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Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Public Institution
Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988 (24.6.2014)
  The Museum of Modern Art’s major retrospective devoted to the art of Lygia Clark (Brazilian, 1920–1988) is the first comprehensive exhibition in North America of her work. On view from May 10 through August 24, 2014, Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988 comprises nearly 300 works, ranging from the late 1940s to the early 1980s, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, and participatory works. Drawn from public and private collections, including MoMA’s own, this survey is organized around three key themes: abstraction, Neo-Concretism, and the "abandonment" of art. Each of these axes anchors a significant concept or a constellation of works that mark a definitive step in Clark’s career. While Clark’s legacy in Brazil is profound, this exhibition draws international attention to her work. By bringing together all parts of her radical production, the exhibition seeks to reinscribe her into current discourses of abstraction, participation, and a therapeutic art practice. Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988 is organized by Luis Pérez-Oramas, The Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, MoMA; and Connie Butler, Chief Curator, Hammer Museum; with Geaninne Gutiérrez- Guimarães and Beatriz Rabelo Olivetti, Curatorial Assistants, Department of Drawings and Prints, MoMA.

Lygia Clark trained in Rio de Janeiro and Paris from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s and was a leading abstract artist at the forefront of the Neo-Concretist movement in Brazil, fostering the active participation of spectators through her works. From the late 1960s through the 1970s she created a series of unconventional artworks in parallel to a lengthy psychoanalytic therapy, leading her to develop a series of therapeutic propositions grounded in art. Clark has become a major reference for contemporary artists dealing with the limits of conventional forms of art.

Lygia Clark is organized chronologically, beginning with Clark’s earliest works. From her earliest production, her work was in dialogue with landmark predecessors of modern geometric abstraction, including Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, Vladimir Tatlin, Max Bill, and Georges Vantongerloo. This first group of Clark's paintings and graphic works (1948–59) underscores the breaking of the flat surface and points toward a three-dimensional mode of abstraction.

The first section of the exhibition deals with Clark’s discovery of what she called the “organic line,” an opening of conceptual—and eventually actual—space within the surface of her work. As seen in her paintings of 1956–57, mainly her series Superfícies moduladas (Modulated surfaces), a complex system of juxtaposed planes are separated by very tight gaps—the only “lines” in their compositions—which Clark called linhas orgânicas (organic lines). Describing her main objective during this period, Clark wrote, “What I seek is to compose a space and not compose in it.” Lines floating between planes like creases or voids within the painting would become a central motif in Clark’s work of the 1950s and beyond. In her series Planos em superfícies moduladas (Planes in modulated surfaces), monochromatic paintings that stress the complexity of their surface, the organic line simultaneously isolates the planes and connects them into a functioning whole.

The following section of the exhibition explores the period embraced by the Neo-Concrete movement (1959–66), a Brazilian vanguard movement that rejected the impersonal and objective quality of concrete abstraction. The Neo-Concretists conceived of their works as existing between art and life, as tools for experiences in the public realm. This section includes most of the final “formal” works done by Clark when she was identified as a Neo-Constructivist artist. For Clark, Neo-Concretism initiated an investigation that led her to a practice beyond the limits of conventional artistic forms.
Around 1960, Clark found a way to unfold the topological investigations of her Neo- Concretist paintings into a three-dimensional repertoire. The result was her series of sculptures known as Bichos (Critters). These were the first participatory works by Clark meant to be fully and endlessly reshaped by their interaction with the beholders. In the Bichos the organic lines become hinges between panels, allowing the sculpture to be transformed from schematic flatness into a variety of unexpected three-dimensional configurations. Some Bichos bear strong resemblance to specific living organisms, as seen in Caranguejo (Crab) (1960), while others evoke themes that concerned Clark’s artistic investigation, such as Relógio del sol (Sundial) (1960). This section also features O dentro é o fora (The inside is the outside) (1963) and O antes é o depois (The before is the after) (1963), the only two works from the Bichos series featuring a continuous and intertwined metal strip without hinges. Works from her subsequent series Trepantes (Climbers) (1965) are also included—unhinged metal structures in which stainless steel is bent and twisted into lyrical lines and circular forms.
In 1963, Clark made a work titled Caminhando (Walking) by twisting a strip of paper 180 degrees, gluing its ends together to create a Möbius strip (a circular form that appears to have two sides but actually has only one), and cutting around and around its length until it was too thin to cut further. This was the first of Clark’s “propositions”—works that spectators were invited to take part in creating, thus becoming more than simply spectators. In the words of the artist, “the work is the act.”

The Abandonment of Art
Between 1966 and 1988, a period that coincided with a personal crisis and subsequent long sojourn of exile in Europe, Clark achieved a radical conclusion to the concepts and practices that she had confronted during the 1960s. During this time, she made very simple objects out of ordinary things such as gloves, plastic bags, stones, seashells, water, elastics, and fabric. These “sensorial objects” were designed to make possible a different awareness of our bodies, our perceptual capabilities, and our mental and physical constraints. Clark’s repertoire of sensorial objects, all based on ready-made and transformed everyday tools, was meant to be activated in both contact and coordination with our body and organic functions. By matching our gestures with these simple objects, Clark intended to project an organic dimension over inert and industrial materials.
Ultimately, Clark’s research drove her to profoundly question the status and utility of conventional works of art as means of expression. Claiming to abandon art making, she created a practice using materials applied directly to the body, engaging with her subjects in a very direct way. Among the propositions (as she called them) featured in this last section of the exhibition are works generally considered “biological architectures” and other experiential or “relational objects” from the early 1970s, which are shown here alongside original and replica devices that Clark conceived in order to allow the audience to approach relational experiences. It is only now, after her death, that this last chapter may be read in terms of the histories of happenings, performance, and public engagement as a radical form of art making.
In 1968 Clark created her landmark installation A casa é o corpo: penetração, ovulação, germinação, expulsão (The house is the body: penetration, ovulation, germination, expulsion) for the Venice Biennale, which is on view on the fourth floor as part of the exhibition. A casa é o corpo is Lygia Clark’s only environmental work, and as the title phrase indicates, Clark imagined A casa é o corpo as a device allowing a fully immersive corporeal experience within its walls to mimic a birthing process. The installation is a three-compartment structure spatially separated by a large bubble of plastic suspended from the ceiling, so that viewers move through a series of sensations. On entering or “penetrating” (penetração), the spectator encounters a dark room with a soft landing; then follows towards “ovulation” (ovulação), where one enters a compartment filled with a variety of soft, spherical materials (balloons, balls of rubber and Styrofoam); next is “germination” (germinação), where the participant enters an open, transparent space in the shape of a teardrop (small and spherical); and finally “expulsion” (expulsão), where one exits through fine threads or “hairs” and encounters a deforming mirror to see oneself. A casa é o corpo is recreated on the Museum’s fourth floor gallery adjacent to the painting and sculpture galleries and is open during museum hours for activation by the public.
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