In Conversation: with Olivier Mosset

OLIVIER MOSSET, an ongoing exhibition at the Tucson Museum of Art, examines the renowned artist’s role in abstract painting and why he wants you to focus on the art and not the artist. 

Mosset, a member of the influential avant-garde BMPT group in the mid-1960s and Radical Painting Group in the 1970s, has always been on the forefront of abstract painting that challenges artistic authorship. His new exhibition at TMA presents large-scale monochrome, reductive, and shaped paintings alongside a 1964 Chevrolet El Camino, 1954 Harley Davidson 45, two site-specific murals, and a time-based ice sculpture—resulting in a contemplative and mystifying multimedia experience. 

The exhibition runs October 14, 2021 – February 27, 2022.

Emerald Arguelles: Can you discuss your experiences of being in New York in the 1970s and how the city impacted your work?

Olivier Mosset: Though I was happy to meet people with similar interests, the kind of work I was doing (one-color paintings) was not what was happening at the time (neo-expressionism, graffiti). Things changed in the following years with a return to some more conceptual types of work. In retrospect, though, it was a good time to have been there with what was happening in the club scene and in the East Village.

EA: Can you discuss finding your artistic voice during your time in Switzerland and Paris?

OM: Though my work might have already been questioning what I saw around me, I have the feeling that in the beginning, I did not really know what I was doing. In Paris, I was happy to have been able to meet other artists, especially those with similar interests. And Paris at the end of the Sixties was a special place to be (May ‘68).

EA: Can you describe your experience of experimenting with abstraction?

OM: I thought abstraction, which is a 20th-century thing, was a good idea. Non-figurative works allow them to be more autonomous, that is, more real, the things themselves.

EA: As a member of BMPT, what was your motivation at that time, and has it changed?

OM: Of course, our works were questioning the state of things and what art in general was. I still try that, though I also added questioning the way we were doing it.

EA: Your work questions the value of art and what gives the art value. Do you recall the first time you questioned this yourself? 

OM: We were certainly questioning what was giving value to art: self-expression, the uniqueness, or the originality of a work. Art had to be something else. I have the feeling that other choices, neutrality, and repetition, for instance, were already around when we started.

EA: You recently displayed an ice sculpture for your exhibition at the Tucson Museum of Art, letting it melt outside. What was the motivation behind this? 

OM: We had done one at the Pima Community College here in Tucson, and I was interested to see another one, placing the ice blocks in another way. I also wanted to see how it would melt in the winter (actually not much differently). Of course, an ice wall has a different meaning in Arizona than on the streets of Zurich.

EA: Would you say there is an element of play or destruction in your work? 

OM: More than playing with, we are trying things. We also know that time changes the perception we may have of these things, that nothing is forever and there is “no construction without destruction.”

EA: With so many accomplishments, what are you looking forward to in the future?

OM: There are still a couple of things that I would like to try. We will do that and that’s what we are looking forward to.