The Abandonment of Art: The abandonment of conservation, a Lygia Clark retrospective at MoMA

Cindy Albertson, Roger Griffith, Eric Meier, and Margo Delidow


Lygia Clark (1920–1988) was a leading abstract artist at the forefront of the Neo-Concretist movement in Brazil, fostering the active participation of spectators through her works. She has become a major reference for contemporary artists dealing with the limits of conventional forms of art. The Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, May 10–August 24, 2014 the first comprehensive exhibition in North America of her work, comprised nearly 300 works made between the late 1940s and her death in 1988. The survey was organized around three themes: abstraction, Neo-Concretism, and the “abandonment” of art. Twenty months prior to the exhibition several hundred original objects and propositions, replica objects, and works on paper arrived on early loan from the Lygia Clark family in Brazil. Upon arrival all of these works were carefully documented and treated. Clark’s late conceptual and tangible artworks comprised a series of therapeutic propositions or sensorial works grounded in art. Historically her subjects— now the audience—were to participate in the activation of these works along with a trained facilitator or group of facilitators, thus making performance an integral part of the presentation.

Curatorial vision and conceptual preservation necessitated studying and recreating a set of these reference objects and propositions. What began as a conversation about making new exhibition copies resulted in multi-layered dialogue involving many departments within the museum, external conservation companies, and many representatives from the artist’s estate. Memory, past history, provenance, and conjecture played a significant role in the labyrinth of decision making processes during the creation and approval of the exhibition copies. A myriad of individuals, were consulted including Clark’s former facilitators, past re-fabricators, immediate family members, outside conservators, and curators. During the fabrication process, conservators acted as participants engaging all of their own senses while making the replicas. On multiple occasions those senses did not match to those of the family, or the earlier activators and curators. Conservators struggled to use a set of tools that lay both inside and outside of the standard tool-roll for this process: documentation, process of fabrication, material technical analysis, sensory awareness and deprivation, recorded artist interviews, and oral history from the artist’s estate. The conservation team embraced the challenge and recognized the effectiveness of working collaboratively both internally and externally, as the role of the conservator was shifted to that of co-collaborator, artist assistant, and art maker.

2015 | Miami | Volume 22