Artist Spotlight: Sergio Camargo
In 1948, after studying at the Academia Altamira in Buenos Aires, the Brazilian sculptor Sergio Camargo spent two years in Paris pursuing philosophy at the Sorbonne. Through the brief mentorship of Constantin Brâncusi, Camargo began producing bronze female forms that erred toward abstraction. Upon returning to Rio de Janeiro in 1950, his figures became more explicitly abstract under the influence of Brazilian Constructivists who investigated geometric mass through concrete fabrications. Camargo returned to Paris in 1961 and began to associate with major figures from the Op art and kinetic art movements. In 1964, he participated in the Mouvement II show at the Galerie Denise René, which had attracted international fame for championing Op art a decade earlier when many other institutions disregarded the movement as a novelty. Denise René’s groundbreaking 1955 exhibition, Le Mouvement, featured monumental artists such as Victor Vasarely, Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp.
It was during this period that Camargo first discovered the method for his iconic monochromatic relief sculptures, such as Untitled (Relief No. 261) (1969). While creating a traditional mold of his hand, Camargo was taken by the range of possibilities that lay on the outside of the plaster cast where his fingers protruded. Though typically discarded, it was the external plaster that offered the “rhythm of contraction and expansion” that he had been searching for. This breakthrough was followed by a similar revelation when he cut a slice out of an apple and noticed that the shadows elicited by the incision allowed the physicality of the object to continually change based on the many angles he could adopt while looking at the piece of fruit. He debuted the first relief resulting from these encounters at the Paris Biennale in 1963 and was awarded the International Sculpture Prize. At the same show, members of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) demonstrated their collective “environmental experience,” Primer Laberinto. Camargo began working with GRAV that same year. During his involvement with the group, Camargo continued to test the relationship between light and mass, using his original method as a “language” through which he could explore modes of artistic communication. While Camargo’s role in GRAV has been neglected by many sources, the evidence of his participation is clear in the ways that his works rely on the core philosophies developed by the group.
Victor Vasarely, Julio Le Parc, and François Morellet among several others, started GRAV in 1960 with the goal of establishing a scientific method of sorts to challenge the cultural glorification of the artist as an individual. They connected this type of artistic elitism with popular complacency towards anti-democratic political practices. Though at the time “France was not hospitable to geometric abstraction,” some members were greatly motivated by their “study of concrete art in Brazil.” At the outset, GRAV rejected subjective authorship by creating art as a collective, describing themselves as “more a group of paintings than a group of painters.” In a more nuanced fashion, the formal qualities of their pieces displaced the one-way conversation that was expected in the traditional painting-viewer interaction. Instead of informing or instructing the viewer through their works, GRAV prioritized genuine dialogue with their audience. Their works included light installations, wall reliefs, and mobile elements that presented “games” to the viewer. This insistence on participatory practice distinguished not only GRAV, but Camargo, from the broader Op art movement.
Like other GRAV members, Camargo’s solution to the time-old artistic question of space and movement was simply to create uncertainty. His works simultaneously present “fullness and emptiness, order and chaos.” According to one 1966 catalogue, Camargo’s reliefs offer a “process of [visual] reasoning” in their rhythms disorienting enough to prompt the viewer themselves to take on “the act of choosing,” to take on “the creative act.” His white cylindrical forms mechanically filter “the way in which light and space enter the work,” but the actual content of the piece is a matter of highly “personal discovery.” Because like Camargo’s apple, the physical work is subject to innumerable perspectives, angles, and conditions, the relief’s output is as much a product of the viewer’s input as it is of the artist’s.
Ades, Dawn. “Biographies.” Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980, edited by Guy Brett, Yale University Press, 1989, p. 341.
Brett, Guy, and Michael Burke. Camargo. 1st ed., Signals London, 1966.
Cornel de Rodriguez, Ana Maria, and Felix Angel. Brazilian Sculpture From 1920 to 1990: An Identity in Profile. The Cultural Center Inter-American Development Bank, 1997.
Woodruff, Lily. “The Groupe De Recherche d’Art Visuel Against the Technocrats.” Art Journal, vol. 73, no. 3, 2014, pp. 18-37.
Untitled (Relief No. 261)
Oil on wood relief
Signed, titled, and dated in felt-tip marker verso; retains Gimpel Fils Gallery label verso
48.25″ x 40″ x 3.625″
Together with certificate of authenticity from Galeria Raquel Arnaud and the Estate of Sergio Camargo and book Camargo (1966)
Provenance: Gimpel Fils Gallery, London, United Kingdom; Private Collection, Beverly Hills, California (acquired directly from the above, 1971)
Exhibited: “Gallery Choice,” Gimpel Fils Gallery, London, November 17-December3, 1970
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction