The group exhibition Radical Geometry, from the Patricia de Cisneros Collection – at the Royal Academy of Arts, London – explores several of the artistic revolutions in South American art from the 1930s to the 1970s. Highlighting the ideologies that produced geometric abstraction, and the differing artistic manifestos that spanned five Latin American cities, often with differing viewpoints, but all inspired by a Modernist Europe of each period.
Upon entering the Royal Academy’s Sackler Wing the European clichés of South American figurative sensuality are forever banished by a re-appraisal of South American art; an act very effecting through an impressive survey featuring 80 works by artists including Joaqúin Torres-Garcia, Juan Melé (Argentina), Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez (Venezuela), and Lygia Clark (Brazil) – among others – covering a 40 year period in the continent’s art history that until now has never been exemplified.
The artists commonality existed in their desire to experiment with the avant garde of Bauhaus, Mondrian, and Constructivism as an expression of radical left-wing thought, and the prosperity of industrial transformation. This occurred through a number of passionate manifestos expressed with the dispassionate clarity of mathematical form, resulting in rich and innovative abstraction.
The beauty of the exhibition lies in the subtle differences of a shared sensibility stemming from a mutually liberating period in the history of South America. Proving an equal to the post-war Abstract Expressionism in the United States, but instead this was a transformative abstraction, focused on invention and altered perspectives.
The exhibition plays with regional variations in ideologies; Argentinia’s ‘Concrete Art’ ties communist principle to the non rectangular canvases of Juan Melé’s ‘Irregular Frame No.2’ (1946). ‘Neo-Concretist’ Lygia Clark’s hinged metal sculptures, ‘Machine – Medium’ (1962), are revolutionary for the period; where the works are capable of being re-folded into other forms by the viewer and encourage interaction as the concept of a new order.
Carlos Cruz-Diez’s experimental Modernist leanings result in the mesmeric frieze ‘Physichromie No.500’ (1970), while Jesús Rafael Soto’s ‘Nylon Cube’ (1990), pushes the mathematical into the illusionistic. All the artist’s on display represent manifestos resulting in Modernist successes.
These separate visual cultures developed independently across Latin America over a 40 year period; and placed in relation to each other form a dialectic in which different ideologies and concepts find an organic relationship as the viewer charts the evolution of these separate manifestos.
The Royal Academy’s Sackler Wing is a difficult space to use successfully – yet the installation of these works cause the space to come alive with an often kinetic vibrancy that broadens the viewers understanding of the different abstract movements of this period in South American art history – and finally adds a new and illuminating chapter to the broader history of 20th century Modernism.
Words: Paul Black Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2014
Radical Geometry, Royal Academy of Arts, until 28 September 2014