Sculpture and Its Point of View (1990)

Even as a very young man I felt guilty any time I lost focus, any time I daydreamed, any time I fell asleep in class, at mass, at a concert, 1 at the theater, at the cinema, 2 etc. I tried to hide this inability to train my attention for long intervals behind expressions that I hoped seemed attentive, but which often looked dazed and blank instead. Come to think of it, a certain lingering affection I have for the cinema must be due in part to the darkness of the screening rooms, which rendered these degrading mimicries useless.

At fourteen, conscious of the limitations created by my infirmity, and of the large number of my peers who suffered from it as well, I chose to become a modern painter.

Indeed, contemporary painting, real contemporary painting, free of representation, free of message, is the only art that can unite modernity with a minimum of courtesy toward those who suffer from a deficit of attention.

Why are musicians and writers for the most part so discourteous?

Why do they force us to give them hours of listening or reading in order to prove their genius? Innumerable years of my young life were wasted on these discourteous geniuses!

I remember, for example, the terrible year of 1943, when I spent three trimesters in school with Racine and two Sunday afternoons with Claudel and Wagner.

In the time it takes to listen to an opera overture or read the preface of a novel, it is possible (at least for me) to comfortably take in a complete retrospective of this or that great painter of our century.

I myself feel a certain discomfort when a visitor stops for too long in front of one of my works. And I understood J. R. Soto quite well when he told me how he was interested, even influenced, by Malevich. And this without having to see a retrospective, a painting, or even a reproduction. No, merely by listening to a simple sentence describing the black square.

Yes, the painting I do requires a minimum of attention time. Ideally, each of my paintings would constitute a different response to the question: How to do (or more precisely to decide) as little as possible. Desiring no less that they be perceived as little as possible, I have refused myself the use of certain simplicities that are too rich in ambiguity, such as the exquisite imprecision of the “shoddy” or the depths of the monochromatic void.

But sculpture?

I know: I did not refuse, in 1988, the Grand Prize for Sculpture, and this year I have an exhibit at the Musée Rodin.

In spite of this, I cannot in good faith defend the principle of traditional sculpture, which, not content to merely encumber space, also occupies time by the complexity of its very nature.

How to accept, first of all, this hunt for points of view to which the spectator must submit: that dance around the pedestal, in which the bodies and gazes of visitors cross and collide, each one trying to locate the best point of view (the one they saw in the official photo). 3

And then, as though the complexity of volumes and of lightings were not enough, we may add that of the background, where other sculptures, curtains, furniture, passersby, clouds, and buses go by haphazardly.

I thought, in 1962, that I had found a solution: a system that replaced the spectator’s waltz of hesitation with that of my sculpture (a grid-sphere), which the hand of the viewer could effortlessly turn or stop. 4

But I prefer a more radical solution that may be expressed here: “one sculpture, one point of view.” The sculpture is thus a planar geometric figure (straight line, curve, grid, etc.) that cannot be distinguished as perfect, and thus planar, except from a single point of view.

The sole reason all the other points of view exist is to show their imperfections: the confused complexity of fragmentation and relief, opposed to the perfection of the continuity and the plane.

These “single-point-of-view sculptures” evidently refuse three-dimensionality. They will sometimes tolerate two dimensions, such as in Adhésif 0°, 90° from 1971 and Parallèles 0° from 1973, or only one, as in Adhésif 45° from 1981 and Masque King Tape from 1985. If we further indulge a specious reasoning, based on the principles of a “parallel,” or if you prefer “gentle,” geometry, we arrive at the concept of a sculpture without any point of view, and

thus without any dimension, for instance Arc de cercle brisé from 1954, in which the original curve cannot bereconstituted visually and so is useless to look at.

Finally, we come to a category of its own, which includes my Hommage aux Tilleuls et à Rodin: “universal point-of-view sculptures.”

This work presents, on its traditional “stand,” a sculpture with two dimensions: an infinite horizontal plane, accompanied by four mile markers that serve as models. These four mile markers are represented by four squares similar to the top of the stand. They enclose the trunks of the four farthest trees. Another sculptor, Christophe Morellet, had the idea before me of indicating a plane by surrounding cypress trees with concrete rings. This inverted paternity was worthy of mention. Here, we can see, the important part is neither in the stand nor in the mile markers, but in the horizontal plane that goes beyond the limits of the Musée Rodin and which we can imagine gliding at thirty-five meters above the seas, slicing into the hills, crossing the mountains.

Privileged points of view thus no longer exist. Everyone is a privileged spectator where he stands, so long as he possesses imagination and an altimeter.

I hope this text will have allowed the reader to abandon many points of view, or at least to take the measure of my perfect bad faith.

Finally, I cannot end without a word of great thanks to the linden trees and to Rodin for (involuntarily) supporting my work.

1. I learned much later that over the course of a concert the attention time of the average listener is no greater than forty percent. 2. The great discovery of channel-surfing, which gives television its true meaning, would not appear until half a century later. 3. One would do well to read on this subject the text by Daniel Soutif, Géométree Dimension, or how sculpture can be not boring, written for the ateliers internationaux des Pays de la Loire, 1989, as well as, evidently, the one written for this very catalogue. 4. Although few visitors to the Musée Rodin know that they themselves can turn certain lighter sculptures presented on “stands,” it was not possible for me to find out how far back this strange and generous authorization dates from. Should we ascribe responsibility to Rodin himself and in so doing topple the received wisdom about the founders of Kinetic sculpture?

Translated by Daniel Levin Becker. © Dia Art Foundation. English translation originally published in Béatrice Gross with Stephen Hoban, eds., François Morellet (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2019), p. 213-214. Originally published as “La sculpture et son point de vue,” in Hommage aux Tilleuls et à Rodin: Installation de François Morellet (Paris: Musée Rodin, 1990), n.p.