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

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Art in A view from São Paulo: Abstraction and Society

Swinging

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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

Two Women Holding Flowers

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Fernand Léger
Two Women Holding Flowers
1954

Léger often painted works showing two women together. This theme of a pair of figures had precedents in classical art, and allowed the artist to explore the rhyming shapes and patterns created by the symmetrical image. Here two women are seen with their limbs intertwined, in a state of physical ease and relaxation. One holds a flower, a symbol of natural beauty and fertility. However, this is no rustic idyll. The figures are drawn as outlines upon an abstract background of seemingly casually arranged rectangles of bright colours, giving the painting a typically modern sense of energy and dynamism.

Gallery label, November 2015

Counter-Composition VI

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Theo van Doesburg
Counter-Composition VI
1925

Van Doesburg used a diagonal grid in this painting to create a dynamic tension with the format of the canvas. For him, diagonal lines signalled a spiritual liberation from ‘earth-bound’ verticals and horizontals. He edited an art, architecture and design magazine, De Stijl. It reflected his own wide-ranging activities. He also applied the ‘Counter-Composition’ approach to interior design. A diagonal colour-scheme contrasted with the upright architectural structure.

Gallery label, January 2019

Creature-Maquette (320)

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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

Composition

© DACS, 2020

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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

Large Split Relief No.34/4/74

© The estate of Sergio de Camargo

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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

Gironde

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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

Abstract Composition

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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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

Leaves and Shell

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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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

Spatial Relief (red) REL 036

© Projeto Hélio Oiticica

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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

Feb 2-54

© Angela Verren Taunt 2020. All rights reserved, DACS

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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

Untitled

© mira schendel estate

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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

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Josef Albers
Repetition Against Blue
1943

Albers was fascinated by the nature of visual perception. The interlocking shapes of Repetition Against Blue teasingly play with ideas of perspective, and the question of what is foreground and what is background cannot be satisfactorily resolved. This work also shows his growing interest in colour, which he rigorously explored during his later years in the United States. The Bauhaus school of art and design had closed after Hitler came to power, and Albers carried its utopian ideas with him to a new teaching post at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Gallery label, April 2012

Composition with Two Ovals

© Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

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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

Bilateral ‘Teman’ BIL 003

© Projeto Hélio Oiticica

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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

Composition

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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

Art in this room

Swinging
Wassily Kandinsky Swinging 1925
Two Women Holding Flowers
Fernand Léger Two Women Holding Flowers 1954
Counter-Composition VI
Theo van Doesburg Counter-Composition VI 1925
Creature-Maquette (320)
Lygia Clark Creature-Maquette (320) 1964
Composition
Bart van der Leck Composition 1918
Large Split Relief No.34/4/74
Sergio de Camargo Large Split Relief No.34/4/74 1964–5

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