In 1952, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, seven artists put forward a manifesto declaring their intent to break away from the naturalist painting then popular in the country and to abandon a long history of representational art entirely. Like the industrialization that was taking place in the city around them, their work would be rational, mathematical, and would be rooted in the notion that artworks could be understood and admired literally—as materials worked into compositions of lines and color.
These seven artists—Anatol Władysław, Geraldo de Barros, Leopoldo Haar, Lothar Charoux, Luís Sacilotto, Kazmer Féjer, and Waldemar Cordeiro—were Grupo Ruptura. Their manifesto marked the beginning of Brazil’s Concrete Art movement.
Originally conceived in 1930 by Theo van Doesburg—a Dutch artist and architect and founding member of the De Stijl art movement—Concretism largely found its way to Brazil via Swiss artist and designer Max Bill who organized the movement’s first international exhibition in Basel in 1944. Fellow Bauhaus artist and influential color theorist, Josef Albers, would also greatly impact Brazil’s Concrete Art movement and Grupo Ruptura’s only female member, Judith Lauand (b. 1922).
Lauand was originally schooled in figurative art at the Escola de Belas-Artes de Araraquara where she graduated in 1950. In 1953, however, she found herself immersed in modern abstract art from around the world when she took on the role of docent at the monumental Il Sao Paolo Biennial. On display at the exhibition were major works such as Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, and Alexander Calder’s mobiles. Also on view were pieces from Grupo Ruptura artists Geraldo de Barros, Lothar Charoux, and Luiz Sacilotto.
Lauand laid eyes on Concrete Art and never looked back. Following her participation in the fourth edition of the Salao Paulisto de Arte Moderna in 1955, alongside members of Grupo Ruptura, Lauand was invited to join the group. She would become one of Concrete Art’s most devoted adherents. Judith Lauand: Brazilian Concrete Abstractions, now on view at Driscoll Babcock Galleries, is a collection of works spanning Lauand’s long career.
Like many Concrete artists, Lauand makes use of the grid. Speaking about the grid, art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss writes, “Flattened, geometricized, ordered, it is antinatural, antimimetic, antireal. It is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature.” It aligns perfectly with the founding principles of Concrete Art. Lauand’s Sem Titulo c.1958 is based on a 24×24 inch grid, consisting of a series of 24 squares of equal size. The varying hues with which the squares are brushed, however, lend the piece a sense of movement—also central to Concretism. The left side of the piece dominated by grey, the right by yellow, the neatly zig-zagging ascending/descending line formed at the center where the colors meet create a sense of fluctuation between highs and lows.
While maintaining the grid, Sem Titulo, 1965 has an almost found-object quality, consisting of strips of fabric woven and thumbtacked to canvas—a collection of things that might be found in any artist’s studio and even in many homes. The tan, textured canvas shows through in distinct contrast to the brightly colored strips, becoming an integral part of the piece. Despite its simple, quotidian aspects, Sem Titulo, 1965 appears to be strongly based on Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie inspired by the epicenter of bustling New York City. The unfinished quality, and off-level lines of Sem Titulo, 1965 may pay homage to Mondrian’s unique process of tacking and re-tacking small pieces of colored paper tape to the walls of his studio to arrange his compositions, a process which he did use to create Broadway Boogie Woogie.
The influences of Max Bill and Josef Albers can be seen clearly in Lauand’s Sem Titulo, 2001, while exhibiting a distinct approach to composition and color. Bearing a strong resemblance to Bill’s Vier mal drei gleiche farbquanten, 1990 in lines and Albers’ 1961 series Homage To The Square in color palette, Sem Titulo, 2001 elicits a unique sense of pressure and release. Unlike the vectors displayed in Vier mal drei gleiche farbquanten, 1990, which often shoot uninterrupted from one edge of the piece to another, the vectors of Sem Titulo, 2001 are interrupted, broken. The unusual, thin, glowing red lines which can be seen at times where the larger block of red on the left meets the other colors create a feeling of combustion at the center of the piece. The colors both connect and collide. Both fusion and fission are evoked.
Though revered as the “Damo do Concretismo” or “First Lady of Concretism” in Brazil, Lauand’s work is still little known to American audiences and deserves a look here in the States.
Judith Lauand: Brazilian Concrete Abstractions
June 15 – July 28, 2017
Driscoll Babcock Galleries
525 W. 25th St.
New York, NY 10001