Friday 6 January 2012

Lygia Pape's Magnetized Space

Tteia (Web), installation view

The Serpentine Gallery in London is currently hosting the first significant UK exhibition of Brazilian artist Lygia Pape. The space is a little small to display a lifetime of Pape’s work, though the show contains one stand-out piece that is a worth the visit to Hyde Park all on its own.

A hugely influential figure in the Brazilian art world, Pape (who died in 2004), produced work across a multitude of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, performance, film and installation. Examples of all these mediums, and six decades of her work, are on show in this whistlestop tour of her art.

Untitled. Tecelar (Weavings), 1956, woodcut on Japanese paper

Untitled. Tecelar (Weavings), 1958, woodcut on Japanese paper

Pape was influenced by Concrete Art and a series of abstract works from the 1950s show the impact of European modernism on her work. Frustrated by the rigidity of Concrete art, she became a co-founder of the Neo-Concrete Group, which included artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Amilcar de Castro and Lygia Clark. Their aim was to inject more experimentation and emotion into their work, and the resulting art is playful and adventurous, born against the backdrop of political repression in Brazil and now seen as heralding the beginning of contemporary art in the country.

Magnetized Space, installation view. Photo: © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Livro do Tempo (Book of Time) (detail), 1961-3

One wall at the Serpentine is devoted to Pape’s epic work Livro do Tempo (Book of Time) from 1961-3, a series of 365 brightly coloured wooden symbols that each represent an individual day. Each piece appears to express a different emotion or moment, though come together to become a gleeful army of space invaders dominating the room.

Pape moved her art out of the gallery environment altogether later in the 60s, creating a series of performance pieces, often featuring many people. Grainy film recordings of these works are in the opening room at the Serpentine and show elements of Pape’s early paintings expanded into full 3D. Musicians burst joyfully from brightly coloured square boxes in one piece, while Pape herself is ‘born’ from an egg in another. One major performance piece sees a mass of children combined together under an enormous white sheet, with only their heads poking through. The piece feels political – a comment on the role of the individual in society, perhaps – and is impressive both visually and as a feat of organisation.

Trio do embalo maluco (Crazy Rocking Trio), 1968

Espaços imantados (Magnetized Spaces), 1995/2011

As the exhibition whirls from one decade and form of art expression to the next, it feels like a lot to take in. Thankfully then, the Serpentine curators have saved the gallery’s central space as a place for reflection. Displayed in the darkened gallery is Tteia (Web), an installation created entirely in thread, which has been lit delicately to form golden shafts of light. The effect is startling and magical. Despite the disparate methods Pape used to make art, there are clear themes and ideas that reoccur throughout her work. Tteia was produced towards the end of her life, yet the piece echoes her earliest minimal works: an abstract piece writ large, it prompts wonder and delight.

Tteia (Web), installation view. All photos: © Projeto Lygia Pape

Lygia Pape, Magnetized Space is at the Serpentine Gallery in London until February 19. More info is at

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