It is little wonder the Lygia Clark foundation long resisted surveys of the artist’s career. MoMA’s recent coup, a full-scale retrospective of Clark’s work spanning 48 years proves the foundation’s concerns to be legitimate. Clark’s early paintings translate easily to a gallery setting, but her most interesting work, the therapeutic art of the 70s and 80s, complicates MoMA’s attempt to resurrect a little known and potentially very important artist.
Clark’s Constructivist-inspired paintings, which occupy most of the sixth floor, present Clark’s early career as an accomplished harbinger of Minimalism. Grayed out whites and greens highlight the refinement of a marble-like painted surface that vibrates with the artist’s care and attention. A room of black and white geometric paintings installed like banners perpendicular to the wall signifies Clark’s transition into 3-dimmensional work; in the following gallery a series of interactive metal folding sculptures is on display.
The exhibition’s intended plum, the late work, occupies just one gallery before the exit. Here, the costumes, textiles and toys of Clark’s “therapeutic art” practice are jumbled in a bin, which visitors can sort through and select something to try on. A nearby dance floor has been cleared for experimentation, and hypnotic videos projected on surrounding walls show Clark demonstrating her costumes and balloon-like, hand-held sculptures. The videos mesmerize, bringing many of the art objects to life. The objects do not. Visitors are left to dig through them like kids in a McDonald’s ball pit, and self-consciously try them on as museum guards stand by with concern. A voyeuristic carnival atmosphere results where a meditative, sanative one was intended, and Lygia Clark’s great contribution to experimental, experiential art is stymied once again.