Although Lygia Pape (1927–2004) is one of the most significant artists in Brazilian history, chances are the name won’t ring a bell. This phenomenal artist has often been put in the shadow by younger, better-known Brazilian contemporaries, such as Ernesto Neto. Nearly 13 years after her death, however, all eyes are on Pape, who finally gets the recognition she duly deserves with a retrospective at London’s Serpentine Gallery.
As much as Pape’s work is experimental, it is also difficult to categorize, as she moved fluidly between the mediums of painting, installation, performance art, poetry and film. A desire to challenge formal boundaries and conceptual limits remains the red thread throughout her multifaceted work.
It is probably this innovative spirit that lead her to becoming an integral part of the birth of two major Brazilian art movements. In the 1950’s Pape participated in the Concretism movement which was inspired by the abstractionist styles of Europe such as Bauhaus and Cercle et Carré (‘Circle and Square’). Rather than merely adopting the style, Pape and fellow Brazilian artists drew on their national state of affairs by reflecting on the growing political oppression of the authoritarian regime. Later Pape was among the founding members of a movement called Neo-Concretism, which united formal severity with much freer experimentation.
Even though Pape was politically active, her work isn’t didactic but is charged with emotion encouraging subjectivity and the viewer to discover the many-sided meanings of her work. Just take a look at Pape’s hypnotizing film ‘Eat Me’ (1975), which is the first thing you see upon entering the gallery, featuring a tightly framed, extreme close-up of a bearded mouth forming O-shapes and sticking its tongue out. Talk about an impactful first impression. The pure strangeness of the mouth’s abstraction accompanied by a sensuous, sultry 70’s guitar track makes ‘Eat Me’ irresistible to watch while experiencing emotions ranging from disgust to intrigue.
Moving from the films to a second, quieter gallery, exhibiting Pape’s mostly monochromatic paintings and drawings, it is hard to believe I am viewing works by the same artist. The conceptual films are a striking contrast to Pape’s earlier paintings, woodcuts and ink drawings which exude a more peaceful beauty achieved by the minimal means of parallel lines in black ink on white paper.
In another room, my eyes scan the minute details of one of Pape’s more known pieces ‘Book of Time’ (1961 – 63) – a collection of 365 small wooden objects, exploring the theme of time. The squares span across the whole wall of the gallery, featuring geometrical shapes painted in primary colours, each one different from the next, breaking the monotony of days comprised of similar elements.
The final treat of Magnetic Space is exactly what the title promises: a mesmerizing display of what looks like golden sunbeams leaking through the windows of a pitch-black dark room. Several columns of gold thread span from floor to the ceiling, travelling in different directions bringing light into the dark. The installation creates a radiating optical effect, once again proving Pape’s experimental brilliance and the versatility of her repertoire.
The exhibition is organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in collaboration with Projeto Lygia Pape and the Serpentine Gallery.
Magnetic Space | Lygia Pape Retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery
Open daily, 10am – 6pm
Please note that the Gallery will be closed December Saturday 24th, Sunday 25th, Monday 26th, 2011 and January Sunday 1st, 2012.
Words by Eve Keskinen
TagsEve Keskinen, Lygia Pape, Magnetised, Serpentine Gallery,