Sergio Camargo's Untitled (Relief No. 195) is one of his signature organic and lyrically assembled white reliefs that creates a dialogue between mass and light. Known as a pioneer of Brazilian Constructivism, in the 1960s Camargo defied these principles with his iconic white monochromatic reliefs evoking balance, movement, seriality and multiplicity. His reliefs of the 1960s remark upon a cosmopolitan history of late modernist practices, engaging in different ways the geometry of Neo-concretism (Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica), the opticality of kineticism (Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús Rafael Soto), and conceptualism (Sol Lewitt, Robert Ryman). Camargo was a student of Lucio Fontana in Buenos Aires where undoubtedly his interest in volume and space was first established. Indeed, the linear paths presented through the blossoming eddies of large white cylinders that comprise Untitled evoke some of Fontana's own slashes in his celebrated Attese. In 1948 Camargo left for Paris where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and sculpture at the Grande Chaumière in the studio of Auricoste. These experiences went on to inform his subsequent practice and played a critical part in his artistic practice upon returning to Brazil.
Executed in 1968, the same year as his inclusion at Documenta in Kassel, Untitled was created at the height of Camargo's career, after he had already received accolades at the Paris Biennale in 1963, the São Paulo Biennale in 1965, and the Venice Biennale in 1966. He subsequently chose to return to Paris where he continued his formal experiments with volume and space that radically railed against the Constructivist aesthetic he had espoused the decade before. While in Paris, Camargo formed an association with Constantin Brancusi, whose sculptural volumes formed an early point of reference from which he began to translate constructivist principles into conceptual monochromes. Camargo's first white relief was executed in 1963 when the artist was thirty-three. The discovery of his sculptural vernacular was entirely incidental; one day whilst cutting an apple, he sliced off nearly half the fruit and made an additional cut at a different angle to take a piece to eat. The resulting planes made a neat relationship of light and shadow, and it was this discovery that gave Camargo the concept for his wooden, cylindrical elements. These simple shapes became the very foundations for his work, the art lying in their rhythmic application to the flat board. It was through what would become known as his signature reliefs such as Untitled that Camargo investigated the conceptual problems that would come to define the most celebrated period of his career.
In Untitled the painted white relief presents a proliferation of angled wooden cylinders mounted in lyrical undulations. Camargo employs different size cylinders to create whirling blooms that recall structures found in nature. The work further highlights the dichotomy between art and nature with the materiality of the wood used to comprise the carefully constructed white relief. These patterns evoke a sense of kinetic movement in their poetic and rhythmic disposition. The spatialized energy of Untitled projects well beyond the work's intimate size, generating a full-bodied phenomenological experience through the play of light and shadow around its suggestively animate wooden forms, which Guy Brett has described as, "a kind of white mould into which light seems to imprint its natural rhythm; it bears the traces of each slight transformation as clean morning light changes to plain afternoon light and later to elusive evening light. It is not there to tell us anything but to return, amplified, what we bring to it" (G. Brett, quoted in Sergio Camargo: Light and Shadow, São Paolo, 2007, p. 23).
The crux of Camargo's aesthetic, like that of many other artists of his generation, rests between the physics and metaphysics of his work, in other words between the materiality of the wood cylinders and the philosophical space they inhabit. While the real, physical properties of each curved piece never change, their interaction with one another and the larger environment they inhabit seems to be ever-changing with the light. Camargo privileges the instantaneousness of the single, captive moment: the reliefs virtually dematerialize in the movement of light across their surface, creating an expansive and ephemeral experience of space. It is a transcendent effect and a phenomenological counterpoint to the wooden materiality of the Constructivist cylinders, whose objective structure catalyzes an intensely subjective experience.
Camargo understood his reliefs to be intellectual products, world-conscious and historically situated. The sculptural reliefs acknowledge the precedents of his mentors, from Fontana and Brancusi, yet dramatically re-engage with the Constructivist tradition, invigorating old geometries with the lyricism of organic form. His reliefs are ultimately a study of continuity across surface, where the individual forms retain their essential properties but become infinitely transformative. As Guy Brett has remarked, "The relief's material structure--a dense compacted matrix suggesting the earth, the organic, the vegetable, the crystalline--becomes the means of manifesting its opposite: the immaterial, light, air, in a mysterious and beautiful unity." (G. Brett, quoted in Camargo: esculturas, exh. cat., Lisbon, Fundaço Calouste Gulbenkian, 1994, n.p.).