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In this essay, Luis Enrique Pérez Oramas discusses the typology of Latin American modern art that is designed “to be penetrated” by the viewer, based on an analysis of major works by three Latin American women artists: Brazilians Lygia Clark and her Penetración, Ovulación, Germinación, Expulsión [Penetration, Ovulation, Germination, Expulsion] (Venice Biennale, 1968) and Mira Schendel and her Ondas Paradas de Probabilidad, Reyes 1,19 [Stopped Waves of Probability, Kings 1,19] (São Paulo Biennial,1969); and Gego and her Reticulárea, from 1969 (Museo de Bellas Artes [Museum of Fine Arts], Caracas, 1969). Following a preamble on the pioneers of works of this kind in Latin America (the Brazilian Hélio Oiticica and the Venezuelans Carlos Cruz-Díez and Jesús Rafael Soto), the critic addresses the works of Clark, Gego, and Schendel as “threshold crossing” experiences that offer “unprecedented allegorical dimensions within the typology of penetrable art.” He bases his hypothesis on the idea that these artists refer to creation myths in different ways. In Clark’s case, she refers to the origins of the human body in terms of biological functions that can only be performed by the female body. With regard to Gego, her work refers to a German childhood in the forest, defining the Reticulárea (1969) as an “organic occurrence” that suggests forgotten origins, which encourages stillness, in what Simon Shama calls “the Germanic forest ethnicity that is the indigenous state of the German people.” And finally, he analyzes Schendel’s work in terms of (among other things) the concept of Giorgio Agamben’s “device” by describing her ondas [waves] as “devices” with complex theological connotations. Schendel’s work’s creation myth can be found in its reference to the voice (the word) in its inaudible dimension, as an absolute expression of the authority of God that cannot return to its essential home. Pérez Oramas establishes a common thread that links the three works, because in his opinion they share a similar naturalistic lineage and inaccessibility to that origin: an impossible un/forgetting. Returning to the place or the time from whence we have come: the fertilizing coitus; the forest-like nature of the woods; our being in the original Physis: God.
Translated into English by Alex Branger, this essay—“Abstraction, organism, apparatus”—by the Venezuelan critic, curator, and poet Luis Enrique Pérez Oramas (b. 1960) was first published in 2010 in Modern Women. Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, the book that was published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name. Several aspects of this lengthy essay make it one of the most important and complete recent essays on the subject of the typology of works that are generically referred to as “penetrables” in Latin America. In the first place, the author establishes the importance of the role played by Latin American women in modern and contemporary art by selecting major works by artists who are well-known at an international level: the Brazilian Lygia Clark (1920–1988), the German-born Venezuelan Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt 1912–1994), and the Swiss-born artist who lived in Brazil, Mira Schendel (Myrrha Dagmar Dub, 1919–1988). In the second place, the critic relies on a single hypothesis—oblivion and non-oblivion as applied to a creation myth—as the common thread that ties together his exhaustive analysis of all three works, taking a different and original approach to each of them. Furthermore, the critic’s thesis is scrupulously supported by the theories of acknowledged classical and contemporary authors such as Louis Marin; Adolf Loos; Gotthold Lessing; Simon Shama; Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl; Giorgio Agamben; Heraclitus; and Lucretius. In the third place, this is an immensely important essay among the many written about Gego by Pérez Oramas since the mid-1990s, in which he explores her significance within the context of Venezuelan art, especially as a counterpoint to the trend in Kinetic [art] that was in vogue in Venezuela in the 1960s and 1970s, suggesting a new interpretation of her work based on her German roots, in a sort of return to the creation myth of the German people that is rooted in nature, the woodlands, and the forest.
This essay was originally written in Spanish, the author’s mother tongue; it was then edited and translated into English for the MoMA book. Excerpts of the unpublished Spanish version (as well as the English version by Alex Branger) have been included in the bilingual book Desenredando la red. La Reticulárea de Gego. Una antología de respuestas críticas / Untangling the Web: Gego’s Reticulárea, An Anthology of Critical Response, María Elena Huizi and Ester Crespin (organizers)—to be published by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Fundación Gego, Caracas.