Guggenheim Bilbao presents a fascinating decade in the leading abstract artist, Lygia Clark’s life, in the exhibition Lygia Clark: Painting as an Experimental Field, 1948-1958.
Anyone’s twenties to thirties are full of excitements, discoveries, self-defining moments, disasters, regrets, initiatives and landings. Someone, who luckily survives their twenties, expects their thirties to be lighter and more grounded which is an illusion. Indeed, we do live as if that decade is the last one in which we can discover ourselves and make important choices, and it’s our last decade to be silly. Imagine this decade to be post-war. You are a Brazilian woman, on the verge of a divorce, with three children, a self-thought painter with a hunger for becoming a part of the avantgarde artist community and burning progressive ideas. You go to Paris, then to Rio; you look around you and don’t only get fascinated by the new things you see, but also the new ways you develop to see the same, dull environment that you are in. Your life and art become an experiment in the field. Congratulations, you are Lygia Clark from the 1940s to the late 1950s.
The exhibition at Guggenheim Bilbao creates a curious case of Clark’s great artistic persona. The show starts with a gorgeous self-styled black and white portrait of hers in her studio in Rio de Janeiro, taken in 1953. Fashionably dressed in perfectly made hair, modest jewellery, a skirt matching her paintings hung behind, she comfortably sits on the floor, holding a painting, looking at it with a raised left eyebrow and pride.
The show focuses on the decade that witnesses the transition in her art with many key moments. Clark starts her career with traditional subjects, such as portraiture, interiors and urban landscapes. These could be seen as pre-defined female spaces and details from the domestic life. She creates portraits of family and friends, and studies of interior scenes in charcoal drawings and oil paintings. Over a short period of time, the interior becomes political and abstract. She starts redefining spaces and extending the limits of traditional painting.
In the post-war era of the early 1940s in Brazil, she becomes friends with political figures in exile and joins Rio’s artist communities. In the 1950s, she travels to Paris and starts understanding abstraction and colour differently and embraces a unique geometric aesthetic. The representation of architecture in her works changes with the added structural elements in her compositions. The textures also change; she applies oil on canvas in a performative manner, more like drawing with pencil. Her use of colours become more symbolic; such as blue represents the sky, green works as plants and yellow as the sun.
Clark adapts her ways of seeing. At the age of 27, she is divorced with three children, relaunching herself, and constantly discovering and embracing new things. Later on, she abandons oil and starts using industrial materials. Canvas is replaced by wood; frames are gone for good; and sides are also painted. Another black and white photograph, this time from 1957, shows her in a studio, wearing a mask and applying spray paint. Her white shirt is dirty; she doesn’t wear any jewellery; and her art is more performative then ever.
The organic line is very important to Clark. She highlights the line of emptiness, which is the space, created by two panels joined imperfectly. Abandoning frame means that the work connects with the external space freely. Her works ask the viewer to connect with them and get closer. In her installations of abstract interior spaces, her paintings become the walls. Clark’s monochromatic compositions are investigations of possibilities for manipulation of plane surfaces. Investigating squares and triangles almost becomes an obsession. She comes to conclusion that her painting is more of a sculptural artwork made out of paintings. It feels like an artistic transformation of a lifetime, but only in ten years Clark’s practice develops from very traditional art forms to the point of experiments in depth, volume, movement, perspectives and sculptural.
Overall, the exhibition brings together a great selection of 83 works from this curios and hardworking era in Lygia Clark’s art. It leaves the audience with an intrigue to explore about the rest of her artistic life, which has a more performance based and participatory approach to painting. She has always been inspired by life, experience of physical spaces, the interaction with objects, and the relation with others. Her paintings from the 1940s and 1950s resonate greatly with the reality we live today, where 1.5 billion people are forced to reimage and repurpose the spaces they live in due to the global lockdown. Now many of us are back out and about, why not get inspiration from Lygia Clarks’ paintings from 70 years ago to see spaces we live in or interact with differently. The exhibition is now extended until 25 October 2020.