Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988 is the companion catalogue to the exhibition under the same title, co-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. The first comprehensive retrospective to take place in North America, this landmark exhibition is matched by the accompanying publication, containing 13 chapters and 380 plates.
A broad survey of her work, the catalogue is led by essays by Butler and Pérez-Oramas. With each text enhanced by primary statements, the catalogue also contains full chapters of Clark’s writings interspersed between essays from Gutiérrez-Guimarães, Zeuler R. M. De A. Lima, Briony Fer, Christine Macel, Frederico Coelho, André Lepcki, Eleonora Fabião, and Antonio Sergio Bessa. Olivetti provides a concluding chronology, and together with Gutiérrez-Guimarães offer a comprehensive bibliography.
While the show is organized chronologically and focused around three moments in Clark’s production (abstraction, Neo-Concretism, and the “abandonment” of art), the publication is structured thematically. Issues tackled include, for example, Clark’s bridging of architecture’s functionality with art making, her erasure of reactionary tenets regarding the “value” of the art-object, and performance.
Clark’s work spans decades (from the late 1940s to the late 1980s), and her trajectory encompasses both the canonically modern and innovatively postmodern. Her early exposure to modernist thinking is reflected in her works of the 1950s, which have affinity with the abstracted, geometric arrangements of Constructivism and the paintings of Piet Mondrian. The “grid,” a critical element within modernist painting, allowed Clark to move beyond the canvas and physically engage with those experiencing her work. With her output increasingly manifesting to the tactile and the tangible, her sustained interest in architecture’s functionality is woven throughout the catalogue, leading to broader comprehension of her concern for engaging a participating audience. “It should not seem strange,” writes Pérez-Oramas, “that Clark might from early on have approached painting as architecture, as a science of topology, an operator of place –of coordinates, shelters, homes.”
As Butler notes, Clark “learned a synthetic approach to the arts” and challenged traditional relationships between art-object and viewer, going further beyond even performative art emergent in the 1960s. With this, Clark’s so-called “propositions” are obsessively sensory, relational objects. To nurture “nostalgia of the body” Clark harnessed physical experience to stimulate emotional connections. Art regularly aspires to this; however, Clark truly created objects that transcend art and life. Her “abandonment” of art thus relates to this privileging of the viewer.
True to Clark’s desire to create a physical dialogue, the exhibition has interactive areas with replicas of her work. For example, facsimiles of the Bichos, articulated sculptural-like objects, are placed within the galleries; and the final room is almost entirely dedicated to her late interactive works. Given Clark’s diverse and plentiful output, she is not easy to categorize. However, viewing her works, experiencing the models, and delving into the catalogue, go a long way to appreciating a fascinating artist.
If you haven’t already, be sure to see the exhibition before it closes on August 24. However if you can’t make it to MoMA in person, be sure to pick up a copy of the catalogue. As the most comprehensive volume on her work available in English, and with a selection of previously unpublished writings by the artist, it is truly a important resource on Lygia Clark and her artistic legacy.