May 3 — June 21, 2014
LENORA DE BARROS (São Paulo / New York, *1953)
GINA PANE (Paris, 1939-1990)
ROSEMARIE CASTORO (New York, *1939)
BARBRO ÖSTLIHN (Stockholm /New York / Paris, 1930-1995)
LYGIA PAPE (Rio de Janeiro, 1927-2004)
DORA MAURER (Budapest, *1937)
LYDIA OKUMURA (São Paulo / New York, *1948)
MARTHA ARAÚJO (Maceió, Brazil *1943)
PALOMA BOSQUE (São Paulo, *1982)
SAMIA HALABY (New York, *1936)
This show takes its title from a text painting by Brazilian artist Lenora de Barros. In Portuguese “ultrapassado” translates into the idea of exceeding, transcending, and overcoming.
This exhibition explores the highly formulated and transitional status of geometrical abstraction in the work of women artists from three generations: beginning with (Neo)concrete works on paper from the 1950s by Lygia Pape, to Minimal and Color Field paintings from the 1960s by Rosemarie Castoro and Gina Pane, the 1960-80s Pop Art influenced pattern paintings by Barbro Östlihn, to post-Concretist installations, structural and systemic experiments and text pieces from the 1970s and 80s by Lydia Okumura, Lenora de Barros, Martha Araújo, Dóra Maurer and Samia Halaby, to the original contemporary formulations of this history by Paloma Bosquê.
Women artists in parallel geographic milieus of a shared aesthetic affiliation with geometric art, were often invested into abstraction in an experimental, process, and ‘open form’ oriented way. The engagement with geometric and systematic abstraction was then realized as a non-hierarchical practice or passage; one form spectrum favored at a certain time with the same status as parallel or later experiments with conceptual forms, visual poetry, performance and dance, land art, site-specific and time based work. We can see this passage to new practices particularly in the work of Lygia Pape, Rosemarie Castoro, Gina Pane, Lydia Okumura, Martha Araújo and Dóra Maurer.
In the late 1950s in Brazil Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica broke away from the formalist constraints of Concretism with their Manifesto for Neoconcrete Art in which a more open and experimental form was advocated as crossing the boundaries into physical and spatial reality, social interaction, and specific experience.
Meanwhile in New York, Minimalist Rosemarie Castoro began her career as a dancer and choreographer. The decision to determine her practice in the mid 1960s onto the two-dimensional picture plane was based on the exploration of space and the mind/body axis of the work exemplified by the artist’s continued performative interactions with her work in her studio in front of a self-timed camera, further documented in diaristic conceptual writing.
In Paris, Gina Pane began her career with exceptional geometric color field paintings and minimalist sculptures, associated with her concept of the ‘Structures affirmées’. Her programmatic piece of transition is Action, Stripe, Rake (1969). In a corner of a space one sees a precisely combed square of sand on which sits a smaller square of dark brown humus. Against the wall leans a rake, inviting the audience to use it to rake the sand with the risk of diffusing the black square. The piece is a humorous homage to Malevitch whose work Pane had studied intensely. Henceforth Pane would explore outdoor primal landscapes using her body as the medium of her art in actions and performances. In the 1980s, however, she would return to a more spiritualist form of abstraction based on the idea of ‘transubstantiation’.
Barbro Östlihn’s large-scale pattern paintings from the 1960s and 70s were abstractions from architectural detail and urban sites. Her emblematic aesthetic and the artistic milieu she was newly socializing in after her move in 1961 (with her husband Öyvind Fahlström) from Sweden to New York, associated her with the burgeoning Pop Art movement. However, her paintings were described as abstract and ‘precisionist’. Consequently Östlihn moved forward in the 1970s and 80s towards entirely abstracted compositions and a uniquely facetted monochromatic palette, a body of work that can best be termed ‘Pop-abstraction’.
The reason for a less style and genre-fixated practice in the work of these artists is historically and politically complex. It has its roots as much in biographical and individual stories as in a meta-personal perspective. Female artists were particularly in the 50s, 60s and 70s in a different position in terms of recognition and support. Their work was often not accepted in the center of the argument of the time, and geometric abstraction was, per se, associated as a male dominated practice or regarded as gender-neutral, and in political terms non-representative language. Commitment by female artists to a newly established avant-garde discourse and language, – however pioneering and radically formulated -, was not a guarantee for acceptance, visibility and inclusion.
As a consequence, women artists of this period at times moved-on from certain detected limitations inherent in formalist constrain faster, or they incorporated and transformed abstraction into an expanded practice. In some cases the lack of acceptance freed or pushed these artists forward to explore other forms.
Abstraction is, in most of these artists’ works, an agent of formal rigor and innovation as much as that of transition and spatial and social exploration. One could argue that some female artists took from the beginning on and throughout an internally critical perspective on the avant-garde movements they were part of. Could it be argued that these artists were producing works of formal determination while referencing the idea of formalist rigor from a creative distance in the very same artistic operation? And was this perspective providing and requiring a greater diversity and less comfort in a purely formalist containment in their choices of style and practice?
While the geometrical works of Lygia Pape, Rosemarie Castoro, and Gina Pane show a period related commitment to a rationalist and controlled form of abstraction, one can see in the work of e.g. Lenora de Barros – as the next generation – a clear commentary on these forms, almost a playful bastardization of an earlier language. Daughter of first generation Concretist painter Geraldo de Barros, Lenora de Barros engaged with a Neo-Concretist poetry scene in Brazil since the 1970s. In her prototype chair pieces, Lenora de Barros creates homage to the Russian Constructivist history as much as to the Brazilian design collective UNILABOR, founded by Geraldo de Barros.
Recently abstraction has gained a new aesthetic currency in contemporary art while a serious discourse and commitment to what post-avant-garde formalism could imply, seems at times underinvested.
The contribution of the artists in this show to the aesthetic milieu of geometric abstraction is immensely rich and documented in the enormously varying concerns and the radical diversified sensibilities of their formal experimentation. At the same time one can see an internationalist concurrence of formalist process and experiment in different cultural-political geographies creating interesting juxtapositions as exemplified in the drawing and print work of Pape, Castoro, Maurer and Samia Halaby.
As a contemporary artist Paloma Bosquê materializes in her work a convincing proposition of how the legacy of abstraction can be translated into a meaningful and transcending contemporary practice without losing the appeal of rigor and by conquering the challenges of this still today perfectly relevant language.
Anke Kempkes, April 2014
The following individuals and institutions have provided substantial collaboration and assistance in relation to the production of the exhibition and accompanying catalog publication:
Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paolo, Brazil
The Collection of Camilla and Fernando Abdalla
Mendes Wood Gallery, São Paolo, Brazil
Vintage Galeria, Budapest, Hungary
The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Galerie Kammel Mennour, Paris, France
Paula Pape and The Estate of Lygia Pape
Galeria Pilar, São Paolo, Brazil
Galeria Bergamin, São Paolo, Brazil
Fernanda Brenner / PIVȎ, São Paolo, Brazil
Marcos Augusto Gonçalves