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

Relief no. 193

Sergio Camargo (1930-1990)
Relief no. 193
signed, dated, and inscribed 'Camargo, 68, no. 193' (on the verso)
painted wood relief
11 9/16 x 7 ¼ in. (29.4 x 18.4 cm.)
Painted in 1968.
Galeria Raquel Arnaud, São Paulo.
Private collection, São Paulo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Further details
1 Guy Brett, Camargo: esculturas (Lisbon: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Centro de Arte Moderna José de Azeredo Perdigão, 1994), n.p.
2 Guy Brett, “Sculpture by Camargo at Gimpel Fils until June 8,” Studio International 175 (June 1968): 316.
3 Ibid., 316-17.
4 Ronaldo Brito, “Anonymous Enigmas,” in Camargo: esculturas, n.p.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Raquel Arnaud, dated 17 June 2016 and numbered 13698.
A student of Emilio Pettoruti and Lucio Fontana as a young artist in Buenos Aires, Camargo found his artistic and philosophical bearings in Paris over the course of the 1950s and 1960s. He was drawn at first to the teachings of Gaston Bachelard at the Sorbonne and to the studio of Constantin Brancusi, whose sculptural volumes formed an early point of reference. By 1963, he had begun to translate Constructivist principles into the conceptual monochromes for which he is best known. Camargo’s iconic white reliefs in wood and marble remark upon an international history of late modernist practices, engaging in different ways the unfolding geometries of Neo-concretism (Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica), the optical vibrations of kineticism (Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús Rafael Soto), and the iterative systems of conceptualism (Sol Lewitt, Robert Ryman). Meditations on the nature and limits of order and disorder, stasis and seriality, movement and multiplicity, his reliefs suggest the shifting topology of sculptural space and its ultimate dematerialization.
“Whatever is fixed and permanent about it acts as a foil and resonator for all that is fleeting and changing,” critic Guy Brett remarked of the “perpetual present” embodied in Camargo’s work. “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.”1 Constructed of diagonally cut, wooden cylinders set atop a flat wooden board, the white relief elements open up the syntax of geometry, delighting in the luminous deconstruction of its rational forms. In the present work, Camargo sets the rectangular shape of the board in dialogue with the plasticity of the projecting wooden modules, positing a dynamic relationship between plane and volume. The spatialized energy of Relief no. 193 projects well beyond the work’s intimate size, generating an immersive phenomenological experience through the flux of light and shadow around its suggestively animate, almost coralline wooden forms. The sculptural surface becomes an expansive perceptual field, its profusion of cylinders tangibly mediating between the material and the immaterial, being and nothingness.
Camargo’s reliefs splay open the syntax of what he called empirical geometry, incorporating passages of light and air within a labyrinth of monochrome cylinders. “He by-passed the possibilities of disintegrating static volume in a mechanical space, the articulation of limbs or systems of stresses between interrelated members, or anything that this approach might have led to,” Brett explained, continuing:
Instead, for him, volume has swelled and opened like a flower or a fruit, in a sense drawing light into itself to accomplish this growth. This process has brought the sculptor’s material (wood) and light into a new relationship, a kind of reciprocal relationship in which matter is seen as a function of light and light is seen as a function of matter. Light becomes body, and body becomes light. . . . By this opening process, the static, finite, corporeal density of matter is exchanged for the constantly and minutely varying densities of light—the ordinary light always around us. ‘Exchanged’ is really the wrong word because light doesn’t obliterate the volume but fuses with it. This too suggests the sense in which Camargo’s reliefs are concerned with movement. Space is not marked out and divided; movement consists in a shifting of densities. And these are always seen in relation to a void, which is either the blank wall surrounding the relief or areas of white board within the work.2
In Relief no. 193, the dense corporeality of light is set against the void of the white wall behind it, a relationship mediated by the natural wooden panel—its striking vertical grain left visible—that intervenes between the cylinders and the wall. In a way like Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings (1951) and contemporary Minimalism, Camargo’s reliefs foreground the relationship of artwork to wall and to viewer, probing relationships of space, shape, and time. “To see the work of art as something receptive, no longer autonomous, runs right through modern art,” Brett remarked, “with Malevich’s White on White canvas, Brancusi’s reflecting volumes, Schwitters’ Merz-column, Vantongerloo’s prisms, Moholy-Nagy’s Light-space modulator, Yves Klein’s ‘traces’ of natural forces.” Camargo’s reliefs similarly evolved within this expanded field of sculpture, Brett explained: “If you were to follow Camargo’s work from its beginning to the white reliefs he is making today, you would see a process in which the static volume of traditional sculpture has been gradually disintegrated. You would follow his exploration of the language of modern art in terms of his own experience, as he gradually evolved his own structure.”3
The crux of Camargo’s aesthetics rests finally between the physics and the metaphysics of his work, between the objecthood of the wood cylinders and the philosophical space that they inhabit. The organic character of the relief elements engages metaphors of the body, physical and psychosomatic, even as the materiality of its surfaces and volumes yields to the all-over abstraction of topological space. “We can perhaps appeal to a universal geometric imagination functioning here at its highest degree of tension and audacity,” critic Ronaldo Brito reflected of Camargo’s practice. “And also at a highest degree of aesthetic selection that is as rigorous as [it is] singular. Not at any moment does the artist interfere on the specific logic of elements—as mathematical figures, this work proceeds on its own. Notwithstanding, Camargo’s poetics consist exactly in defying method, and incessantly questioning order—attractive are only the unusual combinations pointing to the unstable but everlasting sense of harmony. The pulsation of harmony, its casualism, the luster and surprise of its emergence.”4
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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