Lygia Clark

Contra Relevo (Counter Relief)

Clark Contra Relevo Collection Jones Bergamin 1 1500 - © The Associação Cultural O Mundo de Lygia Clark. Mario Costa Grissolli
  • Lygia Clark
  • Contra Relevo (Counter Relief)
  • 1959
  • Industrial paint on wood
  • 140 x 140 x 2.5 cm
  • Private Collection, São Paulo - © The Associação Cultural O Mundo de Lygia Clark. Mario Costa Grissolli

Inspired in part by Lygia Clark’s prodigious artistic output from the years 1957 to 1959, the Brazilian poet and critic Ferreira Gullar declared in 1959 that neo-concrete art is a separate, if inherently related, phenomenon to concrete art. Clark and the other artists associated with the Rio de Janeiro-based neo-concrete movement, such as Helio Oiticica, were united by their belief in concrete art’s lack of creativity and overreliance on mechanist principles. They wanted instead to integrate art and life by defying the conception of art as a purely contemplative medium, creating interactive works that popped off the wall, were hung from the ceiling, and contributed to an integrated environment.

Planos em superfície modulada no. 1 (1957), Casulo (1958), and Contra relevo (1959) demonstrate Clark’s interest in geometric planes, as well as her increasing aggression toward the limits of the painted canvas. With each work, she moved progressively outward into the surrounding space, thereby rejecting the flatness of traditional painting. Planos em superfície modulada no. 1 and Contra relevo toe the line between painting and relief, while Casulo breaks free of the two-dimensional limits of painting altogether. The materials common to these works, industrial paint and wood, recall the ubiquitous construction occurring in cities across Brazil in the 1950s and ’60s. Amid such drastic change, art that ignored its environment rang false to the neo-concrete artists.

Megan Hines

Biography of Lygia Clark

  • Born 1920 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  • Died 1988 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Lygia Clark began studying art in 1947 with architect Roberto Burle Marx. Her early paintings are aligned with the mid-century Brazilian Constructivist tendencies. Clark’s understanding of form and its sensuous qualities intensified when she studied with Fernand Léger in Paris from 1950 to 1952. Upon her return to Brazil, she became part of Rio’s avant-garde Concretist Grupo Frente in 1954. She cofounded the Neoconcrete movement in 1959, becoming a leading figure with Hélio Oiticica. At that time she shifted her focus from the art object toward art as a participatory process. With her aluminum hinged “Critters” (1960) series, which won the sculpture prize at the 1961 Bienal de São Paulo, she began to invite the spectator to actively engage with her work. In 1968 she conceived her penetrable installation The House Is the Body for the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro). That same year she moved to Paris where, from 1972, she spent several years teaching at the Sorbonne and developing therapeutic methods of engagement with objects. In 1976, Clark retuned to Brazil. For about a decade she abandoned art completely for therapeutic techniques. Clark’s greatest legacy lies in stretching the potential of art toward a bodily and mindful experience.