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Threads and Fire

Lygia Pape, Ttéia 1, C (1976-2004; reconstructed 2017), golden thread, nails, wood, and lighting (prior installation view) © Projeto Lygia Pape. Photo credit: Paula Pape

BY Christian Viveros-Fauné
art and culture critic

In Must See

Lygia Pape: Ttéia 1, C (1976–2004)

For the European avant-garde, a funny thing happened on the way to the tropics. In transit from the Old World to the New, the rigid abstract vocabulary of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich burst its squares-and-circles straitjacket, became multi-sensorial and developed a social conscience. The renowned Brazilian artists Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape realized this transformation. Of the three, the Rio de Janeiro-born Pape (1927-2004) was the most elusive and unclassifiable.

Starting in the mid-1950s, Pape moved away from making doctrinal Concrete art (according to Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), abstract art should remain free of all naturalistic or symbolic associations) and towards experimental, expressive and subjective objects and installations. In time, Pape’s art was pegged as belonging to a new movement: Neo-Concretism. Along with the work of Clark and Oiticica, it was increasingly in tune with the daily experience of living in Brazil.

Starting in 1976, Pape began making installations of rope or metallic thread woven in columns from floor to ceiling. First realized in 1978 in collaboration with university students, Pape’s thread-based installations—she called them Ttéias, after her deliberate misspelling of the Portuguese word téia (web)—have been exhibited in museums and biennials around the world, including Venice in 2009. This frankly hallucinatory installation, titled Ttéia 1, C, is currently on view at The Met Breuer in the first major U.S. museum exhibition devoted to Pape’s work (“Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms”, until 23 July).

Placed in a darkened gallery and lit dramatically, Ttéia 1, C is composed of columns of golden thread that appear like beams of sunlight entering a room. These lines evoke the compositions of earlier woodblock prints Pape made in the 1950s, when she sought to upset traditional distinctions between figure and ground. In amplifying her two-dimensional abstract works to architectural scale, Pape effectively fused the space of art with that of the viewer.

Teresita Fernández: Fire (America) and Charred Landscape (America), 2017

Teresita Fernández, Fire (America) (2017). Installation view. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo credit: Elisabeth Bernstein

An artist best known for her prominent public sculptures and unconventional use of materials, Fernández’s work is characterized by an interest in perception and the psychology of looking. In her latest exhibition at Lehmann Maupin on Chrystie Street (“Fire (America)”, until 20 May), the 2005 MacArthur Fellowship recipient has taken a unique, urgent and unorthodox view of the American landscape.

Consisting of a 16 foot-wide glazed ceramic wall panel that depicts a nocturnal landscape engulfed in flames, entitled Fire (America), as well as a 100-foot-long panoramic drawing, which extends around the gallery, made of built-up charcoal applied directly to the walls, called Charred Landscape (America), Fernández’s immersive installation envelops the viewer. Visitors are surrounded with the sight and smell of flame, charred wood and smoke. The sense is of standing in the middle of a three-alarm fire.

The twin works expertly merge the material and the conceptual. Because glazed clay is fired at a high temperature and charcoal is routinely used for drawing, her highly detailed orange and black mosaic of a field in flames, and her horizon line made with burnt wood, materialize a perceptual-metaphorical field that marshals the physical, the tactile, the olfactory and the poetic.

According to Fernández, “landscape is about the history of people in places and how we position ourselves within those spaces”. Rather than a framed, static view of the American landscape, the artist has selected to present her view of the present-day U.S. as both a picture and an installation: together, both works reveal a sensorial space to viewers, as well as an urgent reflection on one’s own place in the world.

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