"Fhi the loss of a friend” is the phrase with which gallery owners Raquel Arnaud and Luiz Sève, who represent the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, agree. He died in July of this year at the age of 95, the idea he leaves in the memory of those who knew him is of a man who overflowed his faith in art, working vigorously on the decisions that involved his work until the end.
At the Ipanema Art Gallery, of which Sève is the owner, the artist’s last exhibition in Brazil was held, in 2014, entitled A Look at Color. Now, the Porto Seguro Cultural Space, in São Paulo, has opened the exhibition Cruz-Diez: the freedom of color, on the 9th of November. The exhibition is the last to be presented around the world that had the seal of the artist, who participated in the entire design process alongside the curator Rodrigo Villela, executive and artistic director of the São Paulo institution.
Two of the four works that make up the first room of the exhibition come from Raquel Arnaud's collection. In one of them, a small physiochromy from 1965, Cruz-Diez's work was still going through a pre-industrial period, says Villela. “Afterwards, his work becomes very industrial. He had this quest to get the work off the artisan scale. He said that he did not dedicate himself to painting because painting had a lot of craftsmanship and he wanted something that could have a larger scale”, comments the curator. On the outside of the building, an ephemeral work of great proportions, chosen by the artist himself, is also part of the individual.
The artist was very assertive in what he believed. In a text from 1967, to which he gave the title of My Ideas About Color, proposes the concept of “autonomous color”, in which color does not depend on form, specificity or support. And, in this way, he extrapolates supports and techniques, using videos, paintings, installations, photographs and appropriating walls, streets and even gardens.
On the institution's mezzanine, the public can find the work Transchromia Maze (1965/2017), for the first time shown in Brazil. “He brings to the experience the whole aspect of working with color, which he proposes, more focused on the body”, highlights the curator. The proposal is for the public to walk through this labyrinth of rectangular pieces held by nylon threads and the effect of overlapping colors to happen randomly, reflected in the white walls and concrete of the space. This transference to the walls takes place in kinds of dancing figures, to which the shadows of the people who pass by are mixed, trapped between the labyrinthine installation that radiates colors. The artist's kinetics, chromatics and geometry are fully experienced in the work.
The first underground work is Interfering Chromium Environment, 1974/2019. The projections on four walls walk straight, while on the floor they walk to meet each other, as if they added up, forming random figures at these junctions. The public becomes part of the work when the projections fall on the bodies that enter the room. Next, two ephemeral works can be seen on the wall: “The works are static, but movement is always present in the perception of the gaze”, says Villela.
One of the most iconic works, Chromosaturation it is installed in a space composed of three rooms where red, blue and green lights are mounted, respectively. As one walks between them and depending on where the gaze starts, the perception of color undergoes changes. “It really is a painting in space”, comments the curator. Cube-shaped objects are scattered throughout the space as well, giving a dimension to how colors affect each of its parts.
A more documentary core features two televisions that show videos: one with photographs of works in public spaces, bringing up the issue of art involved with architecture, and another with statements by Cruz-Diez about the works.
The last room of the exhibition comprises twenty black and white photographs taken by Cruz-Diez since the beginning of his career. Rodrigo says that it was a challenge to convince the artist to show them together with the other formats that the exhibition embraces: “We managed to compose in a way that he was happy with, which is to have a separation from the installations and create a more intimate corner for these photographs, not connecting with the rest of the production”. The photographs bring traditional elements, such as portraits and landscapes, highlighting a young artist. “We almost have to do an exercise in abstraction to think it's the same artist”, he jokes.
Some of Cruz-Diez's clicks are reminiscent of Pierre Verger and even Cartier Bresson, in the curator's opinion, and have a certain abstraction demand. These are images from Venezuela in the 50s to photos from trips to Spain, which “have something very hot about the moment”, according to Rodrigo, but also an evident documentary character: “When I saw these photos, I was very impressed. because you can't imagine it's the same artist”. The curator sought to make a selection that was representative of a context that connected his different approaches to photography.
Rodrigo reveals that the contact for the exhibition was the first he had with Cruz-Diez, despite already knowing a lot about his work. The curator was impressed with the infrastructure of the artist’s team, very in tune with each other, with the work and with the artist: “There was something of a very strong presence of him and a total clarity”, he says, also referring to an “everyday of work” lived by the artist even at the age of 95.
The photographs also show Cruz-Diez in a very affective relationship with Venezuela, to which he returned with some frequency, residing in France since the 60s. Rodrigo comments that he spoke a lot about his country of origin. One of his greatest works is at Simon Bolivar Airport, in Caracas, which has become the starting point for many Venezuelans due to the crisis experienced in the country.