“A work of art does not represent anything,” Judith Lauand once observed. “A work of art is.” Such declarative insistence on the autonomy of art positioned Lauand comfortably within the Brazilian Concretist movement of the 1950s. Acclaimed as the “dama do concretismo,” Lauand was the only woman invited to join São Paulo’s Grupo Ruptura, led by Waldemar Cordeiro, in 1955. A relative latecomer to the group, which formed in 1952, she exhibited alongside other members including Geraldo de Barros, Lothar Charoux, and Luiz Sacilotto in major venues including the III Bienal de São Paulo (1955) and the I Exposição Nacional de Arte Concreta (1956). In spite of the indifference she felt from some of her male colleagues, Lauand grounded her practice in the principles defined in the group’s Manifesto (1952): “renovation of the quintessential values of visual art (space-time, movement and material)” in the consideration of “art as a means of knowledge deducible from concepts, situating it above opinion and demanding, for its review, a previous knowledge.” The constructive rigor, formal sequencing, and serial geometries of Concretism, in wide circulation following the triumph of Max Bill at the I Bienal de São Paulo (1951), served as an essential point of reference as she defined her early practice. Lauand experimented with figuration and Pop-inspired wordplay in the 1960s and 1970s, but she remains best known for her Concrete abstractions. In a way like Carmen Herrera, another nonagenarian artist whose geometric paintings have achieved renown only in the past decade, she has found new audiences late in life; a major retrospective, Judith Lauand: Experie^ncias, opened at São Paulo’s Museum of Modern Art in 2011.
Composition on red background embodies the critical duality of Lauand’s work: while non-figurative and reduced to essential, repeated elements of color and form, in accordance with Concrete dicta, the painting also reveals individual brushstrokes and textures of pigment. This dissident expressiveness offsets the mechanical, quasi-mathematical movement implied by the pattern of shapes set on a diagonal, their forms—initiated by the bisected white triangles—suggestively rotating clockwise. Indeed, the cursive lines inscribed across one triangle insist upon the artist’s hand, neatly integrated within the formal logic and pattern of the work. Not unlike the contemporary work of Alfredo Volpi, Composition on red background evokes an idiosyncratic “geometria sensível,” rendering the plasticity and permutations of Concretism through embedded, corporeal touch.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1) Judith Lauand, quoted in Aliza Edelman, “The Masquerade of Geometry: Identity and Abstraction in the Americas,” in Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s-50s, ed. Mary Kate O’Hare (Newark: Newark Museum 2010), 120.
2) “Ruptura Manifesto,” in Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 2001), 152.