admiring Mira

Last Saturday I avoided the mayhem of the fireworks display in Battersea Park and instead took in the Mira Schendel exhibition at Tate Modern. And a thoroughly rewarding experience this was. I hadn’t come across Schendel’s work before, and the Tate show is a wonderful introduction to her prolific and varied output. Schendel emigrated to Brazil in 1949 and became an important figure in the South American art scene (you can read more about her life on the Tate website). Walking through the 14 rooms of the exhibition I was excited by and drawn to so much. She engaged with language, typography, philosophy. She innovated with materials and produced beautiful and delicate artworks. Her Little Nothings series consists of soft sculptures made from twists or balls of rice paper woven together into webs or nets. There are early abstract paintings in dark and muted tones, bold geometric shapes, paintings that pull you in and seem to pulse on the canvas; and much later abstracts that had me exclaiming ‘Oh wow!’ over and over; these are extreme and minimal, black on black, or a putty coloured canvas with a thin black slit, or a glowing disc of gold leaf on black. Schendel explored transparency, creating explosions of letters sandwiched in clear acrylic that hang in rows in the middle of the gallery. I need to see this again in daylight! There’s a series of notebooks with perforated pages, another series of typed pages using repeated phases such as ‘yes and no’, ‘oui et non’, ‘ja, nein, jein’. The 1969 installation Still Waves of Probability has thousands of thin nylon fibres suspended from the ceiling, like a block of static rain, and a quotation from the Old Testament in Letraset on the wall, ending ‘and after the fire, a still small voice.’ Schendel doesn’t shout but her work still resonates and quietly asserts her place as an important figure in 20th century art full stop.

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