“The thing with painting is that if you take a ready-made object it’s basically still just an object, you can say it’s art, sure, anything can be art. However, painting in itself defines a certain kind of object which has a long tradition, which is painting, and just because it’s a stretched canvas you don’t even have to explain that it’s art.” Sarah Stephenson
Placed perfectly in the center of the canvas, the black painted circle of Untitled forces the viewer to look at nothing else. The simple elegant shape takes over the entirety of the canvas. It draws the viewer in, making it impossible to look away.
Executed in 1969, Untitled is part of Olivier Mosset’s acclaimed early series of Circle Paintings, which were nailed to their respective stretchers, as opposed to later Circle Paintings, which were tucked and stapled. These early paintings gave the Swiss-born artist international success. “[Mosset] co-found[ed] BMPT (Buren, Mosset, Parmentier and Toroni) in Paris circa 1966. That group sought to radically challenge notions of authorship, uniqueness and exchange value by signing each other’s paintings and using de-skilled compositional techniques that could be repeated anytime” (ibid.). Evolving from the philosophy of BMPT, Mosset’s Circle Paintings utilize reduced, repeated forms to create a dialogue with art history. Influenced by Alexander Rodchenko, Kazimir Malevich, Ad Reinhardt and Robert Ryman; Mosset challenged himself to create a simplicity of painting in the same manner as these revolutionaries, however approaching it differently than the monochromes of Yves Klein.
Mosset always creates his artworks in series; he has said “One painting always follows the last, so there’s an inevitable relationship between the works. If something is considered valuable because it’s unique then that’s exactly what I’m trying not to achieve. A second painting might be a repetition but it can never be a replica” (ibid.). In developing the Circle Paintings, Mosset created over 100 iterations. The aggressive repetition grew from a period in art history of fundamental questioning of the uniqueness of an artwork. The obsessive repetition removes the hand of the artist, allowing the work to speak for itself, to exist within itself. Removing the hand and personality of the artist contradicts all constructs set forth for painting.
BMPT focused on the removal of the artist as part of their practice. Each artist would collaborate and sign each other’s work, confusing the identification of the creator in order to eliminate the fundamental concept of an artist. Taking this elimination one step further, Buren, Mosset, Parmentier and Toroni painted simple, easily repeated motifs in a fanatical manner—Buren: vertical stripes, Mosset: circles, Parmentier: horizontal stripes, and Toroni: short linear brushstrokes. “BMPT wanted to question the myths of ‘talent’ and of the avant-garde, of uniqueness, originality and value. They proposed an art of neutrality, meaninglessness and self-effacement. They even signed one another’s works, as a gesture against originality and the fetish of ‘authorship’” (A. Searle, “Through the square windows,” The Guardian, 15 November 2006).
Originally established in BMPT, Mosset continues to question the definition of painting, working to eliminate it. To Mosset, a painting exists as a material plane and experience to be had without the artist’s presence. The presence and the hand of the artist distracts from what the painting itself emits. Untitled embodies these concepts, capturing the viewer with its material reality. The beauty and simplicity of the circle intrigues the viewer, drawing them in to experience its rawness. Subsequently, the work pushes itself into its surrounding environment, entering into the viewer’s space, existing as an experience rather than an art object. Untitled is the essence of Mosset’s oeuvre.