Rio de Janeiro

José Pedro Croft

Blending the geometric and the organic, the sculpture and drawings in this engaging exhibition, which originated at the Museu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães in Recife and is currently at the Estação Pinacoteca in São Paulo, offer a dialogue with European modern art as far back as Russian Constructivism, and with the tradition of concrete and neo-concrete art in Brazil that is derived from international constructivism—a conversation as much with Max Bill as with Tatlin or Rodchenko. The Neo-concrete link in José Pedro Croft’s work is perhaps most visible in the way he exposes the imperfect and unstable properties of geometrical forms, previously so masterfully explored by, among others, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. Despite Croft’s penchant for Minimalist-style seriality and for the diagrammatic and the industrial, his modular units are less cool and pristine than similar units in the work of Donald Judd or Robert Morris, because, sometimes appearing as agents of hidden menace, they concern an individual’s relationship to his body as a locus of enhanced vulnerability.

One of the earliest works in the show, Untitled, 1995, consists of a wooden chair with a mirror attached to its lower frame in such a way that it reflects half of the seat and the two back legs, producing the illusion of a complete chair placed against a wall. The old Platonic metaphor of three degrees of reality (or the separation between them) might be recalled here: In this piece we experience a chair, an image of a chair, and the idea of a chair. Playing with reflections to enhance special illusionism as a way of extracting what is intrinsic to sculpture is also the modus operandi of Untitled, 1998, a structure resembling scaffolding made of L-shaped beams with mirrors inserted in various places to make the appearance of the work fluctuate between fragile and solid, horizontal and vertical, transparent and opaque. The piece addresses visibility and illusion, and the basis of perception in a body moving in space. Here in Rio, the work also entered into a dialogue with the outdoor space and light experienced through a large glass window.

Croft’s art appears to be highly structured and yet staged. Seeming more like assemblages than constructions in feel, his pieces possess their own inner logic, and their geometry is implied rather than stated. The boundaries between sculpture and drawing are questioned, not only because there is a strong linear component to the sculptures, but also because formal repetitiveness enhances their diagrammatic look. The line, as a conceptual device, becomes a vehicle for communicating ideas before they become form and as such is a visualization of the act of anticipation and, perhaps, of a desire to maintain fragility, both physical and emotional. Some interpret Croft’s works as tombs or sarcophagi and therefore link them to death or funerals, yet the pieces seem to disclose their potential without overtly stating their purpose or meaning.

The artist’s large planar drawings recall Russian Suprematism, but they are devoid of its Promethean drive—they are down-to-earth. They share with the sculpture a sensitivity to the simplicity of the material world, which is reinforced by the perceptual repetitiveness of his motifs. As Croft connects his abstract art to the rhythm of daily life and commemorates its passing, his works might be called “relational,” thanks to their blurring of the boundaries between the autographic and the conceptual aspects of artmaking.

Marek Bartelik