On display at Tate Modern
- Display Room: A View from Sao Paulo: Abstraction and Society (Room 2)
- Display Theme: Level 2: Artist and Society
This work is an aluminium sculpture by the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. It is an articulated work formed from twelve identical triangular pieces of aluminium sheeting along with a further six pieces cut into quarter-circle-shaped segments, all of which are hinged together with steel pins. It can be moved by hand into a variety of configurations and thus has no fixed shape or dimensions, and as such it appears as a combination of crisp geometric lines and curved edges, which change in their interrelationships when its hinges are manipulated. Depending on its arrangement, the shiny surface of the sculpture reflects light in a way that is unique to that formation. The hinges themselves are an integral part of this sculpture, and not simply functional elements that allow the viewer to change its shape, since they seem to represent the poetic and fluid nature of the work and its participatory quality.
Creature-Maquette (320) (or Bicho-Maquete (320) in Portuguese) was made in 1964 when Clark was living and working Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From 1959 and into the 1960s the artist made a series of geometric, hinged aluminium sculptures which she titled Bichos – a term that translates from Portuguese to English as ‘Creatures’ – for which this sculpture is a working maquette or model. Clark stated in 1960 that ‘I gave the name Bichos to my works of this period, because their characteristics are fundamentally organic. Furthermore, the hinge between the planes reminds me of a backbone’ (quoted in Butler and Pérez-Oramas 2014, p.160). Clark’s fascination with the hinge stemmed from her admiration for this basic element in architecture in the form of the physical joints between doors and windows. For Clark, hinges contained great potential for authentic spatial harmony, as well as representing the intersecting bones in an animal’s body (see Butler and Pérez-Oramas 2014, p.73).
The Bicho works were intended to be manipulated by hand so that they offered multiple possible forms that could only be determined through the participation of the viewer, as Clark has explained:
The Bicho has its own circuit of movements that reacts to the beholder’s stimuli. It is not composed of still, independent forms that can be indefinitely handled at will, as in a game. On the contrary, its parts are functionally related to each other, as in a real organism. Their movement is independent.
(Quoted in Butler and Pérez-Oramas 2014, p.160.)
This aspect of the work indicates Clark’s increasing interest during the 1960s in the interpretation of art as a lived experience that emphasises sensory and bodily encounters with form. As the art historian Zeuler Lima has observed, ‘less than practicing at the edge of art, as some of her commentators have suggested, Clark incessantly – and sometimes painfully – searched for a renovated purposes in art … she expanded their reach to sensorial and existential dimensions’ (Lima in Butler and Pérez-Oramas 2014, p.75).
Creature-Maquette (320) and other Bicho works produced by Clark in the 1950s and 1960s can be seen in the context of the artist’s broader approach to abstraction. Clark rejected the rationalist attitude towards abstract art based on geometry and mathematics that was propounded by the concrete art movement in Brazil at this time, instead asserting that abstract compositions should be open to poetic expression and audience involvement. Clark, along with other Brazilian artists such as Hélio Oiticica, formed the neo-concrete movement in Brazil in 1959, and her abstract sculptures of the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, such as this one owned by Tate, reflect these new concerns while also indicating Clark’s transition from her previously more representational work towards abstract spatial arrangements (see Butler and Pérez-Oramas 2014, p.74). This can also be seen in her series of Matchbox Structures that she began to produce in the same year that she created Creature-Maquette (320), which are made from assemblages of matchboxes held together with glue and painted with a gouache finish, and are small enough to be held in the hand.
Dawn Ades (ed.), Art in Latin America: The Modern Era 1820–1980, New Haven and London 1989, pp.219–21.
Monica Amor, ‘From Work to Frame, In Between, and Beyond: Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, 1959–1964’, Grey Room, vol.38, no.38, 2010, pp.20–37.
Cornelia H. Butler and Luis Pérez-Oramas, Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2014.
Supported by Christie’s.