Critics’ Picks

Abraham Palatnik, Kinechromatic Device, 1969/1986, wood, metal, acrylic, lightbulbs, motor, 44 x 28 x 8''. From the “Kinechromatic Device” series, 1951–2004.

New York

Abraham Palatnik

Galeria Nara Roesler | New York
22 East 69th Street 3R
May 3–July 8, 2016

One of the highlights of Frieze New York last month was this gallery’s presentation of Abraham Palatnik, an octogenarian Brazilian artist whose “Kinechromatic Devices,” 1951–2004, helped to pioneer kinetic light art during the mid-twentieth century. Though included in venues such as the first Bienal de São Paulo in 1951, and the Venice Biennale of 1964, coming across one outside the artist’s studio today is rare: as with other kinetic works, their delicate mechanisms and elision from art-historical narratives keep them from view. Happily, they can be seen again in this show, where they are situated within the context of Palatnik’s long career.

A founder of abstraction in postwar Brazil through his involvement with Grupo Frente and Neo-concretism, Palatnik is primarily fascinated with the abstraction of movement itself. Inspired by the sight of a flickering candle, his light boxes display colors and forms that are in perpetual transformation. The crepuscular light and protean shapes defy easy identification, resisting the sublimation of sensual experience into language. And yet, like the sensing body itself, they are not without order: Most notably, some of them, like the Kinechromatic Device of 1969/1986, share our bilateral symmetry.

The same tension between order and disorder appears in Palatnik’s nonkinetic works, in which he exploits the inherent properties of his materials to create irregular yet balanced patterns. To make his “Progression Reliefs” of the 1960s and ’70s, he rearranged vertical strips of jacaranda wood, its natural grain suggesting a staccato contraction and expansion across the horizontal axis. Whether mechanized or not, the restless movement of his works affirms the desire of both art and technology to reorder the world, and our experience of it.