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Lygia Pape

at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row, London W1S 2ET

23 Sep – 19 Nov 2016

Reviewed by Fiona Grady

Hauser & Wirth is one of the most interesting commercial galleries to visit in central London; the curators use the gallery space inventively, regularly transforming the galleries into beautiful installations on a par with any museum show. Lygia Pape’s solo exhibition is no exception; when you see the blacked-out gallery facade you realise that you are about to embark on a powerful sensory experience…

Walking into the exhibition, the first artwork you see is a film of a woman, Lygia Pape, climbing out of a cardboard box on a beach. The film is intriguing; it feels like an old family holiday home movie, but instead of building sandcastles, Pape is breaking out of a paper structure as the waves lap around her. She seems to be investigating her boundaries, with the box representing a physical marker of the forms she presents in her practice. But why is she there, and what is she doing? The deteriorated footage is gently calming; there is a sense of fun - can we see her laughing? The film sets the tone of the exhibition as a space from the past, and of Pape as an artist, a free-thinker, an investigator of space and a mould-breaker.

Lygia Pape (1927-2004) is considered one of the most important Brazilian artists. Together with Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, she was a key member of the Concrete and Neo-Concrete movement in Rio de Janeiro. Her practice explores existential, sensorial, and psychological life experiences through geometry and the viewer’s participation in her artworks.

Ttéia n.7 (1991) Installation view 'Lygia Pape', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016  © Projeto Lygia Pape Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth  Photo: Ken Adlard

Moving into the gallery space, this can be seen in the first installation: Ttéia n.7 (1991). The installation comprises two peaks of pigment, each sitting in neat square-based pyramids on two square sheets of fabric on the gallery floor. They are reminiscent of mountain peaks, spotlit from above by two circles of blue light that emphasise the magic of these glowing natural forms. Blue pigment is scattered around the bases of the pyramids, preventing them from feeling too ordered or controlled. They are what mountains should look like, reduced graphic versions or false realities. The forms are hyper-real; they feel like something from a science experiment or a film set, and reinforce the calm, surreal tone of the space. Made later than Anish Kapoor’s early pigment sculptures (circa 1980), there are echoes here of his brightly-coloured, fixed shapes, although Pape’s pigment structures are less solid and permanent; they don’t appear to be fixed in the space. Her forms induce a sense of a transformation occurring; there is magic in the air.

Tecelar (1958). Woodcut print on Japanese paper  29.7 x 41.9 cm / 11 3/4 x 16 1/2 in. © Projeto Lygia Pape Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard  

Moving on from this piece, the next works on display are a selection of six woodcut prints, Tecelar, made between 1955 and 1958, and two ink drawings, Desenho (1961).  The woodcuts are composed from blocks of black lines, with varied density and quality of line, creating different shapes and weighted forms. They have a raw, scraped quality, with the texture of the woodgrain exposed and reproduced on the delicate Japanese paper. The prints have an exploratory nature; they appear to be testing compositional planes and methods of implying motion. There is a balance between positive and negative space; each is given equal status, allowing the white of the paper to produce moving diamonds or triangles, depending on where your eyes focus.

These multiples aren’t dissimilar from the early woodcuts of Josef Albers, and the prints and drawings of Anni Albers. Despite working in different political and artistic climates, all three artists share a innate understanding of how to create movement though form. Their works extend the depth of the paper using simple drawing techniques to visualise more complex ideas. ‘Tecela’ in Portuguese translates as ‘weaver’, and this is appropriate in reference to Anni Albers’ work, but also gives us insight into Pape’s intentions. There are architectural references in some of the prints too; for example, one shows two arches, one turned on its head, the other with a lighter block behind it that acts a a wall, drawing the viewer into the paper plane. The prints generate a potential energy and a glimpse of the artist’s working method.

The central piece of the exhibition, set in the sectioned-off rear part of the gallery, is Ttéia 1C (2001/2016), a huge geometric installation made up of four simple elements: silver thread, wood, nails and lights. Thick, four-sided bands of wire stretch from the high gallery ceiling to the floor in diagonal intersecting lines. At various points the blocks of wire cross, weaving between each other to arrive at their destined points on the ground. They are lit with spotlights that cut across them at different angles, and which, rather than following the wires, have their own paths, adding to the illusory quality of the structures. From a distance they appear as solid blocks, but up close, in the darkened space, the light disturbs the viewer’s sense of position, allowing the wire lines to disappear. This continues the sense of drama instilled by the previous installation Ttéia n.7, but on a grander scale. The room is a meditative space; there is something hypnotic and calming about the lines, falling in a restful darkened space, with the gentle buzzing of lights in the background. The viewer is drawn to walking around (although unfortunately not through) the installation, taking in the different points of the overlapping wires and trying to place themselves within the physical drawing. The installation pulls together all the elements of the exhibition that have led up to it, particularly Pape’s works on paper, and leaves an indelible impression on the mind. It has a quiet confidence; the boldness of the way in which it denotes the space, and the simplicity of the gesture of the series of overlapping wires, result in a beautiful and powerful artwork.

Ttéia 1C (2001 / 2016)  Silver thread, wood, nails, light.  Dimensions variable. © Projeto Lygia Pape Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard   

This exhibition provides an excellent overview of Pape’s practice through these four interlinked elements of her output. Ttéia 1C is the most dominant work, leaving a lasting impression, a sensory experience that leaves you feeling somewhat dazed when exiting into the real world. Although Pape’s work is on a grand scale, it prompts an emotional response through the simplicity and delicacy of its gestures. It demonstrates the understated, minimalist strengths of geometry that have the ability to fascinate and move the viewer.

This is evidenced further in the ink drawings, Desenho. Created a few years after the prints, they are a slightly different proposition. Again, they use line to form edges and create block shapes, but they are lighter and more reaching than the woodcuts. One of the drawings presents two sets of lines side by side, each finding alternative ways to fill the sheet of paper. The other drawing uses line to define space as well as to attempt to escape from it. These drawings are particularly interesting in comparison with the installation Ttéia 1C, which immediately follows them. In the context of this piece they can be seen as working studies that helped Pape to create her line drawings on a larger scale.

Desenho (drawing) (1961) Ink on Japanese paper 44.8 x 33 cm / 17 5/8 x 13 in. © Projeto Lygia Pape Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard   

Desenho (drawing) (1961) Ink on Japanese paper

45 x 33 cm / 17 3/4 x 13 in. © Projeto Lygia Pape Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard  

Installation view, 'Lygia Pape', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016.  © Projeto Lygia Pape Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard