November 29, 2014
Glinting reflections on the ceilings of Malba
For The Herald
Le Parc Lumière exhibit is an invitation to a world of ever-changing flickers of light
Upon entering the exhibit Le Parc Lumière on the second floor of the MALBA, it takes a moment before your eyes get used to the darkness and flickering dashes of light on the walls, ground and ceiling. Once you discern the light and your own position as a member of the public in space, the show starts — or has it already started?
Julio Le Parc was born in Mendoza in 1928 and moved to Buenos Aires where he started studying art at age 15. He dropped out, becoming active in political movements, yet continued again a few years later in 1954 at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes. He formed a group with peers Horacio Garcia Rossi, Francisco Sobrino and Hugo Demarco, questioning the view and system of art. This quest drives Le Parc to this day.
In 1958, Julio Le Parc was given a grant to continue studying art in Paris and he has lived there ever since. The social upheaval of the 1960s provided a fertile ground in which to develop a wide-ranging oeuvre that brought him international recognition, such as the 1966 award of the Venice Biennale. Even though stressed upon by the curator of the MALBA, Le Parc himself in the interview of the catalogue says: “The award came as a surprise to me, and at the same time it didn’t affect me much either. An award is the result of a confrontation between a limited number of people – the jury – and a limited number of artists or works on show.” He continues to explain in the interview the polemic around the prize, as it was expected to go to American artist Roy Lichtenstein. This would symbolize the geographic shift of the centre of power in the art world. It is fascinating that the prize was then awarded to an artist from neither Europe nor North America, who has made it part of his legacy to question the constructions set in the art world — and thus the Biennale award too.
Le Parc, alongside his fellow members of the artists group Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel, or GRAV, which operated between1960 and 1968 (the period of most of the art works in this exhibit) rejected a fixed viewpoint of art. Formally this means that he started experimenting with sculptures invoking movement and moving sculptures, and theoretically it suggests abandoning the idea that art is only to be understood by an elite with their set codes. He started with a base of geometric shapes and realized quickly that he had to abandon painting. He started working with hard ware materials such as Plexiglas, metals, electrical equipment and projections. Using basic materials could lead, as GRAV aimed, to “demystifying art.”
However, the Le Parc Lumière exhibit — referring to his use of light, evoked by the mechanical material mentioned — offers an experience that could actually be called mystical. The dancing twinkles of light reflected on the dark planes of the exhibition room offer an overwhelming sense of inexplicable beauty. A beauty that is ever-changing and invoked by seemingly simple mechanisms. The demystification sought by the artist and his friends is directed toward the reception of the works. Le Parc does not give a specific meaning, nor is he explicit about his artistic intention, as he wants to let the works be interpreted by the public, whom he considers an important participant in his art.
In other works of GRAV, public participation is more evident, such as A Day in The Street (1966), where the artists of GRAV interacted and held surveys on art with the “general public” in Paris, who were not deliberately in search of art or an exhibit, but encountered the artists on the streets of the French capital. GRAV regarded public space as their laboratory and wanted to go beyond the traditional relationship between artwork and its public. With scientific bent, they produced questionnaires, but at the same time the happenings — such as walking in different shoes or balancing on geometric blocs — invited enjoyment and fun. Le Parc wanted to show that art is for all, as opposed to the notion that art is made for a gallery where it will be displayed to draw the attention of buyers and critics, selling and leading to more exhibits in more renowned museums and higher price tags. One may wonder though how this notion can be placed within the context of this exhibition at Malba and the current prices for his art.
Le Parc wants to generate thoughts with his art: “If a viewer realizes that he is taken into consideration by the works on display, that they give him something, perhaps he may be able to say afterwards: ‘why didn’t I get this elsewhere?’ and start to wonder whether there are people who function like him, or join groups that try to analyze the general situation of society, of the behaviour of government, of political parties.” GRAV was dismantled after the Paris protests of 1968. Julio Le Parc was arrested and shortly banned from the country. Society changed. The vision of the established system was turned upside down. But change, according to Le Parc, is continuous. As demonstrated quite beautifully by the ever-changing light reflections of his works in this exhibition.
When and where
The Le Parc Lumière exhibit runs July 12 to October 6 at Malba (Figueroa Alcorta 3415). Thursday to Monday from 12pm to 8pm. Closed on Tuesdays. Wednesday from 12pm to 9pm. Admission fee: $50 ($25 on Wednesdays); students, teachers and seniors: $25 (free admission on Wednesdays).