Mário Pedrosa in Exh. Cat., São Paulo, Paço Imperial, Camargo, 1987, p. 4
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1930, Sergio Camargo became involved with the avant-garde from an early age. At 16, he moved to Buenos Aires to study at the Altamira Academia under teachers including groundbreaking Spatialist Lucio Fontana. At 18, he made his first of many voyages to Paris. There, alongside artistic pursuits, he studied the philosophy of science and poetics with Gaston Bachelard and phenomenology with Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The rigorous scientific and philosophical foundation he established in the early 1950s, particularly with regard to the qualities of light and the role of perception in human understanding of the world, heavily influenced Camargo’s production for the rest of his life.
In the studio Camargo dedicated himself to sculpture, becoming particularly entranced by the work of Brancusi, whose studio he visited frequently throughout his early years in Paris; he referred to him as the “pioneer of the extreme simplification of forms” (Letícia de Castro, “The Consolidation of Modern Art in Brazil” in Exh. Cat., Sergio Camargo: Luz é materia, São Paulo 2015, n.p.). While he began in the 1950s working in bronze and soapstone, by the 1960s he shifted his preferences for the more pliable materials (sand, wood and plaster) favored by his contemporaries working within the ZERO movement and the many opto-kinetic, participatory-oriented artistic movements flourishing in Europe at the time. He created his first reliefs during this period, and became increasingly consumed with them as the decade continued.
In 1963 Camargo became involved with the Paris-based Groupe de recherche d’art visuel, led by Victor Vasarely and Julio Le Parc, while maintaining close friendships with neo-concrete artists such as Hélio Oiticica based in Brazil. During this time he also met British art critic and Signals gallerist Guy Brett, who drew him to exhibit at Signals alongside international avant-garde artists including Heinz Mack and Takis, and who he introduced to groundbreaking abstract and kinetic artists from Latin America including Mira Schendel and Lygia Clark. Camargo’s reliefs were included in the most important optical-kinetic exhibitions of the period, including Denise René’s Le Mouvement II and Signals’ Soundings II in 1965, as well as the International Kinetic Show at Galerie Ad Libitum and Lumière et mouvement at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris in 1966. Through the 1960s and 70s Camargo held solo exhibitions at Signals, Gimpel Fils, Galerie Buccholz, and Galerie Gromholt in Europe, as well as the Museu de Arte Moderno in Rio, Estudio Actual in Caracas, and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. Today his work is held in museum collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, the Tate Gallery, London, and the Musée d’art moderne nationale Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
Situated at the crossroads of a rapidly expanding global avant-garde network of artists exploring the limits and possibilities of perception and exploding the boundaries between artwork and observer, from ZERO to Ruptura, Camargo never aligned fully with a single movement. Instead, he synthesized a variety of these diverse influences and built his own distinct plastic vocabulary. Camargo’s reliefs, like the present work, are built from toquinhos (roughly, “little touches”) - small white wooden cylinders he manipulated in infinite permutations into objects that exist in a permanent state of change. Camargo’s contemporaries, such as Mack, Jesús Rafael Soto and Günther Uecker, often disrupted and destabilized visual perception by utilizing materials such as aluminum that manipulate light. Light is likewise essential to the activation of Camargo’s reliefs; reflecting across the toquinhos as it changes through the day and as we move in front of them, it creates an endless network of shadows that refuse capture or stability. They roil with organic motion, they unfold in quiet patterns, they seem to come alive before our eyes and, in the blink of an eye, seem to dematerialize completely. In his reliefs, Camargo allows us to touch infinity—if only for a moment.
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