Nara Roesler New York opens a retrospective of Brazilian artist Abraham Palatnik

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Nara Roesler New York opens a retrospective of Brazilian artist Abraham Palatnik
Installation view.

NEW YORK, NY.- Abraham Palatnik (1928–2020) is a monumental figure in Latin American art. Arguably the author of the earliest mechanical experiments with movement and color, giving him a pioneering position among practitioners of Op Art in the Americas, Palatnik is a complex creator who bridged technology and art, energy and color, function and ornament, nature and movement within his work.

Born in Brazil to parents who emigrated from Ukraine at the beginning of twentieth century, Palatnik moved in his early childhood to Palestine, remaining there until 1948. Trained as an artist and engineer there, he began to work influenced by both the School of Paris and Modern Bauhaus-like ideas.

But it was his experience at the National Center of Psychiatry in Rio de Janeiro, led by Nise da Silveira alongside peers such as Amir Mavignier and Ivan Serpa, that brought both spiritual upheaval and aesthetic epiphany to Abraham Palatnik. Looking at art made by psychiatric patients moved him profoundly and set off a sudden crisis which led him to re-think his career as an artist entirely. As a result of this experience, Palatnik, bridging art and engineering, created his very first light-box and the earliest experiment with a mechanically driven, pure experience of color in the Americas.

Palatnik never stopped addressing the transfiguring aspect of visual fields, from his Kinechromatic Devices to his Kinetic Objects to his Progressions, vibrational compositions using natural elements such as wood and paper. His work is characterized by dynamic reliefs and fractal surfaces where color and light emerge as energy and force, sudden thrust and undular waving. Conceiving his art as a mapping support for visual energies and unfolding it through countless types of work, Abraham Palatnik was a modern seismograph of color.

Palatnik’s point of departure is not the reticular model that dominates most constructivist and kinetic art. We could say instead that his work shows a continuity with landscape, or with its organic forms: undular, elliptical, turbulent. Contrary to the antinatural program of kineticism, nature subsists—it cannot be otherwise— in these works that use machinery to produce their effects. Particularly notable are his Progressions which produce effects of seriality and undulation by juxtaposing thin rectangular strips cut from jacaranda trunks and branches. In the context of the optical art of the 1960s, they stand out as isolated premonitory examples and are the basis for his landmark, late-painted wooden W compositions. The undulating configurations that recur in these works recall scientific representations of energy fields, continuous and discontinuous waves, reflecting reality in that both matter and space are energy fields in motion.

Abraham Palatnik is an iconic figure in the optical and kinetic art movements of Brazil—a pioneer in his long-standing interest for exploring the creative possibilities embedded in crossings of art and technology. Having studied engineering, the artist became interested in investigating mechanical uses of light and movement. In 1949, he rose to prominence with the creation of his first Aparelho Cinecromático [Kinechromatic Device] effectively reinventing the idea of a painting by using different voltage bulbs moving at different speeds and directions to create kaleidoscopic images. The piece was shown at the 1st Bienal de São Paulo (1951) and received an Honorable Mention from the International Jury for its originality.

Abraham Palatnik subsequently initiated his work with reliefs, coined Progressive reliefs, which he made out of various materials (such as wood, duplex cardboard and acrylic), manually cut and intercalated to create a sense of rhythmic undulation. Apart from the series W, which has come to incorporate the use of laser-cutting, Palatnik continued to construct and paint every piece by hand, making each work a token of his craftsmanship, until the end of his life.

Selected solo exhibitions

• Abraham Palatnik – A reinvenção da pintura, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB-BH), Belo Horizonte (2021); Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB-RJ), Rio de Janeiro (2017); Fundação Iberê Camargo (FIC), Porto Alegre (2015); Museu Oscar Niemeyer (MON), Curitiba (2014); Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM-SP), São Paulo (2014); Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB-DF), Brasília, Brazil (2013)
• Abraham Palatnik: Em movimento, Nara Roesler, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2018)
• Abraham Palatnik: Progression, Sicardi Gallery, Houston, USA (2017)
• Palatnik, une discipline du chaos, Galerie Denise René, Paris, France (2012)

Selected group exhibitions

• Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction — The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, USA (2019)
• The Other Trans-Atlantic: Kinetic & Op Art in Central & Eastern Europe and Latin America 1950s–1970s, Sesc Pinheiros, São Paulo, Brazil (2018); Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia (2018); Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland (2017)
• Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950 - 1980, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA (2018);
• Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art 1954-1969, Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM), Palm Springs, USA (2017)

Selected institutional collections

• Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM Rio), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
• Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), Houston, USA
• Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, USA
• Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
• William Keiser Museum, Krefeld, Germany

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