Artists: Regina Aprijaskis, Emilia Azcárate, Valerie Brathwaite, Feliza Bursztyn, Marta Chilindrón, Mirtha Dermisache, Diana de Solares, Noemí Escandell, María Freire, Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt), Anna Bella Geiger, Mercedes Elena González, Ana Mercedes Hoyos, Elizabeth Jobim, Judith Lauand, Ana Maria Maiolino, Marta Minujín, Mercedes Pardo, Liliana Porter, Margot Römer, Lotty Rosenfeld, Ana Sacerdote, Fanny Sanín, Adriana Santiago, Mariela Scafati, Antonieta Sosa, and Yeni & Nan.
Folding: Line, Space & Body / Latin American Women Artists Working Around Abstracion
Curated by Aimé Iglesias Lukin
July 9 – August 21, 2015
Henrique Faria Fine Art
NY, NY, USA
Folding is the action through which a line turns into a figure, a plane becomes tridimensional, and a painting becomes an object. And beyond all these actions, we see how representation becomes presentation.
Since the historical avant-garde, the quest for an art that transcended the representation of reality has led artists to create abstract art and to focus on the material objecthood of a painting or sculpture. This exhibition presents the work of Latin American women artists from the 1950s through the present day, showing the different ways in which they worked with abstraction and geometry to explore the space of the artwork and that of the spectator, as mediated by the body.
Latin American abstraction has gained recognition worldwide in the last decade. Exhibitions like “Inverted Utopias,” curated by Mari Carmen Ramírez and Héctor Olea in 2004 and “The Geometry of Hope,” curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro in 2007, presented the diverse abstract movements that developed in the Post War Latin American metropolis, from Joaquín Torres García and Escuela del Sur in Montevideo, to Arte Concreto Invención and Madí in Buenos Aires, the Ruptura group in São Paulo and the work of Alejandro Otero and Jesús Rafael Soto in Caracas.
In all of these avant-garde scenes, women artists gained—not without struggle—a place of recognition and a social circle in which they could develop their profession with relative tolerance. Still, except a few exceptions like Gego, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape, it is mostly male artists we see represented in museums and art history books. This exhibition does not intend to resolve that problem, which is of a much larger scale, but aims to present some of their production and to explore the formal and creative connections among this diverse group of artists from the continent. This show also chooses to escape the historical understanding of abstraction, which is referred to here not as the Post-war movement but more broadly as a creative strategy that has continued through the decades. In this way, Judith Lauand’s planimetric work of 1960 can be seen alongside the contemporary pyramidal sculptures of Marta Chilindrón, and the use of the grid in 1950s and 1960s abstraction can be observed in Anna Bella Geiger’s video Passagens II from 1974 or in Emilia Azcarate’s Sudoku series from 2009.
The earliest-made piece in the show is that of Uruguayan artist María Freire, who co-founded in 1952 the group Arte No-Figurativo along with her husband José Pedro Costigliolo, Antonio Llorens and other artists. Works like Composición vertical (1956), show her interest in orthogonal compositions and planar superimpositions, which along with her use of line demonstrate her interest not simply in abstraction and space but more specifically in dynamism. In a similar spirit, but resulting in a very different work, Judith Lauand’s Concrete 178 (1960) presents a flat geometric composition, in monochrome grays, that through a careful use of lines and planes suggests a volumetric and angular surface. Known as the “Dama do concretismo,” Lauand was the only female member of Brazil’s Grupo Ruptura, and created unique works through a very personal use of geometry, mathematics and space.
In contrast, Mercedes Pardo’s acrylic painting Untitled (c. 1975) explores space recession not through line but using color fields. The Venezuelan artist, who was a pioneer of abstract art in Venezuela along with her husband Alejandro Otero, focused on a sensorial use of color in abstract compositions to achieve the autonomy of painting. Along with Pardo, the other representative of geometric abstraction from Venezuela in this exhibition is Margot Römer, whose triptych from the series Plomos Despojados (1995) uses the panel subdivisions to present three variations of a rectangular structure by alternating the color distribution. A similar emphasis in color is seen in Acrylic No. 7, painted in 1978 by Colombian artist Fanny Sanín, who creates a complex arrangement of intersecting rectangles of different purple hues. This simple alteration of tone in one color still allows Sanín to create a rich composition of receding planes that suggests rhythmic movement and dynamism. Indeed, movement is directly incorporated in Essai de Couleur Animée, a film made by Ana Sacerdote in between 1959 and 1965 in which she interposes geometric chromatic compositions, animating their shapes.
The case of Regina Aprijaskis exemplifies the difficulties of being a woman artist and of combining work and personal life. The Peruvian artist was developing a fruitful career and became interested in abstraction in the 1950s and 1960s after two trips to New York, but abandoned painting in 1970 following the coup d’état in Peru two years earlier, to work alongside her husband in his factory. Her 1996 acrylic painting Negro, rojo y blanco demonstrates how her interest in geometric abstraction stayed intact after a 26-year hiatus, at the same time the choice of the Peruvian flag’s colors seems to speak directly about her country’s political and social struggles.
Other works in the show leave color aside and refer to the white monochrome also with the means of exploring geometry and space. That is the case of Ana Mercedes Hoyos’ 1970s series Atmósferas, where subtle variations of white hues suggest surfaces on the canvas. Similarly, Anna Maria Maiolino’s Light Image (1971) depends on a simple square embossing on paper to invoke the tradition of the monochrome. The square is also the theme of Gego’s Dibujo sin papel 79/14, made in 1979. Famous for her Reticuláreas, or net sculptures, in this work the Venezuelan artist uses wire and metal to frame a piece of the wall, allowing the shadow to become part of the work, continuing the integration of work and exhibition space that allowed her work to spatially affect the spectator.
The relationship between the gallery space and the visitor’s body became a main topic of interest for artists in the late 1960s, notably within Minimalism and among Western artists, but similar creative inquiries were being made in Latin America. Argentinean artist Noemí Escandell created sculptural projects such as Rectangles and Squares and Volumes, Bodies and Displacements, both from 1966, in which basic geometric shapes are combined in odd dispositions to affect the tridimensional perception of the object. In Venezuela, Antonieta Sosa was doing similar work with pieces like Stable-Unstable (1967/2014), which put into question geometry and the laws of gravity while simultaneously presenting organically aesthetic objects.
The body would later be presented directly, rather than invoked, in the work of artists such as Liliana Porter and Yeni & Nan. The Argentine is represented with her 1973 work Untitled (Line), in which her finger is photographed as interrupting a line, one that transcends the frame of the work onto the real space of the wall. In the Polaroid series Cuerpo y línea (1977), the Venezuelan duo Yeni & Nan position their bodies along the geometric designs of a tennis court, evolving the linear and geometric tradition of their home country to include performance and body art.
The urban space is also the canvas chosen by Brazilian conceptual artist Anna Bella Geiger, whose video Passagens II (1974) shows her body creating diagonal trajectories in the grid-like formation of the steps of a stairway. In a similar approach, Lotty Rosenfeld’s ongoing series Geometría de la línea, begun in 1979, intervenes the infinite number of broken white lines that divide a road with intersecting, transversal lines, in a formal but also powerfully political performance associated to her participation in the CADA group protesting the dictatorship in Chile. The relationship between geometry and power is explicit in Marta Minujín’s The Obelisk Lying Down (1978). The work, created for the first Latin American Biennial in São Pablo, presents the geometrical structure of the famous monumental form lying down, allowing spectators to walk through it in a democratizing and desacralizing gesture.
In the exhibition we also encounter more expressive uses of abstraction, where experimentation with materials led to more free-flowing forms. This is the case of Mirtha Dermisache’s graphisms from the 1970s, where the lines drawn by the Argentine artist sinuously move to create abstract texts. The abstract sculpture Untitled (1981) by Colombian artist Feliza Brusztyn, who in 1967 created the famous series of motorized sculptures Las histéricas, also combines dissonant materials into visually striking, amorphous objects. Trinidanian artist Valerie Brathwaite opts for anti-geometric shapes in her Soft Bodies, a series initiated in 2011, where the hanging and floor fabric sculptures play fluidly between the borders of figuration and abstraction.
After all these decades, geometry is still very much present in the work of younger artists. Sometimes the continuity takes place by claiming geometric abstraction directly, like Mercedes Elena González’s series September 1955 (2014), which re-conceptualizes the cover of the inaugural issue of the art and architecture magazine Integral to reevaluate the legacy of modernism in Venezuela. Others adapt geometric abstraction into new formats, like the wood piece Untitled (Free Construction No. 1) (2005) by Diana de Solares. In the case of Elizabeth Jobim’s Wall (2015), geometric shapes invade the wall and floor, overlapping each other and creating optical layers. Emilia Azcárate’s Untitled (Sudoku), from 2009 takes the grid of that game as influence and codifies numbers into colors, allowing her to create a meditative abstraction that juxtaposes the game’s problem with its solution. Formally opposite to this grid but equally colorful is Adriana Santiago’s Untitled from the series Maracaibo (2015), which combines pompoms into a frame in a playful and appealing tactile composition. The work of Marta Chilindrón retakes the tradition of dynamic planes and shapes of Gego and Lygia Clark but includes color as a key part of her manipulable works such as 27 Triangles (2011). Finally, Mariela Scafati goes back to the original questions of abstract painting in her works Tu nombre completo and Nueve minutos exactos, both from 2015, which literally –through bondage ropes— and conceptually –by transforming them into objects— tense the possibilities of what a painting can be: not a representation but an object, a body itself.
These interactions between the artwork, its surrounding spaces and the bodies that interact with it are present through the sixty years in which these artworks were created. The formal explorations initiated by the historical avant-gardes have not, as proven by the younger generation, exhausted themselves. This group of women artists from Latin America offer a wide range of answers to these questions, all personal but also collective. The line and the plane not only folded but became the body, expanding the shape of art above and beyond.
Aimé Iglesias Lukin