The best evidence of the latent power of Lygia Clark's artworks? Probably the furtive glances uninitiated visitors bestow on the exhibit. This visually arresting retrospective of Clark's work at MoMA, entitled The Abandonment of Art 1948-1988, is a fitting first encounter with the protean artist. A style chameleon, Clark spearheaded a unique approach to art blending sociology, activism, therapy and an emphasis on user experience that foreshadowed developments in the arts that would emerge decades later. Her emphasis on user engagement and shared experiences would fit in nicely with today's social media-centric culture. Another aspect of her unique approach to art-making is her eventual "abandonment" of the art world to explore new holistic treatments for therapy and healing.
Lygia Clark hails from Brazil, and began working within the burgeoning Constructivist movement in Latin America in the mid-20th century. She was a founding member of the Neo-Concrete movement along with artist Helio Oiticica, who would later partner with her on many of her tactile works. Spanning her early transformative works, such as the works 'breaking the frame' which literally transformed the frame by incorporating it into the artwork itself, sought to change the relation of the picture plane and challenge viewers to re-orient their relationship to her paintings. By breaking up the picture plane and creating multiple dimensions within her works she was able to create a new sense of perspective, and by coupling that with her geometry-thwarting 'organic line', she was able to create previously unseen picture combinations.
She continued to elaborate on that as she brought her artwork into three dimensions with her bichos, or "critters". The bichos are composed of many-paneled interlocking pieces that can be transformed into seemingly infinite variations. Many of her original bichos are on view, shaped by the artist, and the museum provides a few simulated bichos for visitors to experiment with. The bichos are fascinating (even hypnotizing), but it's the final room of the exhibit that serves as the most interesting piece of the show as a whole, as showing Clark at her improvisational best. Her masks, suits and interactive pieces--including paper for guests to cut after creating Möbius strip (“Caminhando” (Walking), 1963)--perfectly convey the vision and syncretism that was Clark's strong suit, taking from the contemporaneous penchant for performance art (i.e.-Fluxus) and crafting a new vision for therapeutic activities. It has taken years for us to come full circle and appreciate Clark for her avant-garde sensibilities, but like her usage of the Möbius strip, her works form an infinitesimal loop of creativity and even bewilderment.
Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art is on view at the Museum of Modern Art until August 24, 2014.