“We do not conceive of the work of art either as a ‘machine’ or as an ‘object’ but as a quasi-corpus,” wrote critic Feirrera Gullar in the “Manifesto Neoconcreto,” published in 1959.1 The notion that the work of art was more like a body than a discrete object was a radical idea that led many Brazilian artists to embrace the viewer’s subjective experience as the main criterion in art making. Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, a co-signer of the manifesto, alongside other Brazilian artists such as Lygia Pape and Willys de Castro, wanted to transform art making in a way that emphasized how an artwork is experienced in space and time. Though Clark’s official membership in the Neo-concrete group only lasted several months, she spent the rest of her career exploring the possibilities of how viewers relate to art.
Clark began her career painting in a geometric abstract style of Concretismo, as evident in her work Planes in a Modulated Surface (1956). In officially breaking with this earlier style by signing the “Manifesto Neoconcreto,” Clark shifted her practice to consider the artwork as an experience or body that interacts with the viewer. Cocoon no. 2 (1959) abandons the rectangular, two-dimensional canvas support, instead offering a three-dimensional arrangement of black and white planes in space. In “The Death of the Plane,” Clark writes, “that shattered rectangle, we swallowed it, we absorbed it…. Demolishing the plane as support of expression is to gain awareness of unity as a living and organic whole.”2 She took this idea further with a sculptural series that she called bichos (critters). These movable metal sculptures have no fixed orientation; they are experienced through handling from three-dimensional planes to flat reliefs, as in Sundial (1960). Clark thought of works like Poetic Shelter (1964) as animal-like or organic entities that shared space with spectators through metamorphosis.
Clark’s practice transformed again in 1963, when she staged one of her first proposições (propositions), called Caminhando (Walking), wherein she demonstrated cutting a Möbius strip out of paper. She invited others to participate, turning the artwork into the action of transforming the paper. “Caminhando is only a potential,” Clark wrote in 1964. “You and it will form a reality that will be unique, total, existential. No separation between subject-object.”3 After Caminhando, Clark created the Nostalgia do Corpo (Nostalgia of the Body)—a series of soft sculptures and sensorial objects that activated participants’ bodily awareness. In 1964, as Brazil was overtaken by a military dictatorship and entered a period of severe censorship, Clark’s propositions blurred the boundaries between art and experience, viewer and artist, the body and its environment. “We are the proposers: we bury ’the work of art’ as such,” Clark declared in 1968.4
In the 1970s and 1980s, Clark’s research in psychology and philosophy, prompted in part by her own experiences in psychotherapy, shifted her attempts at the unification of art and life. While residing in Paris, she created a set of propositions called corpo colectivo (collective body), which involved groups of participants engaging in communal actions. During the last decade of her life, Clark proposed “objetos relacionais” (relational objects) as a therapeutic practice in a system called Estruturação do Self (Structuring of the self) (1979–88). Her commitment to understanding and transforming the relationship between art and viewer can be seen in the fundamentally empathetic nature of her work. As she wrote, “I always thought it was fabulous to have given something of my art for someone to express themselves.”5
Rachel Remick, 12-Month Modern Women’s Fund Intern, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2021
Ferreira Gullar, "Manifesto Neoconcreto," Jornal do Brasil: Suplemento Dominical (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), March 21-22, 1959, accessed through International Center for Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston: Documents of Latin American and Latino Art. Record ID: 1110328. https://icaa.mfah.org/s/en/item/1110328
Lygia Clark, “A Morte Do Plano,” 1960 in Lygia Clark, texts by Ferreira Gullar, Mario Pedrosa, Lygia Clark. (Rio de Janeiro: Edição FUNARTE, 1980), accessed through ICAA at MFAH. Record ID: 1111070. https://icaa.mfah.org/s/en/item/1111070. Trans. Cliff Landers in “Writings by Lygia Clark, 1960-1963,” in Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014) pp. 158. “Este retângulo em pedaços, nos o engolimos, o absorvemos em nós mesmos...Demolir o plano como suporte da expressão é tomar consciência da unidade como um todo vivo e orgânico.”
Lygia Clark, “Caminhando,” 1964, in Lygia Clark (1980) ibid. “...o “Caminhando” é apenas uma potencialidade. Vocês e ele formarão uma realidade única, total, existencial. Nenhuma separação entre sujeito-objeto.” Trans. Cliff Landers in “Writings by Lygia Clark, 1960-1963,” in Lygia Clark, pp. 160.
Lygia Clark, letter to Oiticica, November 14, 1968, Eng. trans. in Lygia Clark (Barcelona), a translation reprinted in Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art 1948-1988 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014): p. 232. The quote appears in Christine Macel “Part 3: Lygia Clark: At the Border of Art” excerpted from the exhibition catalogue. Available online at post: Notes on Modern and Contemporary Art Around the Globe, https://post.at.moma.org/content_items/1008-part-3-lygia-clark-at-the-border-of-art
512: Circle and Square, Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Piet Mondrian
413: Touching the Void
417: Architecture Systems
Through fall 2021
Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift
Oct 21, 2019–Sep 12, 2020
Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
Apr 15–Aug 13, 2017
- Lygia Clark has online.
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