Mira Schendel - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, São Paulo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Objeto gráfico, 1973, is a paradigmatic work in the oeuvre of Mira Schendel. The artist utilizes the basic building blocks of words— the medium through which language conveys concepts, emotions, concrete images and all of the paraphernalia of communication— to convey her vision of the function and meaning of art. That is to say, Schendel juxtaposes and "discourses" (creates a conversation, a dialogue) with the basic elements of two languages, dissecting them in order to find alternative ways of depicting her own vision of reality. Thus, the present lot once again evidences Mira Schendel’s importance as one of the most innovative and radical artists of the second half of the 20th century.

    In order to best understand Schendel’s work and particularly her use of language, we must place it in the historical context that molded her philosophy of art— a period in which the intelligentsia turned language into a paradigm for conceptualizing art in different media. She was also reacting against the “tendency during the early part of the twentieth century to take the organism, the machine, natural selection, and other such models as organizing systems through which to explain reality.” (Luis Pérez-Oramas, León Ferrari and Mira Schendel Tangled Alphabets, 2009, p.14). At that precise time in North America and Europe, conceptual artists were rapidly emerging for whom the art form was not restricted to a single medium and the concept was the most important aspect of the work of art. Schendel, furthermore, rejected the notion of painting as the primary medium to express an artist's vision, abandoning the genre in the 1970s and working mostly with paper. She was using language both literally and figuratively, as a material body of signs, traces and brushstrokes that ultimately comes to mean more than the sum of its parts.

    The execution of each letter—frequently through the use of monotypes— is fundamental as it transforms each work into a unique, unrepeatable operation. As curator Luis Pérez-Oramas states, “the materiality of signs and symbols resonates like a dissonant, distorting echo for the ideal and perhaps fictional purity of the mind and of ideas.” (Pérez-Oramas, León Ferrari and Mira Schendel Tangled Alphabets, 2009, p.15). Schendel frequently used transparency to show the body of an artwork built of "graphic objects" (i.e. letters), which is also a display of language mechanisms seen from multiple points of view. The letters are in no recognizable order—they do not form words or structures of communication. The use of disorder and freedom as a compositional concept also reflects a principle in her personal life: as the result of her rejection of religion and adoption of an agnostic world view, she came to believe that her own body was purely a material substance, albeit a sometimes confused and chaotic body of language.

    Schendel’s use of transparent Plexiglas sheets demonstrates another form of materiality that allows us to see objects from a multiplicity of angles, making all these points of view equal in importance and signification. This further alludes to an understanding of the world as having no set direction from which to interpret its discourses, as opposed to religion, which aims to provide an objective and structured order to life. The letters, texts, signs and deconstructed objects are in and of themselves another form of materiality, yet they are also objects that convey a theoretical concept of contradictions.

    In the present lot, Schendel executed a series of bold letters that were then placed on a semi-transparent sheet of white paper between Plexiglas. Schendel then proceeded to depict an array of very thick and bold letters that do not necessarily spell out a word, thus, making them illegible and untranslatable. These compositional and conceptual decisions turn the work into a purely visual and entirely subjective experience. She placed bold letters on the exterior surface side of the Plexiglas, so that when viewed from the opposite side, we can see the shadows juxtaposed in a delicate and balanced composition of "language", which remains floating freely and in a liminal world of its own.

  • 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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Objeto gráfico

transfer text and Letraset on Japanese paper, mounted between two Plexiglas sheets
25 1/4 x 16 1/2 in. (64 x 42 cm)
Signed and dated "mira 73" on the reverse.

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $485,000

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm