THE MOMA IS HOLDING THE FIRST MAJOR RETROSPECTIVE OF BRAZILIAN ARTIST LYGIA CLARK IN AMERICA. LYGIA CLARK: THE ABANDONMENT OF ART, 1948-1988 BRINGS TOGETHER NEARLY 300 WORKS CREATED OVER FOUR DECADES, INCLUDING DRAWINGS, PAINTINGS, SCULPTURES AND PARTICIPATORY EXPERIENCES. THIS LARGE SAMPLE, WITH LOANS FROM PUBLIC AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS, AS WELL AS WORKS THAT ARE IN THE MOMA ITSELF, IS ORGANIZED AROUND THREE KEY THEMES: ABSTRACTION, NEOCONCRETISM AND THE ABANDONMENT OF ART. NOT TO BE MISSED.
By Florencia Rolón
Lygia Clark’s work emerges in one of the most innovative art environments in the second half of the twentieth century, the Brazilian environment, in which tensions inherent to the settling in of modernity coexist with its opposite end: military dictatorships, fictitious economic miracles and cultural movements linked to what’s local but doomed to live in exile. So visiting Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988 (the major retrospective of this Brazilian artist) is a must for all restless spirits who are in New York.
Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988 is organized chronologically. From her earliest works, her art was in dialogue with iconic predecessors of modern geometric abstraction such as Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, Vladimir Tatlin, Max Bill and Georges Vantongerloo. Born as Lygia Lins Pimentel (Belo Horizonte, 1920 – Rio de Janeiro, 1988), in 1947 Clark moved to Rio de Janeiro and began her artistic apprenticeship with Burle Marx. Between 1950 and 1952 she lived in Paris, where she studied with Léger, Arpad Szenes and Isaac Dobrinsky. Back in Brazil, she joined the front group, led by Ivan Serpa. Later she became one of the founders of the Neoconcreto Group and participated in its first exhibition in 1959.
However, Clark was changing gradually from painting to the experience of three-dimensional objects. So, she turned to the “proposições participacionais” [participative propositions], such as the Bugs series from 1960, geometric metal constructions that are articulated by hinges and which require the participation of the spectator. That same year, she taught art at the Instituto Nacional de Educação dos Surdos [National Institute of Education of the Deaf]. Then she devoted herself to sensory exploration in works such as A Casa É o Corpo from 1968. Additionally, she participated in the exhibitions Opinião 66 [Opinion 66] and Nova Objetividade Brasileira [New Brazilian Objectivity] held at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.
The next section of the exhibition explores the period influenced by the neoconcretism movement (1959-1966), a trend of Brazilian art that rejected the impersonal and objective quality of the concrete abstraction. The neoconcretists—Lygia Pape, Franz Weissmann, and Sergio de Camargo, among others—conceived their work as bridges between art and life, as tools to generate experiences in the public sphere. This section of the exhibit includes the majority of the most recent “formal” works done by Clark, when she was still identified as a neoconstructive artist.
AFTER THE INQUISITION
In 1971, Clark wrote, in a sort of journal that over the years became part of the text of the catalog of her exhibit at the Antoni Tàpies Foundation, in Barcelona, as follows: “Yesterday was awful; I felt very disjointed. I went to see Aspazia at the hospital and she said that my work is a cultural revolution. Camargo and I then went to eat at the Domus and I cried for an hour out of distress. Camargo began to express doubts and more doubts about my work, although I had a positive reaction at the time and I defended him with all my lucidity. Previously, Camargo had said something and I, before starting to cry, said almost screaming, ‘What I want is to stop making art’ (…) We talked, as he says, about the conceptual inversion in my work. Because I propose a ritual and man is there remaking their own mythology, but Camargo thinks my proposals are not strong enough to get that. (…) The dialogue between us was terrible. It seemed like an inquisition and I think if this happened in the Middle Ages they would be burning me alive, so is the concept that I propose, contrary to everything that has been proposed to date on what is called art”.
The complaints of the artist had a reason. It’s that between 1966 and 1988, a period that coincided with a personal crisis and a subsequent long stay in exile in Europe, Clark achieved a radical conclusion to the concepts and practices developed during the 60s. Throughout this time, the artist created simple objects from ordinary things such as gloves, plastic bags, stones, seashells, water, elastics and fabrics. These “sensory objects” were designed to make possible a different awareness of our bodies, our abilities of perception and our mental and physical limitations.
In that period (which crowns the third part of Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, from 1948 to 1988), her activity moved away from the production of aesthetic objects and turned mainly to bodily experiences in which whatever the materials, they end up establishing a relationship between the participants. From this experience, in her return to Brazil in 1976, emerged her dedication to the study of the therapeutic possibilities of sensory art and relational objects. Its practice made the artist, at the end of her life, consider her work definitely alien to art and closer to psychoanalysis. This did not stop that from the 80s onward, her work obtained worldwide recognition, with retrospectives at various international capitals and at anthological exhibits of international postwar art.
While Clark’s influence in Brazil is deep nowadays, Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988 aims to attract international attention to her work. Bringing together all the parts of her radical production, this exhibition attempts to reintroduce her work in current discourses on abstraction, participation and a therapeutic practice of art.
Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988 is on display until August 24. MoMA, 11 W. 53 St., New York.