Ivan Serpa - Latin America New York Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Dickinson Roundell Gallery, Ivan Serpa: Pioneering Abstraction in Brazil, November 1- December 21, 2012

  • Literature

    H. Nathan, ed., Ivan Serpa: Pioneering Abstraction in Brazil, exh. cat., New York: Dickinson Roundell Inc., 2012, p. 65 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "The key problem of Concrete art does not just involve color, but rather its infinite modulations." Ivan Serpa

    The art critic Frederico Morais considered Ivan Serpa’s Amazônica and Mangueira series of paintings to be undoubtedly Brazilian in their organic sensuality and palette. The Amazônica works were named after their exuberant green and brown hues, while the Mangueira series is largely greens and pinks, the colors of the Mangueira Samba School in Rio de Janeiro. The formal proximity between these two series is significant—it was with the carnival parades organized by Mangueira that artists such as Hélio Oiticica had become associated with throughout the 1960s, bringing these series of works into the context of the contemporaneous enthusiasm for all forms of popular culture. Morais further emphasized how these series marked a return to the constructivist vein within which Serpa had been such a prominent figure from the early 1950s onwards. For Morais, this phase in the artist’s trajectory that began around 1967 would find “original solutions of an optic or geometric character that resulted from a subtle game of poetic spatiality.” This analysis, which dates from the mid-1980s, finds a heightened significance today in our expanding understanding of Pop Art in a global context. Serpa proposes in these series of paintings not only a return to his former constructivist interests, now with a new “Brazilian” palette, but a reinterpretation of the significance of the Neo-Constructivist movements in light of the international rise of mass consumerist culture and the local popular traditions. If art concret proposed precise methods through which art and design could inform society at large, Serpa by the late 1960s was engaging not with the prospect of avant-garde art affecting the masses, but with the very fact.

    Ivan Serpa’s interest in geometric abstraction has been traced back to 1947 when together with fellow artists Almir Mavignier, Abraham Palatnik and the art critic Mario Pedrosa, he participated in the art therapy workshops at the Psychiatric Hospital Engenho de Dentro in Rio de Janeiro. It has been increasingly acknowledged by prominent curators and art critics, such as Paulo Herkenhoff, that the mid-twentieth century rise of geometric abstraction in Brazil had its origins in the experience that these artists had with the work of the patients. A fact that corroborates this argument was Serpa’s early abstract canvases attracting attention during the first edition of the São Paulo Biennial in 1951 when he was awarded the young painter prize therefore contradicting the argument that abstract geometrical painting arrived in Brazil through the sole influence of Max Bill.

    Given the prestige of the Biennial prize, it is perhaps not surprising that a significant group of artists in Rio de Janeiro gathered around Ivan Serpa to form the Grupo Frente around 1953. This was a loosely abstract geometric group whose members would later form the core of the Neoconcrete movement. These included Aluísio Carvão, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, Franz Weissmann amongst others.

    Throughout the 1950s Serpa worked as an artist while also holding a critical role as an art educator. Serpa’s open classes took place at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, transforming it into a progressive alternative to the then conservative art schools such as the National School of Fine Art (ENBA). Hélio Oiticica’s early work, for example, was very much influenced by Serpa’s teaching— this is particularly evident in Oiticica’s Grupo Frente work and in his subsequent Metaesquemas series where strong compositional associations between the two artists can be found. Very much informed by the increasing interest in art concret in Brazil, particularly following Max Bill’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo and his international sculpture award at the 1951 São Paulo Biennial, Serpa’s own work in the 1950s was marked by an exploration of rhythmic arrangement of lines within geometrical compositions.

    In 1957 Serpa was awarded the foreign travel prize at the VI National Salon of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and he spent two years travelling between Italy and Spain, which perhaps explains why he did not become associated with Neoconcretism in 1959.

    Upon his return to Brazil, Serpa resumed his courses at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio and later participated in exhibitions that are now considered pivotal in the transition between constructivist-oriented trends and the return of figurative tendencies in Brazil such as Opinião 65, which placed artists from France and Brazil side by side, working loosely with tendencies such as New Figuration and Pop Art. During the 1960s Serpa began exploring parallel lines of aesthetic enquiry, including a strongly expressive and figurative mode. The Amazônica series shows the artist reaching a synthesis of these diverse modes of creative production. The constructivist influence returns, yet it is now “softened” by curved lines that recall a Pop and Op aesthetic combined with “tropical” colors, a sign that Serpa was in tune with the radical Tropicalist ideals that began to cause shockwaves in the Brazilian cultural milieu from the late 1960s onwards. The Brazilian themes are in this sense significant as they emphasize a proximity with the emerging idea of Tropicália: a Brazilian answer to international popular culture which had profound effect on the art, theatre, literature and, above all, music.

    In this way, having held a fundamental role in the formation of many significant artists over the period, including Cesar and Hélio Oiticica, from the 1960, these very artists would have an effect on Serpa. The respect Serpa earned from his colleagues and students alike is perhaps best exemplified by artist Antonio Manuel, who acknowledged Serpa’s significance both in statements and art works produced in homage, such as his Clandestina newspaper which held the headline Painter Teaches God to Paint, after a priest’s comment at Serpa’s funeral service in 1973. Perhaps because of his early death, Serpa remains less known outside Brazil, yet in his home country his significance as both artist and educator remains unquestioned.



Untitled (Série Amazônica)

oil on canvas
23 1/4 x 15 3/4 in. (59.1 x 40 cm.)
Signed and dated "Serpa 1969" on the reverse.

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $143,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Allsopp
Worldwide Director, Latin American Art
+ 1 212 940 1216

Latin America

New York 23 May 2013 4pm