the difference was startling. Whereas the black works could be construed as having a decadent, almost sensuous presence, the white works (equally wide, but 8 feet high) were depressing, cadaverous, like flesh drained of all color and life. Not quite paintings, not quite sculptures, they seemed to fling our gaze back upon itself.

Paintings that could pass for sculptures; geometric minimalism; artworks that subvert the art world: an artist 40 years Mosset’s junior could have made every work in this show, and we’d have been none the wiser. In our current art market, that passes for a compliment. It’s uncanny how well Mosset always points out just where it is we are.


Photo: View of Olivier Mosset’s untitled polyurethane-on-canvas paintings, all 2010; at Leo Koenig.