Art in Re­view Up in Neon at Zane Bennett

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Up in Neon: Works by François Morel­let and Fred­eric Bouf­fan­deau, Zane Bennett Con­tem­po­rary Art, 435 S. Guadalupe St., 505-982-8111; through May 22 — Iris McLister

The gaseous el­e­ment neon was dis­cov­ered by Bri­tish chemists in 1898. Very soon af­ter, it was ma­nip­u­lated into sealed tubes by early in­dus­tri­al­ists and sold to ad­ver­tis­ers, who im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized neon light­ing’s abil­ity to alert and en­tice. By the 1960s, neon lights were a ubiq­ui­tous fea­ture of the ur­ban land­scape, so its use as an art ma­te­rial is hardly sur­pris­ing. Zane Bennett Con­tem­po­rary Art’s Up in Neon show­cases the work of two French artists, François Morel­let and Fred­eric Bouf­fan­deau, who em­ploy neon for the same pur­pose th­ese ear­li­est ap­pli­ca­tions had: to get our at­ten­tion.

The gallery’s many-win­dowed down­stairs space is drenched in nat­u­ral light, which makes vivid light­ing, no mat­ter how ar­tis­ti­cally con­ceived, seem some­what su­per­flu­ous. The gal­lerists have there­fore wisely kept the first floor show­ing mainly prints and draw­ings, which hang along­side sev­eral mostly monochro­matic neon pieces from Morel­let. The con­sid­er­ably more col­or­ful art of Bouf­fan­deau is dis­played up­stairs. Morel­let, a geo­met­ric ab­strac­tion­ist who will turn ninety next year, ex­plored a range of medi­ums be­fore he was drawn to neon in the early 1960s, and the hand­ful of neon works on view present a com­pelling study of his re­strained ap­proach to the ma­te­rial. Lam­en­ta­ble (De­spi­ca­ble), from 2008, is a loop­ing sec­tion of pale-blue neon tub­ing that is suspended from the ceil­ing, gen­tly coil­ing down onto the floor. The artist’s twodi­men­sional pieces, in­clud­ing can­vases, prints, and draw­ings, are straight­for­wardly geo­met­ric, us­ing mostly black-and-white lines and sim­ple shapes in the mien of Frank Stella or Sol Le­Witt. Un­ti­tled (Di­ag­o­nals), a seri­graph on rag­board from 1970, fea­tures an allover pat­tern of zigzag­ging black lines that calls to mind in­ter­locked pa­per clips, ar­ranged across the com­po­si­tion with me­chan­i­cal pre­ci­sion. The en­er­getic qual­ity of Morel­let’s two-di­men­sional art seems es­pe­cially in­ge­nious when jux­ta­posed with the ac­tual elec­tric­ity that is part of his work in neon.

Bouf­fan­deau’s pieces, which con­sist of linked squig­gly neon tubes in bright colors like red, green, yel­low, and blue, can feel rem­i­nis­cent of the Olympic logo. Sprout­ing from the cen­ter of the two ver­ti­cally linked rings in his Un­ti­tled 1, from 2014, is a pair of hor­i­zon­tal, opened spheres that splits the struc­ture apart in an ab­stracted ap­prox­i­ma­tion of a bloom­ing flower. Some­how the work’s ar­ti­fi­cial light casts an or­ganic, cozy warmth onto the gallery’s dark­ened walls. Its ex­posed elec­tri­cal cords reach down to the floor, where they meet cir­cuit boxes — a be­hind-thescenes glimpse of tech­ni­cal “in­nards” that lends the gleam­ing lights above an un­ex­pected in­ti­macy.

Whether blink­ing ma­ni­a­cally on crowded city streets, hiss­ing softly out­side dark­ened store­fronts, or cast­ing a gen­tle, slightly eerie glow down nar­row al­ley­ways, neon lights ex­ist to make us look. Morel­let and Bouf­fan­deau beckon us to do so at Zane Bennett.

François Morel­let: Posi­tif, circa 1970, seri­graph on rag­board

Left, Fred­eric Bouf­fan­deau: Un­ti­tled 1, 2014, neon tubes

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