Lydia Okumura featured on ARTFORUM May 2017 issue

São Paulo Reviews

Lydia Okumura



With little more than acrylic paint, graphite, and string, Lydia Okumura’s large-scale artworks heighten viewers’ perceptions of space. For the installations and wall drawings in “Dentro, o que existe fora” (Inside, What Exists Outside), the artist used colored planes to form simple geometrical compositions that nonetheless produced complex experiential effects, giving the impression of three-dimensional shapes folding into and out of the corners, walls, and floors of the gallery, as if collapsing out of and drawing viewers into revealed spaces existing parallel to the structural planes of the architecture.

Okumura has been making art since the late 1960s. She was the first Brazilian artist to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in a group show in 1979, shortly after her drawing Beyond and Behind, 1978, was acquired by that institution. Although her work was shown at biennials in the 1970s and ’80s, it has yet to gain recognition commensurate with its significance. The show in São Paulo revisited her work from those two decades, but it is the nature of Okumura’s art to establish new dialogues with the surrounding space whenever it is reexhibited. On the first floor, Diagram of Dimension C, Tokyo 1979; SP 2017, 1979/2017, showed two cubic rectangles drawn on the wall, one hovering over the other and both interconnected by angular lines. The play between a periwinkle-painted plane with unpainted ones, delineated by thin lines, established an interlocking of the created spaces. Okumura gave two-dimensional forms three-dimensional qualities by experimenting with perspective drawing and the absence or presence of color. In other works, such as Untitled I, Installation at Pratt Institute Gallery, Brooklyn, NY 1980; SP 2017, 1980/2017, geometric shapes spilled from the walls into the room. In The Appearance, NY 1975; SP 2017, 1975/2017, nothing apart from five pieces of taut string attached to the walls and the floor, in a corner, was used to form a prism. Its color came from the white walls and the concrete floor.

Okumura’s relation to Brazilian Concretism and Neo-Concretism was evidenced in the colored folds of Untitled I, Medellín Biennial, Colombia, 1981; SP 2017 and Installation II, Medellín Biennial, Colombia, 1981; SP 2017, both 1981/2017—works that leapt off the wall and took to the floor with their color planes. I couldn’t help but think of Hélio Oiticica’s “Metaesquema,” 1957–58; “Relevo espaciais” (Spatial Reliefs), 1960; and “Núcleos” (Nuclei), 1960–63, as well as Lygia Pape’s monumental Livro do tempo(Book of Time), 1961–63. Okumura’s Project for Corner Piece IV, NY 1977; SP 2017, 1977/2017, a large rectangular cuboid space made from a couple of pieces of string, white painted planes on the wall, and single white lines in oil stick on the dark floor, took me straight to Pape’s “Ttéias,” a series of monumental metallic string installations begun in 1976.

Color (or the lack thereof), line, and place (the last almost always referenced in her titles) are of equal importance in Okumura’s works and in her intention to relate to the viewer. The simple extended geometric forms challenge one to consider why and how people make art, as well as its relation to its surroundings and to those who encounter it. Okumura’s works don’t hide anything—they blatantly expose their facture and they bring forth complex spatial ideas in very simple terms. They don’t need explaining to impact people and stimulate a sense of empathy—in adult or child, initiated in art or not. This transparency, simplicity and attention to human-scale relations make Okumura’s oeuvre even more relevant today than it was at its conception.

Camila Belchior