Carlos Cruz-Diez: Mastering Colour


By Adriana Alvarez-Nichol
Vice President, Hong Kong Art Gallery Association
Founder and Director, Puerta Roja Limited

Since its foundation in 2010, Puerta Roja has strived to bring greater understanding in Asia Pacific of the influence and contribution Latin American artists have had to the development of modern and contemporary art. It could not be more fitting for the gallery to enter its seventh year in Hong Kong by presenting the works of one of the most impactful and dynamic artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Carlos Cruz-Diez arose from the roots of the Kinetic and Op Art movement in South America to become one of its most important voices on the world stage for more than five decades. Carlos Cruz-Diez: Mastering Colour is the first solo exhibition devoted to the artist’s work at a gallery space in Hong Kong.

Cruz-Diez’ historical relevance is undoubtedly substantiated by the hundreds of international exhibitions, architectural interventions and ephemeral installations he has held. His works are part of more than 60 museums and prominent public collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Tate Modern, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Centre Georges Pompidou. In Asia Pacific, since1988 when Physichromie Double Face was installed in the Olympic Park in South Korea, the artist has showcased significant public commissions and exhibitions in Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, most notably the touring exhibition Circumstance and Ambiguity of Colour which was presented in the most important museums in China between 2013 and 2014. It is however, the unwavering universal relevance that the artist’s work continues to have in today’s contemporary world and his still very active practice that make this exhibition so pertinent for Hong Kong. At 93, Carlos Cruz-Diez continues his research, bringing it forward to the digital age and pursuing ever more ambitious projects such as his recent monumental installation covering a naval ship for the Liverpool Biennial jointly commissioned by the Tate. Carlos Cruz-Diez, like the colour in his work, is focused on the present, not the past.

In this spirit of the present, the exhibition and this accompanying catalogue introduce some of the most refined recent works by the artist, capturing through these creations over six decades of tireless research into colour, line and perception. Following a thematic, instead of a chronological documentation, the oeuvre specially selected by the artist for Hong Kong, provides a comprehensive insight into the artist’s various areas of investigation. Such investigations have been encapsulated as individual lines of thinking in a number of Series inventively termed by the artist himself.

Large-scale grid structures from his celebrated Physichromie series, which Cruz-Diez began in 1959, seemingly depict a flat surface of vertical bands rendered in a contrasting palette and arranged with mathematical regularity into multiple geometric planes. As the viewer moves around the works, their colour dissolves and radically oscillates from one chromatic range to another, generating new spectrums of colour not present, but based on individual visual perception. Yet behind the spectacle and ethereality of the works lies rigorous scientific research and painstaking method.

Each structure is carefully designed to create what Cruz-Diez calls a “light trap” in a space where a series of colour frames interact and transform each other as they are seen from different angles. Induction Chromatique (1963) and Couleur Additive (1959), can be seen as live experiments that create an infinitely evolutionary situation of additive, reflective, inductive and subtractive colour. The destabilisation of the eye in Cruz-Diez’ work serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it sets out to explore the physical effects of colour on the viewer, transforming his experience of art from passive into active. On the other hand, it encourages the viewer to experience colour as equivocal and continually changing, much as it is experienced in nature.

Environnement Chromointerférent (1964) and Transchomie (1965) directly play with the spectator’s environment and are commonly expressed as spatial installations. Chromointerférent (1964) projections cast vertical lines of different colours onto walls and objects, including the viewer. The lines shift and change, intensifying the sensation of movement and the creation of ‘virtual’ colours not chemically present that emerge and disappear. Transchromies’ coloured transparent strips achieve subtractive combinations that change according to the displacement of the viewer, the intensity of the light, and the surrounding colours.

Through each of these investigations Carlos Cruz-Diez has built a complex structure and distinct language of colour, one that does not rely on instinct or emotion. The result of this rigorous approach is nevertheless an invitation to be part of an experiment that liberates colour from form, an invitation to rediscover it once again, to live it in the present. Carlos Cruz-Diez is, in his own words, an artist of today: “We are the artists of the dawn of the third millennium; a time wherein many ‘notions’ that have underpinned society for centuries are being demolished, modified and replaced by new ones. It is a society of the here and now, events, change and the ephemeral. I believe that for a work of art to be ‘contemporary’ it should transcend ‘traditional aesthetics’ and create an event where dialogue between time and space occurs.”

I am thankful to Robin Peckham for his contribution to this catalogue, an insightful and unique viewpoint into the world of Carlos Cruz-Diez from the perspective of today’s Asia Pacific. Finally, I am eternally grateful to Carlos Cruz-Diez, the team at the Atelier Cruz-Diez, the Cruz-Diez Art Foundation and his loving family, for their support and enthusiasm in the development of this landmark exhibition.

Adriana Alvarez-Nichol, Puerta Roja, Carlos Cruz-Diez: Mastering Colour, 2017

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