Mira Schendel, full of surprises

Mira Schendel is full of surprises, from room to room, at Tate Modern. The first surprise was how much I liked her works and so visited the full exhibition although I hadn’t planned to. I took a half-day off to attend the breakfast & curator tour of Project Space exhibition “Inverted House” centred on the concept of artist residency. I wanted to see the Klee exhibition afterwards but only the Schendel show was open for private view – shh… Tate Modern hadn’t opened to the public yet!

Mira Schendel is rightfully known as a Brazilian artist but she was born in Switzerland, studied art in Italy and emigrated to Brazil in 1949. Her early works carry a strong influence of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, an avid etcher of still life and landscapes. Her works also carried bore some resemblance to those of Nicolas De Staël, painter of the School of Paris. Inspiration from Klee was obvious in her untitled work in room 1 made in the 1950s. Her geometric shapes are reminiscent of Malevich’s and Mondrian’s abstract art, although Schendel is less rigorous in the formation of the shapes.

Most of her works are untitled, although the series are, which well suit the abstract nature of her art. Her work on texture and the related use of various materials was a highlight for me. She added sand to her paintings, used plaster, painted on coarse jute and rice paper, and made sculptures of rice paper. Her work on transparency was the culminating point of her research on texture, in my view.

I value retrospectives as they often offer the pleasure of discovering the changing practice in an artist’s career. I think an artist renewing his/her style is more interesting than one who sticks to the same. Mira Schendel’s artworks evolved during her career and I come back to the word “surprise” as I didn’t expect her pieces to change that much from room to room; for instance, words on her paintings became words being the artworks.

Tate Modern recreated her installation for the 1968 Venice Biennale, made of several boards vertically hung with inscriptions that evoked Leonard de Vinci’s sketches. Later in the exhibition, her works took me back to school, with transfer lettering and perforations. Her piece for the São Paulo biennale, Still Waves of Probability, made of acrylic fibres, hung from the ceiling might have been intended as a kinetic piece, calling for the audience to walk inside it.

I entered Mira Schendel’s universe, but didn’t feel fully immersed, remaining on the periphery perhaps. Schendel was deeply influenced by philosophy, in particular by the opposing notions of the being vs. the void. I was lacking the philosophy knowledge but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying her works immensely. Don’t miss her show at Tate Modern, which runs until 19 January 2014.

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