Sergio Camargo (Brazilian 1930-1990)
Sergio Camargo (Brazilian 1930-1990)

Relief No. 188

Sergio Camargo (Brazilian 1930-1990)
Relief No. 188
signed, dated and titled 'Relief No. 188, Paris 1967, Camargo' (on the verso)
painted wood relief
31½ x 24 7/8 in. (80 x 63.2 cm.)
Executed in Paris in 1967.
Gimpel Fils Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner (1968).
Exhibition catalogue, Camargo, London, Gimpel Fils Gallery, no. 34 (illustrated).
Zurich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Camargo, 2 March- 3 April 1968, no. 34. This exhibition also traveled to London, Gimpel Fils Gallery, 14 May- 8 June 1968.

Lot Essay

A subtle aesthete and studied classicist, Camargo charted a personal course through the history of modern sculpture beginning in the early 1960s. Newly returned to Paris, he continued his formal experiments with volume and space, abandoning representation as he constructed what would become his signature wood reliefs, defining for the first time the conceptual problems that would preoccupy the rest of his career. Composed of diagonally-cut wooden cylinders set atop a flat wooden board, the all-white reliefs open up the syntax of geometry to provide a tactile, kinetic experience indebted to historical Constructivism yet attuned to contemporary deconstructions of its systematizing forms. Camargo's self-described "empirical geometry" confronts the limits of modernist form by carving away and rearticulating its volumes, reaching for maximal points of coexistence between order and its disintegration.
"The crucial point," according to critic Ronaldo Brito, "was how to arrive at an abstract aesthetics of the volume: how to elaborate the specific intelligence of the volume without falling back on the illusionist mimesis and all the substantialist load that inexorably accompanies it?"(1) Relief No.188 finely pressures this relationship between the picture plane and its topology of space. The carved wooden cylinders, projecting at a multiplicity of angles, indulge the optical faculty through the play of light and shadow around each module. The spatialized density of the clustering volumes becomes the perfect foil to the absolute, reductive flatness of the white board below. In a very few instances Camargo tactically exposes the board, as in the present work, in which two parallel vertical incisions cut into the dense strata of projecting forms. Here, the inner space of the relief is just visible, introducing a new layer of depth into the structure and forming a striking juxtaposition to the proliferation of metastasizing forms protruding outward across the surface. The narrow slits pay homage to the work of the Argentine Lucio Fontana, who famously slashed the surfaces of his monochromatic canvases, and Camargo's sculptural rendering likewise suggests a new apprehension of space, described as well by the movement of light as by its architectural and material forms.

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 conceptual space they project. Sharing the philosophy of his teachers, Gaston Bachelard and Pierre Francastel, in Paris, Camargo understood his reliefs as intellectual products, world-conscious and historically situated. The sculptural reliefs acknowledge the precedents of his mentors, from the Argentines Fontana and Emilio Pettoruti to the Europeans Arp, Brancusi and Vantongerloo, yet dramatically re-engage their tradition of Constructivist aesthetics, invigorating old geometries with the lyricism of organic form. As Brito has suggested, "The final triumph belongs to the absolute aesthetic evidence of each piece in itself. His more classical approach, trusting in the social action of the form on a way of long historical continuance, can only refine itself, however, through the conquest of tension, vertigo and opposites, challenging permanently its own balance."(2)

1) R. Brito, Camargo, São Paulo, Edicãoes Akagawa, 1990, 37.
2) Brito, "Present for Future," in Mira Schendel, Sergio Camargo, Willys de Castro, Rio de Janeiro, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 2000, 59.

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