Mira Schendel - Latin America New York Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galeria André Millan, São Paulo
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    Mira Schendel is now widely recognized as one of the most significant and influential Brazilian artists of the twentieth century. Her work is distinguished as much by its acute material sensitivity as by its profound, far-reaching, and consistent connection to philosophical thought. Born in Zurich in 1919, she grew up and was educated in Milan. Her father and maternal grandfather were Jewish, and she left Italy under duress during World War Two. Schendel lived in Sofia, Sarajevo and Rome before eventually applying for Brazilian citizenship. She settled in Porto Alegre in 1949, exhibited at the São Paulo Biennale in 1951, and moved to São Paulo in 1953. Her work was neither driven forward by increased specialization, in any specific medium, nor by the investigation of the limits of specific supports, such as painting or sculpture. Rather it was an intense intellectual curiosity that allowed her to maintain a continuously experimental practice throughout her career. The establishment of a productive and mutually transformative dialogue with writers and thinkers was of thus of central importance in understanding the process of Schendel’s work; in order to give physical body to her shared philosophical speculations, she explored and moved between a variety of materials and modes of expression.

    Amongst her most celebrated works are the monotipias, a series of monotype drawings on transparent rice paper produced 1964-65. Later, similar rice paper sheets, containing handwritten and printed letters, were mounted between large acrylic plates and suspended from the ceiling by wires. A group of works from this series, the Objetos Gráficos (Graphic Objects, 1967-68) was installed at the 1968 Venice Biennale. Continually finding possibilities within materials -as well within ideas - moved her practice onward. The discovery of acrylic allowed her to present both sides of the rice paper monotipias equivalently, and at the same time; thus she was attracted to that material because it allowed her to present ‘transparency’ not only as a material characteristic, but also as a philosophical conundrum. The provocation of her transparent works was to think of time in terms of the simultaneity, relationality, and complexity of the present moment. Following on from the Graphic Objects, her transparent works of the early seventies - including the discos (Disks) transformaveis (Transformables) and Cadernos (Notebooks), allowed her to continue these explorations, in relation to the varying concerns that make up Schendel’s long-established investigation of the limits of Western language and thought.

    This 1971 work is one of the first to be produced of a series of works that are collectively entitled Discos (Disks). These were exhibited, alongside other works exploring transparency, at the Galeria Ralph Camargo, São Paulo in 1972. Like the Graphic Objects, the Disks were suspended within the space of the gallery using thin wires. The Graphic Objects had allowed her to present the two sides of a plane within one simultaneous moment, and the Discos add a further layer of complexity to her investigation of time. Taking a circular shape, composed of multiple layers, these works entice the viewer to look at the work not only in terms of its two faces, but also to read though the object, via the spiraling movement of the Letraset zeros that it contains. These objects also introduce Schendel’s interest in the specific connection between circular forms and non-western philosophy that was to be explicitly investigated by a later series, the Mandalas (1973). The figure of the zero used here, meanwhile, speaks of her consistent interest in nothingness and its significance – within the Buddhist tradition - as a symbol not only of emptiness but also of inexhaustible potential. Thus, the fact that this transparent disk offers the viewer numerous possibilities of looking is contained by the meaning of the simple, repeating and spiraling Letraset figure that is enclosed by its layers.

  • Artist Biography

    Mira Schendel

    Brazilian • 1919 - 1988

    Born in Zurich and of Jewish heritage, Mira Schendel escaped Switzerland during World War II to settle in Sarajevo and Rome, finally immigrating to Brazil in 1953. In the 1960s, she began to produce her iconic monotipas, delicate drawings on luminescent rice paper. She 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 that is completely her own. Schendel's works go beyond the materiality of making art and allow viewers to understand the relationship between language, time and human thought processes.

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Disco Zero

Acrylic and letraset.
7 1/8 x 3 1/2 in. (18 x 9 cm).

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $254,500

Latin America

14 & 15 November 2011
New York