Magazine article Artforum International

Lygia Pape: MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFIA, MADRID

Magazine article Artforum International

Lygia Pape: MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFIA, MADRID

Article excerpt

LYGIA CLARK, HELIO OTT1CICA, AND LYGIA PAPE (1927-2004) are often mentioned in the same breath--all three were key figures in Brazil's Neo-concrete movement--yet Pape has not received the recognition accorded her two great contemporaries. That should change now that the artist's first major retrospective outside Brazil, "Lygia Pape; Magnetized Space," has opened at the Reina Sofia. Curated by Manuel Borja-Villel and Teresa Velazquez in collaboration with the Projeto Lygia Pape in Rio dc Janeiro, the show elucidates the full breadth of her remarkable and complex work, presenting drawings, paintings, sculpture, woodcuts, ballets, books, installations, public actions, poetry, and films. It is an important moment in the global reception of Brazilian art.

Among the earliest works are four oils on canvas from 1953, which show Pape mixing the geometric with a vivid organicism and relate broadly to the developing interests of the Concretismo movement. But the following year the work took a more rigorous turn, as she moved on to paintings and reliefs that systematically took apart the language of Constructivism. Seeing all these works together is revelatory. It makes one conscious of Pape's remarkably subtle or even, paradoxically, invisible use of color, her weapon of choice from the outset. Many of these works consist of square-format standard units positioned in a variety of arrangements. She used bases to set the squares away from the wall, thereby insisting on their status as objects. And the bases are often painted bright orange or yellow, which has the effect of creating a faint aureole of reflected color around the squares. In 1954, this assertion of colored light as a kind of meta-structuring principle was a radical step. While in many ways Pape shared with Oiticica an interest in the dialectic of the chromatic and the schematic, her distinctive treatment of diffuse colored light subtly emanating from beneath hard-edge structures sets her work apart.

The volatile permutations of the basic geometric units in the reliefs lay the ground for the predominantly black-and-white woodcuts that Pape produced from 1955 through 1959. She called these works "Tecelares" (Weavings) and described them in terms of the spatial somersaults they turned: "unfolded, twisted, inverted, ambiguous, ambivalent," words that also describe the kind of viewing the "Tecelares" make us perform. She was "digging away at black," she said, and "opening slices of light." Again, the sheer physicality of her description in effect makes light a material, though here it is manipulated not through color but through texture. Printed on tissue-thin Japanese paper, the woodcuts set in train a play between uneven black ink striations that trace the grain of the wood and the tilting rhythms and movements of various geometric shapes--another kind of directional grain altogether. It is as if a constructive surface has become light- and body-sensitive.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

There can be no clearer case against the assumption that the ordering of geometric abstraction is always, at some level, in thrall to the rationalist ideologies of a technocratic modernism. After all, there never was anything rational about Malevich "burning" with Suprematist color, as he so evocatively put it. Even the extreme materialism of some Constructivists, as seems clear in retrospect, set about inventing a new kind of subjectivity that was surely as psychological as it was social and as bodily as it was mechanical and logical. One look at the work of Pape and of the Neo-concrete artists who took so seriously the original proposals of the historical avant-gardes--especially those of Mondrian, Malevich, and the Constructivists--and it is clear that there is nothing indifferent or impersonal about geometricity. They understood. They shared the compul-sion to make and remake through repetition. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.