Late last year, when Hauser and Wirth opened its show of Brazilian Neo-Constructivist, Concrete and Neo-Concrete works, the few works on view by Mira Schendel immediately stood out. Light, effortless prices of rice paper printed with China ink and left hanging encased in glass, the works sat somewhere between linguistic deconstruction, minimalism and light art, tracing slight reflections of light over the multi-surface piece. Among a show of boldly colored works and large, impressive sculptures, Schendel’s work stood out for its soft focus and minimal exertions of color.
Schendel’s estate was recently taken up by Hauser and Wirth, and this spring, the artist’s work is given center stage in its first solo exhibition with the gallery, an impressively diverse series of sculptures and drawings that underscores Schendel’s impressive impact on the Brazilian art world. “Everyone must have a Mira,” says curator Olivier Renaud-Clément, who spoke at the show’s press preview early this month, referring the the artist’s fundamental place in the Brazilian world of collectors.
It’s hard to argue with such a statement, particularly when considering the expanse of materials, approaches and techniques Schendel utilizes across this select group of works. Upon entering the gallery, viewers are greeted with minimal white canvas, shaded by an enormous black outcropping that juts from the top of the piece. Schendel’s architectural intrusion is used, however, not for brute force, but as a marker of light, allowing the position of the work to alter how the shadow is cast. In the main room, the focus turns to the artist’s more manageable works, small glass pieces printed with various letters, alongside ink drawings and gold paintings. Schendel’s works, which embrace some of the tenants of color field painting later embraced by both Europe and the U.S., still manages a unique voice here, as the gold space included in her work has been left to oxidize, giving sections a rusty glow that shifts over time.
Upstairs, the gallery is showing a large grouping of Schendel’s spray-paint drawings, shimmering, bold works that utilize the particular color capacities of the medium to create strong contrast in both form and line. Here, Schendel’s works feel particularly fresh, especially given a recent reappraisal of spray paint by much younger artists (Sterling Ruby, etc.). Even compared to thse artists, Schendel’s approach is particularly strong, allowing large swaths of color to speak for themselves.
But perhaps the most impressive piece comes in the front room of the gallery’s second floor, a full-room installation of thin nylon thread titled Still waves of probability. Spread thickly across the room, the threads of the work brush against each other, constantly moving with the the air currents and light of the room’s large, street-facing window. Softly floating in space, the work makes passing light into a compositional element, and distinct lines of soft white are detectable across the “surface.”
Schendel’s strong body of work here fits well in the narrow space of Hauser and Wirth uptown, manageable pieces which carry a healthy payload of phenomenological value for the viewer. Long couched in the history of Brazilian art, her exhibition here provides ample evidence of Schendel’s lasting impact on the broader art of the mid-2oth century.