Carmelo Arden Quin, Carres 1951 . Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2014 . © estate of Carmelo Arden Quin; courtesy Ignacio Pedronzo, Sammer Gallery Miami

Room 2 in Artist and Society

A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Carmelo Arden Quin, Carres  1951

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Fernand Léger, Two Women Holding Flowers  1954

Léger often painted two women together. The pairing of figures allowed him to explore the shapes and patterns created by the symmetrical image. Here the women are seen with their limbs intertwined, relaxed and at ease. One holds a flower, a symbol of natural beauty and fertility. The figures are drawn as outlines on an abstract background of bright coloured rectangles, giving the painting a sense of energy and movement.

Gallery label, February 2020

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Jean Hélion, Abstract Composition  1934

Hélion was an energetic promoter of abstract or non-figurative art. He believed qualities such as balance, rhythm and composition linked the most radical abstract art and the great art of the past. He helped to found the groups Art Concret and Abstraction-Création as forums for like-minded artists. These groups were deliberately international in outlook at a time of political nationalism and intolerance across Europe.

Gallery label, January 2019

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Kazimir Malevich, Dynamic Suprematism  1915 or 1916

Malevich’s abstract paintings belong to the intense period of artistic experimentation that developed in a turbulent period of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1915 Malevich abandoned figurative forms in favour of a purely creative experience of geometric abstraction. His first such work was a statement, as he painted a black square on a white canvas, marking a crucial moment for development of painting. Dynamic Suprematism belongs to a group of works he developed using clear geometric forms activated in space against a white background.

Gallery label, March 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Piet Mondrian, Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue  1935

Mondrian used a simple visual language in his work. This composition is a clear example of his technique. It consists of horizontal and vertical lines in black, with planes of white. It also features the three primary colours, from which all other colours are made by mixing. Through the structure and order of the elements, Mondrian was suggesting an idealised view of society. Each individual element contributes to the overall composition of the work. This was intended to symbolise the relationship between the individual and the collective.

Gallery label, June 2021

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Ellsworth Kelly, Gironde  1951

Kelly lived in Paris in 1948–54. Inspired by the surrealist practice of making drawings generated by chance operations, he would cut up his drawings into squares and rearrange the elements in collages. He also made a series of multi-panel paintings employing a square grid as an organising factor and made up of multiple configurations of linear marks like the rearranged fragments of a drawing. This painting (originally titled Yellow White) takes its title from the Gironde estuary in south west France where the mouths of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers meet.

Gallery label, May 2013

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Georges Vantongerloo, No. 98 2478 Red/135 Green  1936

Vantongerloo was one of the pioneers of a mathematical approach to abstract art. The first number in the title,’No.98’, is the figure Vantongerloo gave the work in his own catalogue. The rest of the numbers represent units of space in the painting. The basic unit (1) is the white rectangle and green stripe on the left of the bottom row. The second and third spaces along are each equivalent to two of these rectangles. Adding these numbers (1, 2, 2) cumulatively results in 1, 3 (1 2), 5 (3 2) for the green stripe section. The red row works on the same principle to give 2,4,7,8.

Gallery label, June 2021

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Nelson Leirner, Homage to Fontana II  1967

Homage to Fontana II is a playful tribute to Italian artist Lucio Fontana, who punctured or sliced canvases to create a new space beyond the surface of the painting. Leirner’s work replaces the cuts with zippers, revealing panels of differently coloured fabric. Originally, Leirner invited viewers to make their own reversible ‘cuts’ in the fabric by zipping and unzipping the panels. He planned to produce multiple versions of his Homage to Fontana works, to be sold at a very low cost. Leirner first exhibited at the 7th São Paulo Biennial in 1963. In 1969, he was one of several artists who boycotted the 10th Biennial to protest against the repressive actions of Brazil’s military dictatorship.

Gallery label, March 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Felicia Leirner, Composition  1962

This construction of crossed bars is a commemorative sculpture. Leirner associated it with her mournful ‘reflections upon life and death’ after the early death of her husband. This is one of her earliest abstract works. She began studying art at the age of forty-four, having previously trained as a singer.

Gallery label, January 2019

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Olle Baertling, Ardek  1963

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Fernand Léger, Leaves and Shell  1927

Léger’s paintings often celebrate machine-made objects and modern city life. But in the late 1920s he began to include natural forms in his work. The curving line down the left-hand side of the painting softens the underlying geometric structure of horizontal and vertical lines. It also acts as a link to the organic shapes of leaves and a shell. These naturalistic elements, with their streamlined shapes, are closely connected to the abstract parts of the image.

Gallery label, August 2019

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Antoine Pevsner, Maquette of a Monument Symbolising the Liberation of the Spirit  1952

This is a model for a much larger work, Pevsner’s submission for an international sculpture competition. ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’ was a monument commission organised by London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1952. Pevsner constructed the intricate organic form entirely from straight elements. He sought to create an abstract monument with an architectural presence and geometric design that could be seen in its entirety from any direction. The repeated lines are ‘a symbol of imprisonment. The motive floating in the abyss of the sphere emphasises the image of captivity; it becomes materialised in the shape of a cell.’

Gallery label, March 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Josef Albers, Untitled Abstraction V  c.1945

Albers was fascinated by the nature of visual perception. The interlocking shapes of Untitled Abstraction V play with ideas of perspective and make it difficult to distinguish between foreground and background. In Germany, Albers taught at the Bauhaus school of art and design from 1923, and after the National-Socialist regime forced it to close in 1933 he carried its utopian ideas with him to a new teaching post at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The Neoconcrete Manifesto, displayed in the vitrine below, mentions Albers as an important influence on the Brazilian movement.

Gallery label, January 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Saloua Raouda Choucair, Composition with Two Ovals  1951

Choucair is one of the few Lebanese artists of her generation devoted to geometric abstraction. Her approach developed in response to two distinct influences: Islamic art and the avant-garde art scene of Paris in the 1940s, where she was a student. Like many of her paintings, it uses the two basic elements of Islamic design – the straight line and the curve – as a starting point to create simple shapes which she places in rhythmic dialogue.

Gallery label, November 2015

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Ben Nicholson OM, Feb 2-54  1954

This painting is typical of Nicholson's still lifes of the early fifties with its overlapping forms, often transparent, but given body by accents of colour or pencil shading. The construction of these paintings is a development from his works of the mid-thirties in which Nicholson allowed the forms of earlier paintings to penetrate later reworkings. The surface has been rubbed down repeatedly and, in common with many other such works of the period, is smooth. The colour is applied both relatively freely in thin washes and precisely and opaquely. Nicholson received the Ulisse Award at the Venice Biennale later in 1954.

Gallery label, August 2004

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Hélio Oiticica, P11 Parangolé Cape 7, Sex and Violence, That’s What I Like  1966

In 1964, Oiticica regularly attended a samba school in Mangueira Hill, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas (highly populated residential areas which have received historic governmental neglect). His Parangolés emerged from this experience. They were made from layers of painted fabric and other found materials. Resembling capes but also flags or banners, the Parangolés are intended to be worn and danced in. Parangolé is Portuguese slang for a confused or agitated situation, as well as untrustworthy or delinquent behaviour. Oiticica adapted the word to express the capacity of these wearable works for transgression and freedom of expression.

Gallery label, January 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Hélio Oiticica, Be an Outlaw, Be a Hero  1968

In February 1968, at the height of the military dictatorship in Brazil, artists Nelson Leirner and Flávio Motta invited their contemporaries to produce banners for a street event in Rio de Janeiro called Flag Sunday. Oiticica’s banner pays tribute to a friend from Mangueira Hill, nicknamed Cara de Cavalo (Horse Face), who was accused of killing a policeman and was later murdered by police. A similar banner was displayed by musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil at a concert as a form of protest and to express solidarity with the favela.

Gallery label, January 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Hélio Oiticica, B30 Box Bólide 17 - Poem Box  1965–6

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Lygia Clark, Obra Mole  1964

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Lygia Clark, Pocket Bicho  1966

From 1959 to 1966, Clark produced approximately seventy sculptures she called Bichos (‘creatures’). They are made from sheets of aluminium hinged together with steel pins. Intended to be moved by hand into various configurations, they have no fixed shape. ‘The arrangement of metal plates determines the positions of the Bicho, which at first glance seem unlimited’, said Clark in 1960. The work’s title also presents the sculptures as living things. ‘When asked how many moves a Bicho can make, I reply, “I don’t know, but it knows.”’

Gallery label, January 2022

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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Lygia Clark, The Acrobates Structure  1964

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artworks in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

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Lygia Clark, Matchbox Structures  1964

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Art in this room

L03598: Carres
Carmelo Arden Quin Carres 1951
T00246: Two Women Holding Flowers
Fernand Léger Two Women Holding Flowers 1954
T07921: Abstract Composition
Jean Hélion Abstract Composition 1934
T02319: Dynamic Suprematism
Kazimir Malevich Dynamic Suprematism 1915 or 1916

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Piet Mondrian Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue 1935
L03801: Gironde
Ellsworth Kelly Gironde 1951

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