Ivan Serpa - BRIC London Thursday, April 14, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Brazil

  • Catalogue Essay

    Ivan Serpa was a key figure within the Brazilian post-war constructivist avant-garde. He first began painting in the abstract geometric genre in 1947 when, together with fellow artists Almir Mavignier, Abraham Palatnik and the art critic Mario Pedrosa, he worked as an art therapy tutor in the Engenho de Dentro Psychiatric Hospital in Rio de Janeiro. Astonished by the expressive power and ‘authenticity’ of the patients’ artwork, this group of artists found new approaches for their own production in constructiveoriented art. Serpa’s geometric work attracted attention during the first edition of the São Paulo Biennial in 1951, where he was awarded the young painter prize.
    Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he 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, transforming it into a progressive alternative to the then-conservative art schools. He had a fundamental role in the formation of many significant artists over the period, including the Oiticica brothers and, from 1960 onwards, many who would become involved in the new figuration group, such as Anna Maria Maiolino. Antonio Manuel is another important artist who emerged in the 1960s and acknowledges Serpa’s significance, both through artist’s statements and artworks produced in homage.
    Untitled (c. 1953, lot no. 57) is demonstrative of Serpa’s work within the Grupo Frente, a group of artists from Rio de Janeiro gathered together by Serpa and working in loosely abstract geometric style; many were his students, and would later form the core membership of the Neo-Concrete movement. Hélio Oiticica’s early work was very much influenced by Serpa’s teaching, and this is particularly evident in Oiticica’s Grupo Frente work and in his Metaesquemas series, where strong compositional associations between the two artists can be found. Informed by the increasing interest in concrete art in Brazil, particularly following Max Bill’s retrospective and award-winning participation at the 1951 São Paulo Biennial, Untitled (c.1953) is indicative of Serpa’s exploration of rhythmic arrangements of lines in a rigid geometrical composition. It possesses compositional relationships with other celebrated works of his, such as Quadrados em ritmos resultantes (Squares with Resultant Rhythms), also painted during the Frente Group period. In 1957 Serpa was awarded the foreign travel prize at the VI Salão Nacional de Arte Moderna of Rio de Janeiro, and as a result spent two years in Italy and Spain, which perhaps explains why he himself did not become associated with Neo-Concretism.
    Upon his return to Brazil, Serpa resumed his courses at the museum and later participated in exhibitions which are now considered pivotal to the development of Brazilian art, such as Opinião 65, which juxtaposed artists from France and Brazil working loosely with issues surrounding new figuration and Pop Art. During the 1960s Serpa began exploring parallel lines of aesthetic enquiry, including a strongly expressive and figurative mode. Untitled, Amazonas Series No. 12 shows the artist reaching a synthesis of these diverse modes of creative production. The constructivist influence remains, yet it is now ‘softened’ by curved lines that recall a pop aesthetic, and ‘tropical’ colours, a sign that Serpa was in tune with the radical Tropicalist ideals that began to cause shock waves in the Brazilian cultural milieu of the late 1960s.
    Perhaps because of his early death, Serpa remains relatively unknown outside Brazil, yet in his home country his significance as both artist and educator is unquestioned.
    Dr. Michael Asbury


Untitled No. 12 from the series Amazon

Oil on canvas.
22 x 27 cm (8 5/8 x 10 1/2 in).
Signed and dated ‘Ivan Serpa 01/06/1970’ on the reverse.

£15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for £32,450


14 - 15 April 2011