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PAMM Plans Massive Retrospective of Argentinian Artist Julio Le Parc

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When Franklin Sirmans took the reins as director of the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) earlier this year, he vowed to rework the young, fledgling institution to serve and represent the local community. Since then, PAMM has highlighted artists from Latin America and the Caribbean, a demographic typically overlooked by the domestic art establishment. And now, as the museum prepares for its fourth Art Basel week, they've announced the first U.S. retrospective of Argentinian artist Julio Le Parc. 

Under the eye of curator Estrellita Brodsky, three of the museum's exhibit rooms will be fully transformed to reflect different strains of Le Parc's vast oeuvre. Gouache and ink on paper, labyrinthian installations, paintings, light installations, and heady conceptual pieces with a political bent will be presented in a broad survey of one of the most iconoclastic voices in Latin American contemporary art. 

Le Parc was born in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1928, before moving to Paris in the late '50s to study and hone his craft. In France, he developed close ties with the sociopolitical student movements that greatly influenced his early works, meant to disorient viewers by shocking them out of complacency. As a founding member of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV), he made seminal contributions to the fields of op and kinetic art. Though the bulk of his pieces was produced in the '60s and '70s, his work continues to have far-reaching influence in the region and abroad. 

New Times sat down with Brodsky to get a firsthand account of what we can expect from this much-buzzed-about exhibit. 

New Times: When did you first encounter Le Parc's works? 

Estrellita Brodsky: Growing up between the United States and Latin America (my father was from Venezuela and my mother from Uruguay), I first became aware of Le Parc’s work in Venezuela, where his work was in private collections and also shown at public institutions such as the Museo de Arte Moderno established by Sofía Imber.

What was it about his pieces that initially caught your eye? 

Le Parc has consistently challenged the autonomy of the artwork and denounced the elitism of traditional painting. The artist feels very strongly about the importance of art’s immediacy, and that it is at its best when unmediated. For Le Parc, art should be a participatory experience.

I found in the works an uplifting play of light and forms. I first met Julio over a decade ago while working on my doctorate studies at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on Le Parc and his Latin American contemporaries including Jesús Rafael Soto and others working in post-WWII Paris. It was a period of great effervescence, optimism, and international artistic exchanges that I feel still has resonance in today’s world. I have been involved with bringing recognition [for] this generation of Latin American artists to the U.S. public. 

What can the average PAMM visitor expect from the retrospective? 

Visitors will come into contact with over 100 works and experience Le Parc’s artistic production as it evolved from his early two-dimensional geometric studies and paintings, through small light boxes, to room-size installations, immersive environments, and playrooms. His diverse body of work shares a central destabilizing function: provoking the visitor’s direct interaction with the works and with his or her environment, while at the same time demanding recognition of that social engagement.
 How does Le Parc's work continue to influence more socially conscious artists today?

Le Parc’s art is rooted in a belief that social change can and should be the goal of the aesthetic experience. Not only forms but also individuals should be set into action. The concept of art as a manifestation of an unstable, displaceable reality was and continues to be a driving force for Le Parc. The artist confers artistic responsibility on the viewer through movement: either perceived illusory movement as in his painting and drawings, or actual physical movement as in his three-dimensional work and light environments and playroom. With art expressed as a constantly changing perceptual experience, the artist can be an important protagonist in creating change for the future: If nothing is fixed in time and space, then anything is possible.

Movement is not only an integral aspect of his oeuvre, it facilitates the activation of new networks of communication between individuals and allows people to become active contributors to culture rather than passive consumers. Form Into Action reasserts Le Parc’s historical importance and connects him to other contemporary art schools, such as Relational Aesthetics, that echo Le Parc’s early concepts of the politics of play. The concept of interactive playroom spaces within traditional museums or in the urban environment as Le Parc introduced in the early 1960s predated the practices developed in later decades by artists identified with Relational Aesthetics.

How do you view Le Parc's work in the context of the current domestic political climate? 

Le Parc has consistently proposed radical new relationships between the artist, the public, and the artwork, by generating new and destabilizing encounters that set into action not only geometric forms and colors but also the viewer. This fundamental notion of art as a participatory act and a means of empowering the viewer to decide for him or herself what direction to take is a democratizing one. Engaging the visitor directly with the object and one’s social space gives one a sense of political and social empowerment that is important to value in the context of the current domestic political climate.
PAMM made a point to highlight Latin American and Caribbean artists that tend to be underrepresented by major American institutions. Do you see the Le Parc retrospective as fitting into that core principle? 

"Form Into Action" is the first museum exhibition in the U.S. dedicated to Le Parc. Though he has painfully been overlooked in the U.S., Le Parc has been a pioneer in the fields of participatory art, concepts of instability, and disorienting environments through his groundbreaking innovations in movement and visual perception, which the artist began soon after his arrival to Paris in 1958. This exhibition, which is a monumental undertaking with over 115 rarely seen works, corrects this oversight and continues PAMM’s focus on historically important artists from the Americas.

PAMM is a great place to offer a participatory and meaningful experience to a diverse public, and to recognize the significant contributions made by artists outside the art historical canon, largely overlooked in the United States. I believe that PAMM is uniquely positioned to present the artist’s groundbreaking innovations in a fresh and inclusive way that allows for a re-examination of the artist role in the United States, Latin America, and Europe, and for a vital interaction with the museum’s most diverse international audience and with a wide range of age groups. As a dynamic center for visual arts education and with an interest in facilitating engagement with the public, PAMM will be an exceptional resource within which to highlight the artist’s investigations over the past 60 years.

"Julio Le Parc: Form Into Action"
Will be on view at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) from November 18 through March 19, 2017. For more information regarding the opening, contact the museum closer to the date at 305-375-3000.

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