Category Archives: constructivism

Lygia Pape, Livro do Tempo (Book of Time), 1961-63

Lygia Pape, Livro do Tempo (Book of Time) 1961-63, Installation view, Magnetized Space, Serpentine Gallery, London, (7 December 2011 - 19 February 2012) © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones

This semaphore frieze will stop you in your tracks at the Serpentine. Lygia Pape calls her epic a (the) Book of Time. Well, it both is and it isn’t.

Yes, it has 365 elements which might be called pages. They are made from wood, which is related to paper. And they have a colourful grammar all of their own.

But this work may just be an echo of the real thing. It hints at an invisible 365 page book which could govern all of our days.

If time‘s tome is anything like Pape‘s we should be this happy. Bold colours, dynamic shapes, fresh possibilities are all in store. No two days are the same.

So Livro do Tempo is an antidote to the daily grind, a funhouse mirror to most folks’ experience of time. No Outlook calendar, you can enter or exit wherever you like.

And at the risk of some national stereotyping you might say the Brazilian artist here takes Russian constructivism on a carnivalesque parade.

But Pape loops her garland of abstraction around a whole year. So we should rather hope that the Ur-book of time, if it exists, feel the influence of this one.

And if as novelist Thomas Mann says, “only the exhaustive is truly interesting”, could this work at Serpentine be anything else?

Livro do Tempo (Book of Time) can be seen in Lygia Pape, Magnetized Space at Serpentine Gallery, London, until February 19. See gallery website for more details.

Also, read what blogger Chloé Nelkin had to say about the rest of the show.

Frank Stella, La penna di hu [#19, 3D, 3x] (1987-2009)

If you perchance see a hammer and sickle in this abstract Frank Stella sculpture, don’t bother paging doctor Rorschach. It is impossible not to see.

Certainly, the rest of the dynamic caged forms here recall early Soviet art. If nothing else, they resemble parts of Vladimir Tatlin’s famous tower.

But they are also post industrial. The piece was an early example of computer aided design. The communist tools of industry and agriculture are coming apart.

One reason for this drift, may in this case be the booming economy of the 1980s. Mint gauze and other candy colours recall the postmodern look of the decade in which this work was begun.

But La Penna di hu is not completely virtual. The nude pink cylinder protuding on the right appears to offer this explosive work a physical, manual way in.

Hardly visible in this picture, a small unpainted cogwheel is attached to a threaded rod. It is as if you could reach in and tighten up the whole contraption.

This suggests engineering rather than sculpture, recalling the technical stages in which the work was developed at Tyler Graphics Laboratory in New York.

And all in all, this bright and poppy machine-like piece is one for inspection rather than for passive enjoyment. If you want a closer look you can even get behind it.

But you might never get your head around the way it channels, funnels, layers and breaks up space. There’s no telling what would happen if that cog was twisted.

It might reunite the hammer and sickle. Or more likely, it would lead to new forms, and new icons. Perhaps whole new ideologies.

The current show at Haunch of Venison, Burlington Gardens, (running until November 19) devotes a room to variations of this piece. See gallery website for more details

By luck, a scale model of Vladmir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International is currently under construction in the courtyard ot the Royal Academy just around the corner.

There are at least two decent artist interviews online, but they appear to contradict each other. The Telegraph met competitive Frank Stella. Whereas The Believer met a Stella who said that it’s not about winning.

By the way, does anyone know where the name of this series, La penna di hu, comes from?

Review: Modern Times – Responding to Chaos

Exhibition: Modern Times, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, until June 13 2010

Somewhere between art and architecture sits a drawing by minimalist sculptor Fred Sandbeck. His pencil and chalk plan for a Zurich gallery construction hovers in mid air, reminding us of the Utopian potential of pictorial space.

The architectural role of this work would have come as no surprise to El Lissitzky. In the 1920s the Russian artist developed a mysterious term for such constructions of art. He called it Proun.

Given that eight lithographs by the inventor of Proun find their way into this show, the concept appears central to the fantastic selection of drawings here. If so, it is also central to the history of 20th century art proposed by curator Lutz Becker.

If that story begins with Lissitzky and Suprematism, it ends here with the minimalism of Sol Lewitt. By numbering the blocks in his Working Drawing (1996) he produces a piece of deadpan technical drawing, like a terse fullstop on all the preceeding “isms”.

The artist’s line, once a vehicle for representation and then abstract expression, now becomes fully realised as a means for drafting perfect structures in the mind’s eye.

Indeed, abstract expressionism here seems almost a folly. Willem De Kooning’s smudges, Franz Kline’s daubs and Robert Motherwell’s painterly blobs could be a vain rebellion against the spatial powers of the line.

But drawing too can represent chaos, rather than clarity. Night Celebration III by Mark Tobey is an even, methodical scribble which spreads across the surface of a sheet of card like cigarette smoke at a riotous party.

However, the lasting impression from this show is that less equals more. The works are largely monochrome. There are few figurative reference points. For every feat of excess there is a study in restraint.

You come away feeling that in art so much can be achieved with the simplest means. A case in point is Norman McClaren film Horizontal Lines, shown alongside moving image works by Fernand Léger, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling.

The horizontal lines rise, fall and proliferate as if set in motion by an algorithm, but this is no dry exercise in geometry. The film is also a perfect narrative. It is high drama. Excitement runs thoughout this show like lead through a pencil.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Modern Times at Kettle's Yard

Franciszka Themerson, Gustav Klucis. www.kettlesyard.co.uk

Modern Times – Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, until March 14 2010

Attempts to build a world order invariably result in chaos. Some of the outcomes can be seen at a new exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

Modern Times: Responding to Chaos is the first of a series of shows in which creative protagonists of the 20th and 21st century have been asked to trace a personal journey through recent history.

First up is film-maker and painter Lutz Becker, whose personal responses to chaos are classic documentaries. Art in Revolution (1971) looks at Russian art in the early days of Communism, Swastika (1973) looks at the rise of Nazism in Germany, and Vita Futurista (1987) studies the far right Futurist movement in Italy.

So it’s no surprise that Becker’s curatorial interests take in many artist-made films of the last hundred years. The show includes moving image pieces by Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Fernand Léger and even Kazimir Malevich.

But latter-day chaos has also caused a rupture in the most longstanding of art forms, drawing. As film captured slices of reality, artists used the hand-drawn line to pit abstraction against figuration and turn geometry against spontaneous gesture.

Malevich and Eggeling reappear on paper, along with Boccioni, Mondrian, Grosz, Klee, Pollock, de Kooning, Giacometti, Bourgeois, Beuys, Serra, Judd and Twombly.

But what have these exponents of Futurism, Constructvism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Conceptualism left us with? More chaos, and the 21st century awaits a few comparable responses.

Written for Culture24.