Seleção Nacional

Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Rubem Ludolf, José João da Silva Costa, Franz Weissmann and Amilcar de Castro

From May 16 to Jul 11 2014

This fall, LURIXS: Contemporary Art presents the group exhibition Seleção Nacional, with historical works from the gallery's collection. With special emphasis on the concrete art period, the exhibition highlights a period of extensive collaboration, synthesis, innovation and experiences, which eventually gave rise to a new Brazilian art. The exhibition also pays tribute to Lygia Pape, marking the 10th anniversary of her death.


National Selection | Felipe Scovino

The gathering of these works highlights an essential feature in the movement from modern to contemporary visual arts in Brazil: the transition from plane to space, and the boundaries that become suspended between art categories. Hélio Oiticica’s Spatial Relief (1959-60) clearly represents these two strands. Its origin is perceived in the Metaesquemas (1955-58) series, interwoven with the arrival of abstractionism and the institutionalisation of the arts in the country. It is the period when modern art museums in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are established, as well as the São Paulo Biennale. During this exchange, and as a result of his research through the Metaesquemas, Oiticica explores the transition between two-dimensionality and space.

This confluence of the works, air and emptiness in Oiticica stemmed from his studies on Russian Constructivists, Malevich – one of the most mentioned artists and theoreticians in his writings –, and Mondrian. Oddly however, this dialogue was particularly given by his proximity to Mário Pedrosa and Ferreira Gullar, art critics who were fundamental to the neoconcrete generation and theory articulators of this aesthetic movement in Brazil. Pedrosa received a grant from UNESCO in 1958, moving to Japan, where he remained for ten months and wrote a study on the relationships among Japanese and contemporary Western art. The associations between the void and the formal and phenomenological aspects of Oiticica’s work were then probably enhanced with his return home. We realise that dialogue in the Metaesquemas’ own condition in the emptiness that defines its structure and action, such that these arrangements tend to vibrate and expand. Volumes want to spread and enforce the figure’s full presence, but are retained and obliged to compose a whole. It is a current happening, always in expansion or contraction, depending on our desire. Testing the void means reorganising its existence, undertake the soon-to-be process. And the Spatial Relief is a particle, a piece of these elongating structures that meet in the Metaesquemas. Do not forget though that even in this “three-dimensional painting”, Oiticica’s motivation is the colour and its occupancy in the space.

The relationship between plane and space is also represented in Amilcar de Castro’s sculptures, in the paper folds, rotations and movements offered. It depends on the spectator’s position, who needs to understand it in all its viewpoints. From a heavy structure and a haughty presence in space, the sculpture soon becomes a form susceptible to instabilities. There is a double time-based circumstance occurring on that surface. Concomitant to the chronological action, there is a silent investment, noticeable only as a long lasting experience, which slowly reveals the mutation of the steel into skin. The oxidation and the emergence of “imperfections”, reliefs, crusts, and wears on its surface are associated to a metaphor on the passage of time and the aging of the body. The open structure in which the volume is filled with air stresses the characteristic of all becoming full and revealing.

As stated by art historian Rosalind Krauss, “one of the most remarkable aspects of modern sculpture is the way it expresses the growing awareness of its practitioners in that it is a means of expression peculiarly situated at the junction between rest and motion, between time seized and the passage of time.”* Hence, it is crucial to emphasise the Lygia Clark’s series Bichos (1960-64). The hinged aluminium plates allow chance and randomness to be part of the viewer’s repertoire, now transformed, in the artist’s words, into participant. These changing structures only acquire a transforming meaning as they are manipulated, discovered. Her invention is exposed in each rearrangement that each of the participants performs. In this sense, the idea of emptiness takes a new meaning every time as the work is composed of parts – until now, stationary – that are being activated by the observer.

While in Oiticica’s studies colour expands until it reaches the streets, as in the Parangolés (1964-79), Franz Weissmann’s colour finds another path and identity. His sculptures are created as drawings in the space, where the colour is materialised not as a prop, but as a line, a stria that crosses the air. Even in his large-dimension public sculptures, the artist draws away the weight of that material, giving it a noticeable lightness. This is the sensible and intelligent operation in reclassifying the void that neoconcretists performed with such intensity.

If in Rio de Janeiro, Neoconcretism (1959-61) was tantamount to the avant-garde in articulating their creations with the geometric abstractionism, in São Paulo, a group of artists led by Waldemar Cordeiro established, even before, a new meaning to the constructivist legacy. Among the concrete group, Geraldo de Barros’ work can be highlighted, represented in this exhibition through his photograph series Fotoformas (c. 1949-50). Barros has never failed to register, to think, to speak about the world as a painter, another exemplary technique developed by the artist. His choice for certain perspectives, the game between light and shadow, his ability in allowing architecture not to be seen as a backdrop, but the protagonist instead, are typical approaches of an artist who has the pictorial thinking as principle. Between late 1940s and mid- 1950s, Barros was notable for the experimental means of producing and printing of his photographs. Image overlays were coupled with geometric compositions, and the city’s architecture guided its entirety. The projections of light and shadow poetically transformed what was banal or occasionally perceived with a certain disdain.

In line with the research developed in North America and Europe, an important issue that arose in this constructive production in Brazil was the virtualisation of images by the Op Art techniques, or even the progress from plane to space. In this sense, the works by Rubem Ludolf, Lygia Pape and João José are certainly merited examples.

Ludolf’s work associates a severe technical skill, preserving its constructive strictness, through delicate gestures of small, concocted reticules that nearly become optical illusions. The artist creates a synthesis of the gestalt possibilities of figure and ground, so that the displacement of the viewer also creates the illusion of expansion and rotation with a considerable economy of elements. In Pape’s works, what prevails is an atmosphere of softness and delicacy, which becomes a new dimension for the constructive research in Brazil, which would be later further explored by Mira Schendel. Nearly whitish lines, displayed in a margin between the disappearance and the depiction of a plan, create quiet zones. The power of such works is given through its ambiguous character, since, while it reveals, little by little, a certain degree of invisibility, an intricate graphic aspect disposed over those plans is also made evident. João José’s experience in architecture cannot be overlooked when in contact with his work, although his “constructions” do not follow a logical and centred order. The lines break a supposed expected rhythm, seeming dissatisfied with its condition, reminding us that it is their desire to “break the frame” and conquer space.

This is an exhibition that brings together important works of the Brazilian concrete period and highlights the inventive character that these artists explored as pervasive forms of dialogue and connection with what were happening abroad.

* KRAUSS, Rosalind E. Caminhos da escultura moderna. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1998, p. 7


Felipe Scovino is a professor at Escola de Belas-Artes da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. He also works as an art critic and curator.

Exhibition review for download (PDF - 40 Kb)