Sergio Camargo (1930–90) was an important Brazilian sculptor whose simplified objects direct their attention toward, without adhering to, the Minimalist movement and other, closer Brazilian influences. He spent an extended period in Paris, from 1961 to 1973, and was influenced by Brancusi, who lived in Paris until his death in 1957. Camargo followed the same idealized simplicity, but he drew from Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, as well as from the Rio-based Modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, with whom he frequently collaborated.
This show, which featured roughly 40 works, most of them small and intimately scaled, was Camargo’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. He lived and worked in a number of places—Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Massa (an early political center in Italy), and Paris—and his work reacts, in part, to the international art world. He developed a style resolute in its simplified elegance, but it was not a simplistic reading of what preceded him (as some have said of Minimalism’s critique of modernity). Camargo’s influences came from his travels, as well as his interest in the streamlined shapes associated with Modernism.
Camargo also profited from the cultural excitement of Rio. He was able to pick and choose aspects of Modernism and later movements that suited the particulars of his own taste. His style was a composite of different kinds of pull. Not all the work leans inexorably toward Minimalism; early in his career, the forms were more organic and less angular, including the bronze O Vento (1954), which consists of rounded forms that build upward. Looked at from one angle, the sculpture might be the form of a voluptuous woman sitting; in fact, it began as a study of a seated figure. The smooth surface and simplified forms combine to echo an organically Modernist approach, but Camargo always retained the ability to borrow and stand autonomously in the same moment.
He achieved a wide outlook not only by streamlining his forms, but also by executing his work with a high degree of craft. Untitled (c. 1970), a small, uncommonly beautiful carving in Carrara marble, resembles two commas attached to each other at different sides to achieve a compelling elegance. Camargo possessed a talent for shaping simplified forms that might be experienced either abstractly or figuratively, depending on how viewers look at the work.
Untitled (1980), an extended black lozenge made of Belgian marble, comes close to being Brancusian in its streamlined simplicity—at least to contemporary eyes. It is also, formally speaking, a relative of certain Minimalist shapes. The question of influence with someone like Camargo is interesting to consider. He was not critiquing Modernism, as the Minimalists were, so much as extending its legacy. His work feels like it was made in the last possible moment before Post-Modernism, giving him as much contact as he needed with the immediacies of the Modernist past while allowing him to develop remarkable work that looked to the future.