Radical Geometry

08 September 2014

Radical Geometry
Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection

5 July — 28 September 2014
Royal Academy
The Sackler Wing, Burlington House
by john ros

LONDON — As one climbs through the pot pourri of buildings that is the Royal Academy of Art, anticipation mounts within. The Radical Geometry Exhibit awaits at the top of the The Sackler Wing. The strange mezzanine entrance combines an odd mix of architecture dwarfed by large stone sculptures. Anticipation takes an ominous tone as it is not exactly clear where the exhibition starts. One feels like an explorer, gaining a sense of history and progress. Though housed in a British vessel, the undertones of politics and industry begin to hum, perhaps unknowingly, through the viewer.

You may find an obvious connection to the geometrical and even minimal, but to approach the exhibit with these mindsets may do yourself and the work a disservice. The curated spaces ask more of the viewer. Time shifts as we are transported to the era of utopian social political heights, philosophical theories and industrial advancements. This exhibit focuses on the works of artists from the main urban and international hubs throughout South America, including Montevideo, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janerio and Caracas. These artists reveled in the potential around them, depicting the next great generation of international-meets-new world. The excitement and hope is visualized throughout the tightly-filled small exhibit.

The first room introduces the period primarily on canvas. A low kick-plate thirty or so inches out from the wall and five inches high runs along the perimeter of the gallery. It is an overly-designed element that oddly does not take away from the work. The labels are found directly below the artwork on the barrier plinth — a very successful choice.

Tomás Maldonado’s, Development of 14 Themes, 1951-52, hangs dominantly in the room. The most peculiar element to the work is not its subtle handling, or its richly painted surface, it is the over-abundance of cracks throughout the surface. One can only surmise that the work was purposely damaged by the artist as the circular cracks (as if punched from behind) and corner-rayed cracks (as if dropped on the corner) perpetuate a rather intricate vascular network throughout the piece. The cracks almost dominate the canvas as the subtle markings fade into the background. Whatever the cause of this damage, it seems to set the tone of the show while remarking on the period: optimistic and proud, looking to the past while integrating into the broader international audience, all while setting the pace for a new industrial utopia, one that may have left many behind. Research has not yielded any further information on the cracked surface.

Hélio Oiticica, Red Monochrome, c. 1959. Oil on plywood. 29.8 x 29.8 x 2.9 cm. Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. © Projeto Hélio Oiticica.

Hélio Oiticica, Red Monochrome, c. 1959.
Oil on plywood. 29.8 x 29.8 x 2.9 cm. Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. © Projeto Hélio Oiticica.

Hélio Oiticica’s, Red Monochrome, c. 1959, invites the viewer to the next gallery, which is also cluttered, but somehow not overwhelming. It seems to keep pace with the activity and excitement of the time. Again, to approach this work as typical minimalism would likely cause the viewer to go into apoplectic shock, but the pulse from the chaos seems more exacting and meaningful in this energetic time. Dominant Red Monochrome activates with several of Oiticica’s early two-dimensional works including Painting 9, 1959.

Rhod Rothfuss’, Yellow Quadrelateral, 1955; Willys de Castro’s, Active Object, 1961; and Lygia Clark’s, Study for Soft Work, 1959, hold broader conversations within the second gallery. Each promotes its own space while sharing thoughts and ideas with the other. The activity in this room feels like we were invited into a culmination of the discussions happening throughout the continent at this vital time, as if we might sit across the room from one another and discuss philosophies of the future of art. We quietly experience the product of those discussions through the subtle sounds translated.

The Third gallery immediately introduces Jesús Soto’s, Nylon Cube, 1990 in the foreground and Gego’s, Drawings without Paper in the background. Soto’s cube is, at its essence, pure illusion yet maintains an absolute poetry — not the easiest combination to obtain. The ultramarine cube hovers on the nylon itself, adding to the illusion of the cube floating in space. Likewise, Gego’s Drawings without Paper (1980′s) offer absolute poignancy. Their succinctness is not a product of over-simplification, rather, they seem to fall into place in perfect silence. In structure and gesture, they symbolize air and movement through the nuance of sculpted drawing. The self awareness of the wall-hung pieces seem much more secure and effective than the earlier series of mobile-like pieces; ie. Sphere, 1976.

The show is just big enough to get ideas flowing. You feel a part of the conversation and leave the space wanting to do more. The social and political action of these artists and their proximity within the international world allows this work to resonate — maybe more today than before. With our increasingly global culture we must respect the importance of our immediate cultural surroundings. Communities rely on the organization of its citizens. We must rally and fight for the future of our communities. To organize is to be inclusive and active members, fighting for the rights of all our citizens. In many ways this exhibit brings us back to that moment — recognizing the potential surrounding us. We must take this time as our own before it is too late.

Hélio Oiticica
Rhod Rothfuss
Willys de Castro
Lygia Clark
Jesús Soto
Carlos Cruz-Diez
Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt)
Alejandro Otero