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Carlos Cruz-Diez, an immersion in color

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Labyrinthus: view from the main floor of the Patinoire Royale (photo V. Lacroix)

Carlos Cruz-Diez had his first solo exhibition for 50 years in Belgium in 2019. This exhibition was an opportunity to live an immersive experience in color by discovering Labyrinthus. Here is an overview in which color perception is emphasized.

The place where the exhibition took place itself is worth a diversion. The Patinoire Royale magnificently renovated in 2015 by the interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch, is now occupied by the Valérie Bach Contemporary Art Gallery, a real private museum of Contemporary Art located in Saint-Gilles (Brussels)- private but nevertheless free of charge.

A walking experience

The Labyrinthus installation is deployed in the Grande Nef space, generously lit by daylight, a fundamental element in this walking experience. In this labyrinth, we lose ourselves more in contemplation than in space: transparent colored panels are assembled in constantly renewed geometrical compositions.

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Labyrinthus: view from the first floor (photo V. Lacroix)
Carlos Cruz-Diez, Labyrinthus: substractive and additive synthesis at work (photo V. Lacroix)

The kaleidoscopic colored shadows produced at the foot of the panels will also delight visitors.

The subtractive and additive theories of color are illustrated here in a way that is accessible to all: light filtering panels carry out the subtractive synthesis while shadows and reflections, by superimposing themselves, produce new colors in additive synthesis.

Three-dimensional color

Lateral displacement in front of a “Physichromy” (video: V. Lacroix)

The chromatic experience in front of the exhibited paintings is lived by moving around them. For example, in the “Physichromies”, colored slats perpendicular to the plane of the painting, organized according to a studied rhythm, generate different color climates. Thus, when moving sideways, colored slats become visible or make different parts of the painting visible. All the physical and perceptive phenomena responsible for our colored vision are invited to this game of hide-and-seek. When the light comes directly from the plane of the painting, the color of the support is captured, but this can also be combined with the color produced by the reflection of the light on the perpendicular slat. Depending on the point of view, the color of the slat will be juxtaposed with another color causing a contrast that will alter the perception.

A dynamic installation

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Labyrinthus (video V. Lacroix)

Upstairs, Carlos Cruz-Diez proposes yet another ploy to take us on a journey through color; this time certain elements of the installation are set in motion while others remain fixed. Reflections of activities happening in front or behind are mixed with the work; a spectacle of dancing colored shadows is offered while observing the floor and the wall behind the installation.

Carlos Cruz-Diez, reflections (photo V. Lacroix)

The spectator in the trap of perception

Whether we are close or far from the artwork our perception varies. Far away, we encounter the color assimilation phenomenon, which tends to bring the constituent colors closer together. When the color of the picture plane varies, we are persuaded (wrongly) that the color next to it also differs. Moving around the work also exploits retinal persistence, a phenomenon that leads to the perception of the color complement to the one we have just been exposed to (remember this article). Here, this virtual color is combined with the viewer’s vision of the newly present color, a process skillfully elaborated by the artist. All physical and perceptive phenomena are coveted to make us perceive colors that are not present in the physical support of the work while generating a palette of affects that we do not master.

Carlos Croz Diez, Assimilation effects depending on point of view (photo V. Lacroix)

Reflections on color

Research on color is at the heart of the work of Carlos Cruz-Diez, one of the major players in optical and kinetic art. For the artist, color “highlights space, ambiguity, the ephemeral, while at the same time being a medium for myths and affects” (*). He offers us “an elementary vision devoid of per-established meanings”, in order to “awaken other mechanisms of sensitive apprehension, more subtle and complex than those imposed by the cultural conditioning and mass information of contemporary societies” (*).

The journey through this exhibition is an event that involves you, giving it the qualification of contemporary, because, according to Carlos Cruz Diez, far from a romantic conception of art, before any aesthetic consideration, the work must involve the participation of the spectator, and “a contemporary artist has no inspiration, he thinks”. (**)

(*) See the press release

(**) Cruz-Diez, Réflexion sur la couleur, Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 2013

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