Lydia Okumura

Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo, Brazil

 

First impressions of Lydia Okumura’s work can easily be misleading. For almost 50 years, the Brazilian-born, New York-based artist has been investigating the interstice between two-and three-dimensional space through precise, site-specific installations. Mostly using acrylic paint, cotton string, painted aluminium sheets, charcoal and pencil, Okumura constructs abstract geometric compositions that project into three-dimensional space from the walls and floor. Although her practice can be framed within the minimalist tradition, op art is also at play. Through modest interventions, Okumura enhances our awareness of our bodily presence in the exhibition space. Yet, the cracks, scratches and scuffs on the gallery walls and floor subvert the illusion; Okumura’s conscious inclusion of these cues lends a certain expressivity to her otherwise austere minimalist gestures.

04.jpg

Lydia Okumura, Installation II, 1981, metal plate, acrylic on wall and floor, 1.8 x 2.6 x 1.5 m approx. Courtesy: Galeria Jacqueline Martins, São Paulo; photograph: Ding Musa

The artist’s recent show, ‘Dentro, o que existe fora’ (Inside, or What Exists Outside), at Galeria Jaqueline Martins, is a welcome opportunity to revisit her oeuvre. The exhibition comprises nine, site-specific works spanning the breadth of her career, some of which have never previously been shown. A series of line drawings and precisely collaged or annotated photographic studies – the main source for her installations – evoke the documentation of 1970s conceptual practices. But it is when these works take three-dimensional form in the gallery that Okumura’s intuitive approach becomes evident: the artist adjusts her modifications for each given space. Her paint-and-string constructions are not idealized: glue marks and under-drawings are intentionally incorporated to subtle effect in the finished pieces.

01.jpg

Lydia Okumura, The Appearence, 1975/2017, cord on wall and floor, 1.9 x 1.6 x 1.6 m. Courtesy: Galeria Jacqueline Martins, São Paulo; photograph: Ding Musa

Before moving to New York in 1974, Okumura studied art in São Paulo, during the hardest years of Brazil’s military dictatorship. At that time, her practice responded to the conceptual art of the period, exploring the boundaries between artistic practice and mundane labour in works that appropriated printed ephemera. For Cartões de Ponto (Timecards, 1970), for instance, Okumura photocopied timecards from the advertising agency where she worked, in which she recorded ‘commercial art’ time (hours spent working on the job) and ‘art-making time’ or free time. During those formative years, she also founded the collective Equipe3 with artists Genilson Soares and Francisco Iñarra. Equipe3’s collaborative installations led to their participation in the 1973 São Paulo Biennial, where they presented the site-specific piece Pontos de vista (Points of View) – a large rock installed in a painted corner, which Okumura demarcated with string to create a volumetric frame. Equipe3 described the work as a ‘game of mutual interference’, emphasizing the space between illusion and reality that manifested in their playfulness with geometrical forms. Pontos de vista might also be considered the departure point for Okumura’s signature style, which applies geometric abstraction to site-specific installations.

03-cmyk.jpg

Lydia Okumura, Untitled I, 1981/2017 metal plate, acrylic and cord on wall and floor, 2 x 4 x 1 m approx. Courtesy: Galeria Jacqueline Martins, São Paulo; photograph: Ding Musa

While the artist may have taken inspiration from Fred Sandback or Sol LeWitt, her original influences are Brazilian post neo-concrete artists, such as Cildo Meireles and Artur Barrio, whose work includes elements of abstraction, conceptualism and expressionism. By drawing from these sources, Okumura breathes life back into the often cold and cerebral aesthetic of minimalist art.

Main image: Lydia Okumura, ‘Dentro, o que existe fora’ (Inside, or What Exists Outside), installation view,  Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo, 2017

Ricardo Sardenberg is a writer and curator based in São Paulo, Brazil. 

Issue 186

First published in Issue 186

April 2017

Most Read

Monochrome painting at the National Gallery, London
Highlights from the 2018 edition of Condo London, a collaborative exhibition by 46 galleries across 17 citywide...
Why the 40-year-old Mute record label remains an enigma
Kirsty Bell, Ahmet Öğüt, Ming Wong and Slavs and Tatars share their highlights of the coming year’s shows: can we break...
The New York museum’s introduction of an admission charge shows us the problem with donor dependence and a hands-off...
Remembering the visionary ceramic artist whose aesthetic was that of a painter: ‘Everything she touched was edged with...
Four UK-based museum directors and curators, and a Turner Prize-winning artist, select the shows they are looking...
The best films, books and shows focusing on representations of gay life in 2017
In other news: the inaugural Lahore Biennial will go ahead and the controversially cancelled Max Stern exhibition is...
A year of protest and performance in Los Angeles
Melissa Gronlund on the best of a bad year: from activists in Jakarta, images of Mecca and labour negotiations in the...
In a year marked by natural disasters, some of the best exhibitions in Latin America were attempts to make sense of the...
From Anthropocenic doom in Cecilia Alemani’s Italian Pavilion in Venice to Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting...
Contributing editor Max Andrews looks back on 2017, from turbulence in the Catalan capital to Pierre Huyghe’s...
When musical signifiers for sex so often become sonic pornography, LCMF 2017 showed alternative ways of marrying sound...
Our culture is terrified of sexually-awakened girls – controlling the way we look at Thérèse Dreaming would erase...
Where the fight against reactionary conservative activism in Brazil stands ahead of the 2018 presidential elections
In further news: documenta artists protest ‘profit-above-everything’ motive; Monir Museum opens in Tehran; Beijing...
From debates around colonial histories to resonant conversations around precariousness, a year of questioning long-held...
In further news: Abu Dhabi authorities now say they acquired USD$450 million Leonardo; removal of artworks in Catalonia...
A year marked by new visualizations, both controversial and celebrated, of the black body

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018