One of a series of book-objects Lygia Pape produced from 1959 to 1963, the Book of Architecture (1959–1960) articulated the neo-concrete insistence on art that surrounded and transformed the viewer. Art, the neo-concrete artists reasoned, should not be self-contained, but instead should relate to its environment. Pape and her colleagues meant this literally. They brought their book-objects out into the street, photographing them amid scenes of daily life. Brazil was undergoing radical change and experiencing constant construction at that time. São Paulo, Pape’s home city of Rio de Janeiro, and the new Brazilian capital, Brasília (inaugurated April 21, 1960) became newly modern cities. The Rio-based neo-concrete artists believed architecture was not merely a hollow container, but a dynamic space of interaction, a concept that Pape reflected with her genre-defying Book of Architecture.
This multi-piece work on painted cardboard that straddles the distinction between book and sculpture was an important departure from Pape’s previous work. She had developed an abstract lyricism in her “Tecelares” series of woodblock prints, which she had created principally between 1955 and 1959. Paired with poetry, the black-and-white geometric prints invited close inspection and imaginative thinking. Abandoning the flat surface and accompanying text altogether, the Book of Architecture added two essential neo-concrete aspects to Pape’s art: touch and temporality. The turning the pages made the work of art an interactive experience. As the viewer would page through the book, the act of looking would become an occurrence drawn out in time.
Lygia Pape relentlessly experimented with form, sculpture, printmaking, installation, and film. By age twenty, she was a member of the Rio de Janeiro–based Grupo Frente wing of Concrete art, a movement of self-reflexive geometric abstraction. In 1959, she signed the Neoconcrete manifesto with Lygia Clark (1920–1988) and Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980). The neoconcretists broke with the prevailing concrete ethos, believing that art should require active participation from its viewers. Her early work alluded to handicraft, such as the “Tecelares” (Weaving) series of geometric woodcut prints shown in the third Bienal de São Paulo (1955). Her Livro da Criacao (Book of Creation), 1959, asked the viewer to assemble a book. In the 1960s, she became involved with the cinema marginal and cinema novo movements, combining documentary and satire. Pape co-organized New Brazilian Objectivity, a groundbreaking exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro), in 1967. That same year she created Roda Dos Prazeres (Wheel of Delights), in which viewers taste colored waters with flavors that don’t necessarily align with their hues. Pape taught semiotics at the Universidade Santa Úrsula (Saint Ursula University) from 1972 to 1985, and became a professor of fine art at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) in 1983.