Friday, July 7, 2017

Mothers of Invention at Met Breuer, Part 1: Lygia Pape

In the Mothers of Invention series:
Armory Week: Mothers of Invention 
Part 1: Carmen Herrera
Part 2: Hilma af Klint

The confluence of art and architecture: Lygia Pape, A Multitude of Forms, at Met Breuer through July 23

There are two Brazilian Lygias of interest to art-going New Yorkers: Lygia Pape (pah-peh’) and Lygia Clark. Both lived and worked in Rio de Janiero more or less contemporaneously, and both had manifold careers that included geometric abstraction and performance. Clark (1920-1988) was the subject of a major retrospective at MoMA in 2014. Pape (1927-2004) is featured in an important solo at Met Breuer right now. (Both can be seen together in Making Space at MoMA this summer.) But this blog, part of my irregular series, Mothers of Invention, is about Pape.

Two Lygias (and a Carmen) in Making Space at MoMA, up through August 13: Lygia Clark, foreground; Lygia Pape on wall, right; and Carmen Herrera

Lygia Pape was an early exponent of Concrete Art, arte concreta in Portuguese. Concrete art was, and remains, the universal term used to describe non-objective abstraction. Pape came to align herself with
a splinter group of "neoconcrete" artists who challenged the flat plane with the introduction of physical dimension. You'll see this as we walk through the exhibition. Her interest in spatial structures would culminate in ethereal installations of what appeared to be pure light. This post is but a slice of the show, 
a selective look of work that I was able to photograph between waves of visitors on a Friday evening. There's much more in the exhibition. See it if you can.

The early work was very much of its time, the Fifties
 Both paintings titled Pintura (Painting), 1953, oil on canvas

Wall of Pinturas (Paintings), 1954-1956, gouache on fiberboard

I love that Pape worked rigorously with one size and one set of formal elements to wrest the most out of them, here the line and the square. The wall text notes that the work "reflected the growing interest in optics and technology," but they have a Russian Suprematist feel to me

Closer view  below

Relevos (Reliefs), 1954-1956, tempera and industrial paint on wood

Notes the wall text: "Here, Pape was starting to question the two-dimensional convention of the picture plane."

Below: Alternative view, in which we see how the painted sides begin to disrupt the picture plane

Another wall of Relevos (Reliefs), 1954-1956, tempera and industrial paint on wood

Below: A closer and alternative view of the Relevo at the far right on the wall above

Wall of woodcuts on Japanese paper, Tecelar (Weaving), 1955-1957
So many of the elements in this series found their way into Pape's Night and Day Book, which follows

Below: Closer view of one Tecelar

Single element from the 36-piece Livro noite e dia (Night and Day Book), 1963-1976, tempera and acrylic on wood

All 36 elements are shown below in six-element sections. The installation itself was horizontal, two rows of 18 sculptures each

Livro do tempo (Book of Time), 1961-1963
This mural consists of 365 elements, one for each day of the year

In the foreground, a facsimile of Pape's book, Livro da criacao (Book of Creation), 1959-1960, which could be handled by visitors. (The large blue page standing up at left is what you saw in the opening photo of this post)

Below: detail of  Livro do tempo

Amazonino installation

I am unfamiliar with this aspect of Pape's work, so I quote from the wall text: "Throughout her life Pape demonstrated an interest in the architecture and material culture of Brazil's indigenous population. The objects in her Tuminamba series (1997-2003) are covered with red feathers, recalling the Tupinamba, the country's original coastal tribes who were massacred during colonization. These tribes treasured the precious red feathers of the scarlet ibis and used them in their crafts and rituals . . ."
Amazonino, 1991, automotive paint on iron

Tteia 1, 1976-2004, thread

It's interesting that an artist so involved with the physicality of her painting and sculpture could, later in her career, create such an ethereal experience from those same geometric elements. Of course the textile sensibility was always there--witness her her "woven" woodcuts--but the luminosity and the dramatic scale of this work create a poetic space that allows the viewer to physically participate in the work

Another view, with a look, below, at the construction 

There's more to the exhibition than I've shown you here. For instance, I haven't mentioned Pape's performance Divisor (Divider), which is shown on film and was recreated by the museum at the beginning of the exhibition's run. You'll have a chance to physically handle a facsimile of her Book of Creation. And, of course, there's nothing like experiencing the real thing. Go!


  1. Wow, absolutely stunning work, rigorous and rich in its minimalism. Thank you Joanne. Hope to get in to see this in person.

  2. What a wonderful, informative post, Joanne! Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the virtual tour. Excellent article!