Surveying the work of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920–88) across MoMA’s open spaces and freestanding walls, one might think the Russian Constructivists were smiling down from heaven, approving of the way their modernist enterprise was picked up and advanced by Clark and other Latin American artists.
First in the exhibition were paintings dating from the late 1940s and early ’50s showing how Clark was able to extract geometric abstraction from architectural features such as stairways. This led to hard-edge painting with like and contrasting colors abutting one another in ways reminiscent of the paintings of Ad Reinhardt and Ellsworth Kelly, with Clark adding her own signature by sometimes incising frames into the paintings themselves. From this vantage point in the exhibition, the viewer could see ahead to Clark’s 1950s Neo-Concrete constructions in red, white, and black—beginning with a vitrine of altered matchboxes painted in solid colors and then proceeding to a room filled with tile-size wood panels that were colored with industrial paint.
Clark’s sculptures culminated in the 1960s with a cornucopia of metal constructions called Bichos (critters), which feature semicircles and planar forms attached to one another by metal hinges. Installed at intervals in the galleries were examples of sculptures that could be manipulated by spectators. These were reminiscent of work by Venezuela’s Jesús Rafael Soto that relies on people moving through the hanging geometric assemblages.
Clark’s final, 1970s-era phase of therapy-based participatory art contained dollops of humor, such as that found in the giant hat construction she made with help from friends, who paraded it through the streets.
This latter body of work fits into MoMA’s recent explorations of artists who happen to be women but, more importantly, of those whose goal is to turn their inward searches into meaningful art.
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 90.