Lygia Clark: Painting as a field of experimentation


The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Painting as a field of experimentation 1948-1958. Pioneer of abstraction, Lygia Clark (Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1920-Río de Janeiro, Brazil, 1988) is a fundamental artist of the second half of the 20th century. The exhibition offers a new analysis of the artist's formative years, a crucial period from 1948 to 1958, when she experimented with figuration and abstraction to the point of articulating the powerful visual language that would define the creations of her maturity. In addition to a significant representation of her initial figurative stage, this exhibition brings together paintings from the major series Clark created during this period, providing an essential glimpse into the first decade of her artistic career.

This exhibition on the early works of Lygia Clark, which coincides with the centenary of the artist's birth, devotes renewed attention, on an international scale, to an essential creator on the post-war Latin American scene.

By approaching painting as an "experimental field," an expression the artist used in a key lecture she gave in 1956, Clark sought to redefine the medium by pushing the boundaries of traditional painting. She devoted herself to art without any specific formal training, integrating herself into the artistic environment of Rio de Janeiro in the late 1940s and participating in fundamental movements such as concrete art and geometric abstraction throughout the 1950s. This exhibition focuses on Clark's evolution through three chronologically structured sections: "The Early Years, 1948-1952", "Geometric Abstraction, 1953-1956" and "Variation of Form": Modulation of Space, 1957-1958″. Each block presents the ideas that permeated Clark's work at the time and meticulously reflects his artistic development through a selection of works.

This hanging of Lygia Clark's first creations, which coincides with the centenary of the artist's birth, devotes a renewed attention, of international dimension, to an essential artist of the post-war Latin American scene. The museum would like to thank the Lygia Clark Cultural Association of Rio de Janeiro and the artist's family for their enormous support for this exhibition.


The early years, 1948-1952

Lygia Clark "The Cellist" (O Violoncelista), 1951 - Oil on canvas 105.5 x 81 x 2.7 cm
Private collection © Courtesy Cultural Association "The World of Lygia Clark" X.2017.23

During her first stage as an artist, Lygia Clark approaches, through charcoal drawings and oil paintings, various traditional themes such as portraiture, still life, domestic or studio interiors, landscape and architecture. These works illustrate Clark's early treatment of line, form, colour and space, which served as a solid foundation for her later creations. Clark's extra-academic training with modern Brazilian artists Roberto Burle Marx and Zélia Ferreira Salgado also brought key elements to his early works, such as indigenous chromaticism, stylized form and surface flatness.

Clark continued to pave her own path in abstraction during her short stay in Paris between 1950 and 1952, when she briefly studied painting with the modern masters Fernand Léger and Árpád Szenes, the latter having gone into exile in Río de Janeiro with Maria Helena Vieira da Silva between 1940 and 1947.
Clark's production from 1952 onwards ranged from graphite drawings and architectural paintings to modular colour compositions based on prismatic geometries and sharp triangular shapes.
Before his return to Rio de Janeiro in June 1952, the Endoplastic Institute in Paris hosted his first solo exhibition, which certainly included some of the pieces in this section.

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Geometric abstraction, 1953-1956

Lygia Clark Untitled, 1954 - Oil on canvas 56 x 42 cm
Joâo Sattamini Collection, on loan to the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói
Courtesy Cultural Association "The World of Lygia Clark" X.2019.192

When Lygia Clark returned to Rio de Janeiro in August 1952, concrete art began to develop in Brazil, first with the appearance of Grupo Ruptura in São Paulo in 1952, then with Grupo Frente in Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Clark joined the latter, along with his contemporaries Aluísio Carvão, Willys de Castro, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape and Ivan Serpa.
Like its equivalent in São Paulo, Grupo Frente absorbs the ideologies of European concrete art and adopts the strict principles of pure form and objectivity, which are opposed to the naturalism and figuration that prevailed in early Brazilian modernity.
Clark, in particular, adopted a unique geometric aesthetic that echoed the influence of modern geometric abstraction in Brazil and participated in the group's group exhibitions between 1954 and 1956.

This section of the exhibition presents the precise geometric compositions Clark created in 1953 and other important series that led her to question the spatial conventions of the plane, such as Discovery of the Organic Line (1954) and Destruction of the Frame (1954).

In addition, this section showcases three architectural models that have been preserved, the Interior Models (1955), which clearly show his conception of a dynamic space. These models, in which the influence of his former masters Fernand Léger and Roberto Burle Marx is perceptible to some extent, reflect Clark's research on the relationship between art and architecture, which would later take shape in the easel paintings of smooth, flat and modular structures that make up his Modulated Surfaces series (1955).

By 1956, Clark had already adopted a more vibrant and varied chromaticism, extending into abstract compositions of zigzag and diagonal forms, sharp angles and rhythmic patterns.

Variation of form: the modulation of space, 1957-1958

Lygia Clark Plans sur surface modulada, series B, no.7, version 1 (Planos em superfície modulada, series B, no.7, versão 1), 1958 - Industrial painting on wood 100 x 100 cm
Collection Rose and Alfredo Setúbal © Courtesy Cultural Association "The World of Lygia Clark" X.2017.108

Towards the end of the 1950s, Lygia Clark undertook a thorough and methodical investigation of pictorial form, creating a series of large monochrome compositions based on positive and negative planes. Her analysis of linear form in multi-dimensional space ultimately seeks to manipulate and renew the geometry of the plane.

This section displays three important series of two-dimensional works created in 1957 and 1958: Plans on Modulated Surfaces (1957-58), Modulated Spaces (1958) and a new version of Modulated Surfaces (1957-58).

These pieces, some of which were exhibited at the 1968 Venice Biennale, show the artist's ability to conceive a whole set of linear configurations in a series of black and white geometric shapes. In addition, they are accompanied by a selection of collages that explore the mutability of line, colour and space generated by means of intersecting lines and chromatic contrasts.

Biography of Lygia Clark

Lygia Clark: "Pensamento mudo" (1971)

Born in 1920 in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais (Brazil), Lygia Clark received at the end of the 1940s a rather informal artistic training in Rio de Janeiro with the Brazilian artists Roberto Burle Marx and Zélia Ferreira Salgado. In 1950, she went to Paris to continue her training with the modern masters Fernand Léger and Árpád Szènes. Her first exhibition, entitled L. Clark-Ribeiro, was held in 1952 at the Institut Endoplastique de Paris, where she presented her first experiments with abstraction and constructive forms in two-dimensional works.

On her return to Brazil at the end of that same year, she exhibited for the first time alone in her native country with the hanging entitled Lygia Clark 1950-1952, held at the Ministry of Education in Río de Janeiro.
Recognized as a promising artist, Clark began to participate in important regional group exhibitions, such as the first Exposição Nacional de Arte Abstrata (1953) and the São Paulo Biennale (1953). In 1954 she joined the avant-garde collective called Grupo Frente, with her contemporaries Aluísio Carvão, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape, among others, and took part in the group's revolutionary exhibitions until 1956.
Following the principles of geometric abstraction, his work of this period opts for a rigorous representation of geometric shapes and bright colours giving a feeling of order.

She also participated in other important exhibitions, such as the Salão Nacional de Arte Moderna (1956 and 1957), the first Exposição Nacional de Arte Concreta (1957) and the São Paulo Biennial (1957). Towards the end of the 1950s, Clark's aesthetic and philosophical concerns met those of the Brazilian neoconcrete movement that emerged in 1959, which rejected the impersonal and objective nature of concrete abstraction. Neo-concretists conceive of their works as something halfway between art and life, and as experiences in the public sphere. Clark, a founding member, participated in the 1959 Exposição Neoconcreta and created three-dimensional pieces that invite the viewer to actively participate in the work of art.

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From 1964 until the early 1970s, Clark lived in Paris. There she created a series of unconventional works that ran parallel to her long psychoanalysis with psychiatrist Pierre Fédida, which led her to adopt the idea of a therapeutic art form. Her research coincides with revolutionary events around the world, such as those of May 68 in France, and the emergence of a new generation of Brazilian artists involved in movements such as Nova Objtividade (new objectivity) and Tropicália (tropicalism).

Clark's works from this period incorporate elements that stimulate the body through the eyes, ears and nose to integrate the senses without giving primacy to the visual. His artistic research during this period focuses on a therapeutic practice aimed at activating subjective and bodily awareness.

After 1978, in the final stages of his career, Clark devoted himself exclusively to his psychoanalytical work.

She died in Rio de Janeiro in 1988.


As part of the project Didaktika and the program Approach the art, sponsored by the BBK, visitors will have additional information about Lygia Clark's journey in one of the educational areas on the third floor.
On the one hand, the aim was to contextualize the Latin American art scene between the 1940s and 1950s and, on the other, to highlight Clark's pioneering role in the development of investigations and experiments between body and mind. Halfway between art and therapy, she worked on this issue during the 1960s and 1970s.

The screening of a documentary also collects the testimonies of her relatives, leaders of Lygia Clark's cultural association O Mundo.

In addition, the pedagogical space presents a series of copies of its sensory objects, which reinforces the interactive aspect of the visitor experience.

In addition, the following activities have been scheduled in connection with the exhibition:

  • Round Table Painting as a field of experimentation 1948-1958 (March 4)

This round table on the work of Lygia Clark will bring together several important specialists in modern and contemporary Latin American art. These include Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães, associate curator of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and curator of this exhibition, and Adele Nelson, assistant professor of art history and deputy director of the Center for Latin American Visual Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and Paulo Miyada, curator of the Tomie Ohtake Institute and deputy curator of the 34th São Paulo Biennial, will discuss the first stage of Clark's artistic career, based on the selected works and the three chronological sections of the exhibition.

  • Shared Reflections* : Unique visits led by professionals from the Museum's Curatorial and Education departments who offer different points of view on the contents of this new exhibition.

Curatorial vision Lygia Clark (March 6) with Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães, associate curator of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and of the exhibition.

Key Concepts Lygia Clark (April 22), with Marta Arzak, Deputy Director of Education and Interpretation of the Museum.
* With the support of the Fundación Vizcaína Aguirre.

Curator: Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães, Associate Curator, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation

Exhibition Painting as a field of experimentation 1948-1958 at the Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa - From March 6 to May 24, 2020

To go further :

  • Lygia Clark: From work to event - We're the mold. It's up to you to give the breath - Edition of the Museum of Fine Arts of Nantes : This book presents the experimental proposals developed over the last 25 years of Lygia Clark's artistic trajectory. Texts by Suely Rolnik, Laurence Louppe, José Gil, and interviews with Hubert Godard and Pierre Fédida offer an original analysis of the question of the body in Lygia Clark's work. Reproduction of articles on the artist that appeared in the journal Robho (1967-1971), as well as a text by the Brazilian art critic Mário Pedrosa, written in 1963.

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