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The online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Lygia Clark: Work from the 1950s


Alison Jacques Gallery, 3 June – 30 July 2016


Review by Mark Liebenrood


©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Lygia Clark was born in Brazil in 1920 and, with other Brazilian artists, founded the neo-concrete movement in 1959, which sought more sensuality and feeling than concrete art had displayed. Before that, Clark had studied in Paris in the early 1950s with Fernand Léger and others. This show focuses on Clark’s work of the ’50s, and at the same time shows her wide range of concerns: formal, spatial, architectural, as well as the role of the viewer in interacting with spatial forms.


Clark’s precise attention to detail, and her interest in the subtle effects of formal variation, are highlighted in the show’s only wall text, a long quotation from her own writing. Amongside detailing some of her exacting formal concerns, she clearly had bold ambitions for her work: “the importance of this new search is as great as if we were entering a new Renaissance period”.


Her concerns are highlighted especially by a series of gouaches that show her exploring the illusionistic potential of a linear composition of triangles and rhombuses, using tone to make various arrangements of wedge-shaped forms. In a small upstairs room a double-sided collage shows a similar process at work: the addition of just two lines lifts a flat black and white form into a suggestion of architectural space.

Clark’s maquettes of interiors show that she was also interested in the potential of real space. One of these has a decorative aspect: a room with a bench, the walls painted with oblongs in a variety of earthy hues, with two doors interrupting the composition. A second maquette shows what could be a whole building, a large space covered by a wide flat roof, with the potential to rearrange the interior by moving the walls. Such designs unfortunately remained as mere sketches, and one wonders what they would have been like to live in. The austerely modernist tenor of the design is softened by the thought that the resident might have had direct control over the form of their living space.

The manipulation of spatial form did become a reality with Clark’s series of Bichos (Critters). Here, the speculative translation of two-dimensional form into three dimensions is rendered real. A set of hinged plates might lie flat, but can be picked up and endlessly manipulated in space as an interactive sculpture. One such 1959 aluminium maquette is inevitably untouchable in its vitrine, but a plastic version is on hand for curious visitors to play with. Perhaps it is not surprising that with such close attention to formal matters, there is little colour on show here. Two gouaches and a larger painting hint at Clark’s subtle sense of colour, a Superficie Modulada from 1956, in particular, showing a delicacy of feeling that is elsewhere abundantly visible in her careful compositions.

Superficie Modulada, 1956. Graphite, gouache on paper. 15.5 x 44.5 cm. Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Copyright O Mundo de Lygia Clark-Associação Cultural, Rio de Janeiro. Photo Michael Brzezinski

Construa você Mesmo seu Espaço para Viver, 1955. Oil on wood and acetate. 5.2 x 50.5 x 26.2 cm. Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Copyright O Mundo de Lygia Clark-Associação Cultural, Rio de Janeiro. Photo Michael Brzezinski

Installation shot. Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Copyright O Mundo de Lygia Clark-Associação Cultural, Rio de Janeiro. Photo Michael Brzezinski

This show is both a focus on a historical moment and a glimpse into an artist’s working processes: both austere and refreshing, with a restrained sensuality and more than a hint of playfulness.

Pianos em  Superficie Modulada, 1957. Card, graphite, gouache. 25 x 35 cm. Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Copyright O Mundo de Lygia Clark-Associação Cultural, Rio de Janeiro. Photo Michael Brzezinski