Judith Lauand, a key figure of the Brazilian Concretist movement, has died at the age of 100, according to the Museo de Arte de São Paulo, which is currently hosting a retrospective devoted to her.
Lauand, the only woman in the pioneering Grupo Ruptura, made sparse compositions where geometric rigor worked in service of celebrating straight lines.
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Born in Pontal in 1922, Lauand began her career during a period of economic prosperity in Brazil. The administration of President Juscelino Kubitschek initiated a massive urbanization project, including the construction of the new capital, Brasília. As expected, artists responded to the sudden societal shift with avant-garde forms of expression, embracing geometric abstraction that experimented in nontraditional materials and forwent the self-seriousness of their North American contemporaries.
Over the course of her career, Lauand’s style changed drastically. In the mid-1950s, she graduated from the Escola de Belas Artes in Araraquara. Working in the school’s preferred style, she produced figurative landscapes.
Her breakthrough came in 1952, when she visited the landmark exhibition “Ruptura” at Museum of Modern Art São Paulo. At the time, she was working as a gallery attendant at the Bienal de São Paulo, where she connected with Geraldo de Barros and Waldemar Cordeiro, two cofounders of Grupo Ruptura who were included in that show. Impressed with her early figurative work, they welcomed her into their collective.
Her oeuvre spanned gouaches, drawings, collages, and paintings, and had a crisp internal logic that attracted aesthetic compatriots. Concrete art, as defined in the 1930s by its progenitor, the artist Theo van Doesburg, constitutes works “constructed entirely from purely plastic elements, that is to say planes and colors.”
She fulfilled that mandate, but rather than pursuing the appearance of automation, she allowed for imprecise angles and wandering lines. Using heavy brushstrokes and layered paint, she made them appear to rise like stitches along a seam.
Lauand participated in the First National Exhibition of Concrete Art at MASP in 1956, and from 1965 to 1969 was a regular at the Bienal de São Paulo, a poignant achievement for a former employee of the exhibition.
She was the subject of two retrospectives at MASP. The first was held in 2011; the second is currently on view and features 128 artworks. Despite her prominence in Brazil, she didn’t gain significant institutional notice abroad until recently: In 2013, she had a lauded survey at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London.