Lygia Clark
Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (56) 1957

Artwork details

Lygia Clark 1920–1988
Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (56)
Planos em superficie modulada (estudo) (56)
Date 1957
Medium Graphite and gouache on paper
Dimensions Unconfirmed: 250 x 350 mm
Acquisition Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2012


Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (56) is a work in graphite pencil and gouache on paper produced in 1957 by the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. It depicts partial views of two cuboid forms positioned diagonally across a rectangular, horizontally orientated sheet of paper. The compositional elements are drawn within a rectilinear frame outlined in dark graphite, leaving a narrow margin alongside the outer edges of the paper. The side planes of the rectangular shapes in the composition are rendered in medium grey and dark grey tones with gouache paint, with the foremost planes left uncoloured, creating the effect of light and shade. The edges of these geometric forms are drawn in graphite pencil.

Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (56) is part of a series of preparatory drawings and paintings which Clark produced between 1954 and 1958 when she was living and working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These works all feature variations on the theme of the plane, the square and other geometrical motifs (see also Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (61) 1957, Tate T13712). More specifically, the artist created Planes on Modulated Surface (56) in 1957, preceded by Modulated Surfaces, which she began to make in 1955 and completed in 1957. These works are experiments that explore the properties of ‘real space’, its relationship to geometric abstract forms, and the creation of fictive, illusionistic space in painting. Their compositional elements interchange between figure and ground without imposing a set hierarchy between the two. During the same period, Clark also produced a series of paintings titled Counter-reliefs, in which she explored similar issues related to real and pictorial space. As Clark wrote in 1960:

The plane is a concept invented by man with a practical objective: to satisfy the need for balance … Demolishing the plane as support of expression is to gain awareness of unity as a living and organic whole. We exist, and now the moment has come to reunite all the fragments of the kaleidoscope into which the idea of man was broken, reduced to pieces … The crutches that protected him fall far from his arms. He feels like a child which must learn to balance himself in order to survive.
(Clark in Butler 2014, pp.158–9.)

With her Modulated Surfaces and Planes on Modulated Surface studies, Clark explores the different relationships between planes, lines and the resulting abstract forms in generating three-dimensional spatial possibilities on a flat surface.

These artworks anticipate Clark’s Bichos (‘Creatures’) that the artist made in 1959 and during the 1960s. The Bichos consist of structures made of hinged aluminium plates which, when displayed, were intended to be moved by hand by the viewer (see, for instance, Creature-Maquette (320) 1964, Tate T13710). With the Bichos, Clark carried on her exploration of the transition of form from the pictorial into three-dimensional space.

Further reading
Guy Brett, Manuel J. Borja-Villel, Paulo Herkenhoff and others, Lygia Clark, exhibition catalogue, Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona 1998.
Monica Amor, ‘From Work to Frame, In Between, and Beyond: Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, 1959–1964’, Grey Room, no.38, 2010, pp.20–37.
Cornelia H. Butler and Luis Pérez-Oramas (eds.), Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2014.

Natasha Adamou
May 2016

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