Artists Without Borders

An immense and provocative exhibit at MAM demonstrates that ideas ignore borders

Another group whose path Hillings tracks is GRAV, or Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel, France's response to art concret. It included artists Julio Le Parc, Horacio Garcia Rossi, and François Morellet, among others. In Italy there was Gruppo N and Gruppo T (for time/space), with artist Gianni Colombo.

Suddenly monochromatic painting had become an objective of all these groups because it was in direct opposition to Bill's art concretprogram, though it turns out that French iconoclast Yves Klein had been trying monochromatism for some time. In 1961 GRAV sponsored the exhibition "Nouvelle Tendance" ("New Trend") from which South American neo-concretists Grupo Madí, as well as Zero, were excluded. Was that a betrayal? Hillings doesn't say.

Later the artists from GRAV modeled themselves after a research team to further separate themselves from Zero, which presumably still defended some kind of individualism in the art-making process. The group ended up with the name NTrc, for New Trend Continual Research.

When all these groups converged on the art market in the early Sixties, they were variably labeled as "kinetic," "light," "programmed," or "Op art." They had shown all over Europe and Latin America, but it was the Museum of Modern Art's "The Responsive Eye" that best embodied this long trajectory of twenty years. Unfortunately the exhibit was not well received by critics. The sacred cows of the New York establishment -- Barbara Rose, Thomas Hess, Rosalind Krauss, and Clement Greenberg -- decried the European participation as second-rate, derivative post-Cubist, post-Suprematist geometry.

"The Responsive Eye" coincided with developments within American art, such as color field and hard-edge painting, all based on a more conceptual approach -- devoid of intuition and self (something art concret had defended for almost two decades). Was this another global coincidence?

Hillings sees the outcome of the MoMA show as a battle of semantics. I see it as an exercise in aesthetic hegemony. At the time, New York (just like Paris 30 years earlier) was the highest point; its critics the decisive voices. Today we realize that many of the similarities among American, Latin American, and European artists were decisively (and opportunistically) dismissed in favor of the differences. And there are important differences, such as American individualism versus European utopianism. U.S. minimalists insisted that abstraction should not be suggestive of anything outside itself, whereas the Europeans and Latin Americans maintained that art was a revolutionizing social force.

I didn't like the fact that music and film play such a small part in "Beyond Geometry." The so-called sound room was no more than a little box. The idea that art and music must be separated in the context of this particular show seems archaic. Music by composers such as Pierre Boulez, Morton Feldman, John Cage, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley was as important a catalyst as anything in the history of these art movements; it should have played a more prominent role.

Still there are other treasures in the exhibit, such as Stanislaw Drózdz's Between (a whole room filled with letters), the concrete poetry of Eugen Gomringer, Ronaldo Azaredo, and Augusto de Campos (don't miss his superb 1957 Sem un numero). They all evince a compelling elegance and simplicity. You'll also enjoy Grazia Varisco's gracious Gnomons, an installation of triangular metallic units that suggest flying birds; Frank Stella's magnificent 1959 Getty Tomb; Jesús Rafael Soto's Almost Immaterial Vibrations; Doug Wheeler's hypnotic Light Encasement (in neon and plastic); and the delicate installation Continual Light by Julio Le Parc.

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