Sem título (Dec. 1960), 1960
Private Collection, Rio de Janeiro.
Private Collection, São Paulo, acquired from the above.
Private Collection, São Paulo, acquired from the above in 2019.
New York, NY, Blum & Poe, Visions from Brazil, From Tarsila to Sonia Gomes, 30 April – 22 June 2019.
‘Indeed, today, even in painting, no matter how much I use geometric shapes, the sensory element of the brushstroke, the texture is always there; for me this is very important. I would never make a completely smooth painting.’ (Mira Schendel, 1981)
Mira Schendel stands out as one of the most inventive artists to have emerged from Latin America during the Post-War period. Born in Zürich, Schendel was raised in Milan where she studied philosophy and poetry. As fascist persecution escalated in Italy in the 1930s, however, Schendel, who was of Jewish descent, fled to Yugoslavia and ultimately left Europe for Brazil in 1953. As an immigrant, she began experimenting with the plastic arts and became an accomplished painter and printmaker. By reimagining the visual vocabulary of European Modernism in a Latin American context, Schendel was able to explore philosophical themes of language, chaos and the relationship between space and time. The questions and insights provided by Schendel’s work link her to the intellectual circle of psychoanalysts, mathematicians, art critics and poets to which she belonged.
In the 1960s, she began to produce her iconic monotipas, delicate drawings on luminescent rice paper. She later rejected the notion of painting as a primary medium, abandoning the genre in the 1970s for almost a decade. Schendel worked mostly with paper and objects made of unusual materials such as Plexiglas, fabrics and aqueous inks.
Recurring themes in her work include letters, geometric figures and phrases reflecting a radical lexicon, often juxtaposing elements from two languages (visual and numerical). Many of her works hover in the space between drawing and writing, creating a certain visual poetry.
Sem título (Dec. 1960) reflects Schendel’s investigation of the relationship between materiality, planes, space and color. Its abstract, balanced composition is typical of the artist’s experimental approach to Concrete Art, a movement that had taken root in Brazil via Max Bill and which favored the construction of art through rationalist principles. In Sem título (Dec. 1960), however, the dense, highly-textured surface immediately undercuts the stark rationalism of Concrete Art and appeals to the viewer’s desire to touch.
Although her work was informed by Neo-Concretists such as Hélio Oiticica, Sergio Camargo, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape, Schendel never officially joined the Neo-Concrete group nor the subsequent Tropicalia cultural movement, due in part to her fierce independence and her work’s resistance to easy categorization. Her later works, such as her celebrated Droguinhas series of the second half of the 1960s or her Tijolos series of the 1980s, continue to foster aesthetic interactions that are centered on the physicality of materials and the subtlety of complex formal arrangements.