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Details & Cataloguing

In Context Italian Art

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Sergio Camargo
1930 - 1990
UNTITLED (RELIEF NO. 196)
signed, titled and dated Paris 68 on the reverse
painted wood construction
82.2 by 82.7 by 7 cm. 32 3/8 by 32 5/8 by 2 3/4 in.
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This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Galeria Raquel Arnaud and the Estate of Sergio Camargo. 

Provenance

Gallerie Gromholt, Oslo

Norges By-og Herreds forbund, Oslo

Kaare Bernsten, Oslo

New York, Sotheby’s, 25 November 2014, Lot 34

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, Op-Kunst, March – April 1968

Catalogue Note

Born of Sergio Camargo’s fascination with the interplay of light and shadow, Untitled (Relief No. 196) is a masterful example of the artist’s iconic white reliefs. Transcending the confines of the canvas by combining elements of painting and sculpture, these seminal works mirror the primary concerns of the ZERO group, who sought to eliminate representational painting and invent a new creative language. In a similar fashion to artists such as Enrico Castellani, Piero Manzoni and Otto Piene, Camargo’s approach was to make the substrate, rather than the paint upon it, the subject of the work. In this, Camargo also betrays the enduring influence of his professor at the Academia Altamira in Buenos Aires, Lucio Fontana, whose assault upon the canvas and spatial explorations are of canonical art historical importance. The present work is a spectacular example of a series that came to define Camargo’s opus, and one whose influence and influences can be identified on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Despite the fact that the works themselves are a carefully calculated symphony of light and surface, their genesis was entirely accidental. Cutting up an apple to eat, Camargo was enthralled by the relationship between the two planes created by his cuts. As Guy Brett notes, “in the apple was the synthesis he had been working towards and which now united all the past stages of his work – the combination of a single element of substance (the rounded body of the apple) and direction (the plane he had just exposed)” (Guy Brett, Camargo, London 1966, n.p.). This tension between stasis and movement recalls the sensuous geometry of the Neo-Concretists in Brazil, such as Lygia Pape and Hélio Oiticica, as well as the Op art of Bridget Riley and Jesús Rafael Soto. The volume of the sculptural surface appears to fade and dissolve, the cut cylinders jostling for space, “interweave[ing] the information of our tactile and visual senses in a revolutionary way” (Ibid., n.p.).

Similar to Enrico Castellani’s Superfici Bianca and Günther Uecker’s iconic nail reliefs, Camargo’s palette forced the viewer to confront an elemental aspect of his work, that is, the role of light. If the craft and subject of the work is vested in the canvas, the aesthetic relies on the light that hits it. The cut cylinder which formed the cornerstone of Camargo’s artistic lexicon creates a ripple of light and shadow across the surface of the construction, miniature peaks and troughs appear, vibrating and metamorphosing constantly with the movement of both light and viewer. As a result, Untitled (Relief No. 196) is as much as anything an experiential piece, where the viewer and his surroundings dictate the perception of the piece itself.

Created in 1968, Untitled (Relief No. 196) comes from the year of Camargo’s inclusion in Documenta 4 alongside Fontana, Manzoni, Yves Klein and Günther Uecker, among others. It resonates with the assured confidence of an artist at the very height of his creative powers, and pays particular homage to the influence of Fontana, with the void in the centre paying unmistakable tribute to the revolutionary tagli of his teacher. For his own part, Camargo can rightly be seen as a pioneer of the monochrome relief, an aesthetic that echoed, not only that of his Italian contemporaries such as Manzoni and Castellani, but also that of the American masters Robert Ryman and Ellsworth Kelly, and proved hugely influential to fellow Brazilian artists such as Mira Schendel and Ascãnio MMM. Bringing an entirely new aesthetic to a well trammelled artistic trope, Sergio Camargo’s work is of immense art historical importance, and Untitled (Relief No. 196) is a spectacular example of this remarkable and elegant series.

In Context Italian Art

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London