This exhibition of Catalan artist Àngels Ribé (b. 1943), presenting work made between 1969 and 1984, not only demonstrated how prescient the artist was but also offered a comparison with conceptual art today. Most striking was how formally satisfying Ribé’s pieces are. Ribé (who worked in Paris, Chicago and New York before moving back to Barcelona in 1980) and her contemporaries, like Robert Morris, Vito Acconci and Sol LeWitt, were visual artists first, experimenting with expanding the tradition beyond painting and sculpture—whereas these days conceptualism is a starting point. Ribé’s work is richly varied—photography, film, sculpture, installation—and not so much about the body as about her body, and how it, and she, related to space and the world. It is personal without being confessional.
The gateway to the exhibition was a 10-foot-high, room-filling labyrinth (first created in 1969) made of acid-yellow transparent PVC that was loosely suspended from wire. The work’s concept and yellow color eerily anticipate Olafur Eliasson. Unlike traditional labyrinths, this piece allowed visitors to see in, and those inside could not only see out but could identify the exit without knowing how to get there. Although they were not familiar with one another’s work at the time, Ribé and Fred Sandback were exploring some of the same ideas; in Ribé’s 3 points 1 (1970), a single line of string is stretched taut across a corner of a gallery. When bright light is directed on the piece, the string and its shadows form a triangle.
Among Ribé’s many photographs on view were those of gentle interventions in nature. A Perspex rectangle, like an oversize microscope slide, is placed on the shore, exposing a cross section of an incoming wave. Another rectangle, upright on a lawn, captures raindrops. In a forest, Ribé stretched rows of string from tree to tree, resembling rays of sunlight (Wave Intersection, Rain Intersection, Intersection of Light, all 1969).
Ribé’s evocative film and slide-based works are simply executed. For Hide the Dolls, Here Come the Thieves (1977), the room was dark and had two red circles of light in its center, where one might stand to view the slides being projected on the far wall: 50 color images of Ribé’s hands, variously tense and clenched or open and relaxed. The hands evoke different states of mind and radiate palpable emotion. Simultaneously, one heard two recordings of Ribé’s throaty voice from either side of the room, like two parts of her personality in dialogue, sometimes talking over each other.
Although early Conceptual art developed in reaction to totalitarianism and capitalism, it was often more metaphorical than overtly political, which gave it a poetry that’s nowhere more evident than in Ribé’s work. There is refreshing purity and lack of self-consciousness in this art that didn’t yet have an audience and wasn’t intended to illustrate or prove anything-and that holds the personal and the political delicately and inextricably intertwined.
Photo: Àngels Ribé: Wave Intersection, 1969, black-and-white photograph, 24 by 39½ inches; at MACBA.