Carmelo Arden Quin, ‘Carres’ 1951
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

Swinging

Wassily Kandinsky, Swinging  1925

The title ‘Swinging’ captures this work’s sense of movement. Kandinsky believed painting should aim to be as abstract as music. He worked to create art that was free from all references to the material world. For him, colour in particular was essential for liberating art from representing the visible world.

Gallery label, August 2019

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Creature-Maquette (320)

Lygia Clark, Creature-Maquette (320)  1964

Clark made a series of geometric, hinged-aluminium sculptures which she titled ‘Creatures’, for which this is a working model. They were originally intended to be manipulated by hand, so that the sculpture offered multiple possible forms that could only be determined through the participation of the viewer. This idea of the artwork as a lived experience was increasingly important for Clark. It is underlined by the title, which encourages us to see the sculpture as a living thing.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Composition

Bart van der Leck, Composition  1918

Van der Leck began to paint completely abstract compositions after meeting Piet Mondrian in 1916. The following year, he became a co-founder of De Stijl, the Dutch magazine that promoted a highly geometric abstract art linked to spiritual and utopian ideas. However, he soon fell out with Mondrian and the other De Stijl artists, and began to include figurative elements in his work once more. This may be one of his few wholly abstract works, though it is possible that in its early stages the composition derived from a recognisable image such as a vase of flowers.

Gallery label, April 2012

© DACS, 2021

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Two Women Holding Flowers

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

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

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Gironde

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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Abstract Composition

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

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

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Spatial Relief (red) REL 036

Hélio Oiticica, Spatial Relief (red) REL 036  1959

Oiticica suspended this work from the ceiling so that viewers would have to walk around it. He wanted us to become active participants in the work. Only by walking around it can you see the difference in colour and shapes on both sides. It is painted in two very similar colours, chosen for their reaction to light. Oiticica was influenced by the ordered abstraction of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, whose work is also on display in this room. But Oiticica introduced elements of movement and change, emphasising the bodily experience of his work.

Gallery label, August 2019

© Projeto Hélio Oiticica

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Large Split Relief No.34/4/74

Sergio de Camargo, Large Split Relief No.34/4/74  1964–5

Brazilian artist Camargo lived in Paris from 1961 to 1974. While living there he made a number of monochrome white works composed of cylindrical pieces of diagonally cut wood, including Large Split Relief. These reliefs, which resemble crystalline growth, generate a play of light and shadow across their surface to explore the organic and rhythmic disposition of the wooden pieces. At the same time, the work highlights the natural material roughness of the wood creating a dialogue between the organic textures of nature and the carefully crafted character of art.

Gallery label, May 2012

© The estate of Sergio de Camargo

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Composition with Two Ovals

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

© Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

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Feb 2-54

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

© Angela Verren Taunt 2021. All rights reserved, DACS

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Ardek

Olle Baertling, Ardek  1963

© DACS 2021

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Untitled

Mira Schendel, Untitled  1963

In this work, geometric figures in subdued colours are suspended in a dark, abstract background. The subtle use of texture and treatment of the surface adds a three-dimensional aspect to the painting. The forms are deliberately asymmetrical and hand-drawn, exemplifying the subtle subversion of European geometric abstraction in Brazilian art through the introduction of organic or destabilising elements. Schendel contributed to the development of Concrete and Neo-concrete art in Brazil during the 1960s, though she remained detached from those groups and developed a distinct and unique body of work.

Gallery label, May 2012

© mira schendel estate

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Leaves and Shell

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

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

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No. 98 2478 Red/135 Green

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

© DACS, 2021

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Accents from six zones

Max Bill, Accents from six zones  1955

Max Bill believed that art could be used for political and social good. Working as an artist, architect and designer, he was very active in the 1950s. Bill’s art was mainly abstract, although he based it on logic rather than feeling or expression. ‘A work of art’, he wrote, ‘must be entirely conceived and shaped by the mind before its execution.’ Bill was awarded the prize for sculpture at the first Sao Paulo Biennal in 1951. He also gave a series of influential lectures when he visited Brazil as a member of the jury of the second Biennal. He made Accents from Six Zones in 1955. While Bill used geometrical structures within his work, he balanced them with instinct, later declaring ‘Art is an expression of freedom’.

Gallery label, December 2020

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Bilateral ‘Teman’ BIL 003

Hélio Oiticica, Bilateral ‘Teman’ BIL 003  1959

Oiticica often created new words to describe his work. ‘Bilateral’ was a term he invented for his works which move away from traditional, two-dimensional painting. These works were painted on both sides and suspended from the ceiling. They encourage active engagement as you have to walk around them to see both sides. The Bilaterals, such as this one called ‘Teman’, explore close-colour contrasts. Here Oiticica looks at the properties of white. He identified white as the ‘ideal light-colour, the synthesis-light of all colours’.

Gallery label, August 2019

© Projeto Hélio Oiticica

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Carres

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Composition

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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Art in this room

Swinging
Wassily Kandinsky Swinging 1925
Creature-Maquette (320)
Lygia Clark Creature-Maquette (320) 1964
Composition
Bart van der Leck Composition 1918
Two Women Holding Flowers
Fernand Léger Two Women Holding Flowers 1954
Gironde
Ellsworth Kelly Gironde 1951
Abstract Composition
Jean Hélion Abstract Composition 1934

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