An artist’s body of work is not simply an accumulation of individual objects, but rather an evolutionary process over time. The Collection assembled for the Cruz-Diez Foundation comprises of original works selected and donated by the artist to the institution. It charts his key researches around color since 1954 between Caracas, Barcelona and Paris. If you would like to produce an exhibition, the Cruz-Diez Foundation has works defining his breakthrough moments including Physichromies from 1960, through to works from the present day. The world-famous immersive Chromosaturation chambers, first created in 1965, are also available for loan. This coherent, chronological collection features unique pieces, graphic editions and posters that reflect Cruz-Diez’s own reading of his career and reveals the very essence of his artistic discourse.
COLLECTION BY INVESTIGATION
Investigations 1954 -1959
In 1954, following a period of traditional and academic painting and subsequent reflection on what it meant to be an artist, Cruz-Diez developed a new approach to painting that was beyond the established aesthetic of the time in Venezuela. His series of mural projects were an attempt to make art accessible to the masses.
By the end of 1956 Cruz-Diez was edging towards a focus for his lifelong research; that of developing a new notion of color. Rather than viewing color as a fixed element added to form, he focused on the instability of flat surfaces and the spatial instability that occurs inside the eye when faced with situations of vision at its limit. His goal was to set color free.
Cruz-Diez’s first experiments with color examined one of the fundamental concepts of painting; a colored form next to another colored form. He isolated the point where two colors border each other, specifically where they touch, as the critical perceptive zone. Taking red and green as an example, it is at the critical point that a yellow “virtual” color is created. This color is not painted on the surface, it is only visible to the eye.
The focus of his first major piece of research, 1959’s Couleur Additive [Additive Color] was the mixing of two or more colors and their transformation into different ranges of color depending on lighting and the viewer’s position.
Perhaps Cruz-Diez’s seminal work is the Physichromie, first developed in 1959. From “chroma” meaning color and “physi” meaning physical, this research is the very embodiment of color. Made up of “chromatic event modules” - a tool developed by Cruz-Diez to make evident the behavior of color - and color filters, these structures reveal the different behaviors and conditions inherent in color.
The interaction of three color conditions; additive, reflective and subtractive, makes it appear to the viewer that a wider variety of colors than are actually present on the surface are there. This was the first time all three conditions had been observed as one. The result? The smallest variation in light or movement of the viewer provokes a multitude of changes in color. With one canvas Cruz-Diez has created an infinite amount of artworks, ever changing and unpredictable, much like life itself.
Cruz-Diez first studied the behavior of the eye so that he could use it in an artistic context to demonstrate that color is a spatial phenomenon like light. In 1963’s Induction Chromatique [Chromatic Induction] he applies an optical condition called after-image. Look at the sun as an example, then after a moment look away and your eyes will briefly experience the after-image effect; you still see the shape of the sun but as a complementary color.
This happens as a two-step process. In Cruz-Diez’s investigation the eye experiences both effects simultaneously; the surface color and the after-image are both visible at once. His technique utilizes the instability of the eye like a paintbrush, combining complementary colors and making visible an effect that we only experience fleetingly and in very distinct circumstances.
1965’s Chromointerférence is composed of two layers; at its base is a sequence of parallel colored strips arranged vertically that change color depending on the distance and movement of the viewer. On top is a transparent surface with a pattern made up of black lines creating interference. This can be stationary - making the movement dependent on the viewer - or in motion, either by hand (Chrominterférence Manipulable) or with an engine (Chromointerférence Mécanique).
Due to the movement created by the overlaying pattern a volume effect is sometimes visible, creating depth where none exists. The colors of the modules brighten and change. According to Cruz-Diez this work is a “false prism” as it reproduces the colors of the light spectrum using the second layer of black lines.
These works project a sequence of parallel colored strips arranged vertically using light onto walls, the ground, the public, objects and space. A disorientating state of motion is experienced as the space it is projected on transforms and makes transparent all that is within it. This creates an environment where people and objects become one with the work, acquiring the twin roles of actors and authors in a complex chromatic event that unfolds before your very eyes.
First developed in 1974, Environnement Chromointerférent challenges the notion of artwork and viewer as separate entities. By changing the relationship between viewer and artwork Cruz-Diez takes people out of the shadows and places them firmly in the spotlight.
This research from 1965 is based on subtractive synthesis - the process that lets the surfaces of objects absorb certain colored light rays while reflecting others - and thus determines the shades we perceive. By placing a row of transparent acrylic colored strips so that all are visible, at different angles and at varying distances from each other, subtractive color combinations are visible.
These combinations change according to movements, intensity of light and the surrounding colors. Some require the viewer’s movement to make the colors change, while others turn mechanically or by hand. By looking through the transparent strips, Transchromies invite viewers to contemplate their natural or urban surroundings from a different perspective. Witness the chromatic subtraction phenomenon as it lightens, darkens, reflects and subverts your color expectations in a familiar environment.
Cruz-Diez created the Chromosaturation in 1965. This environment is made up of three artificially lit rooms; one red, one green and one blue. While the eye is used to seeing a wide range of colors, in a monochromatic chamber the retina is overloaded with just one color, causing unexpected reactions. A color haze, mixed colors and colored shadows may engulf the viewer’s vision.
The longer you stay in the room the more your eyes try - unsuccessfully - to adjust to the unusual circumstance; dimming the color of the chamber you are in and intensifying the gradient of the three colors mixing together in the other two chambers. Some rooms contain objects such as rectangular prisms or suspended cubes where each side is bathed in reflected color, best showcasing the vibrancy of an environment entirely free of form and meaning. People, like objects, become one with the work.
This device might look like a vision of the future from a retro science fiction television series - research was developed in 1968 - but it’s the visual opportunities that it provides that are otherworldly. Designed to transform the nocturnal environment of an urban landscape, it is robust and transportable, much like a pocket telescope. Place the device in front of your eyes and rotate it to witness the movement of light by night.
Chromoscope is an illustration of a phenomenon called the refraction of light, made possible by putting a distance between a tightly woven silk screen and the viewer’s eye. Serving as a link between reality and the eye, it makes one see light in a new way, enabling you to experience the beauty of a fairytale outlook.
View of a evening urban landscape from the Chromoscope.
Couleur à l'Espace
This is one of Cruz-Diez`s more recent investigations, dating from 1993. Taking Couleur Additive [Additive Color] as the basis, Cruz-Diez created a 3D sculpture by adding a thin metal rod that protrudes at a slight gradient from the underlying pattern of straight colored lines. This unique element brings into focus how color is caught in space. Since the rod obscures part of the color behind it, as the viewer moves, the combination of colors change. This creates the effect that the rod itself has taken on a spectrum of color. These new colors are visible only to the eye. The research has also been adapted for 2D printing, where a number of grey lines (one, two or three) are printed on the pattern of colored lines.
On the Collection
The collection of works assembled for the Cruz-Diez Foundation Collection has a specific historical significance all of its own. Above all, it reflects the artist’s own reading of his career over time, of the particular problems he faced at each stage of his life, and of the artistic solutions that occurred to him at any given time. Here we are privy to an intimate vision, expressed in a selection that could only have been made by someone with personal experience of the precise theoretical insights sparked by specific works; as when, in 1954, while working on his earliest mural projects, Cruz-Diez finally realized that if he wanted to launch color into space in order to liberate it from form he could only do it by working with its reflection, with colored light, rather than with pigment. And again, in a technical breakthrough that occurred in 1968 when he learned that he could use extruded strips of PVC, which freed him from the sixty-centimeter restriction imposed by cardboard.
We must remember that, in the visual arts, it is not only the idea or the concept that matters; materials and techniques also make a contribution because they are the means chosen by the artist to express himself, and it is thanks to them—their potential as well as their limitations—that a work of art can be created. Techniques and materials are also witnesses, unmistakable reminders of both the historical creative moment experienced by the artist and the technical level achieved by a particular medium. What is happening in the outside world, in history, is inevitably reflected in a work of art, and those external events are often just as perceptible in the artist’s work as the rings left by climate changes in the trunk of a tree. Cruz-Diez’s decision to use aluminum in his Physichromies in 1975, for example, was thus a reflection of the political tensions ignited in the Middle East when Islamic countries responded to the Arab-Israeli war of 1974 with an oil embargo against the West. The resulting rise in the cost of PVC forced Cruz-Diez to search for alternatives, which led him to use aluminum instead. This light, strong metal opened up new avenues of experimentation and allowed him to build larger, lighter structures that evolved into chromatic environments on an architectural scale.
The works selected by Carlos Cruz-Diez and held by the Foundation are, therefore, irrefutable testimony to those key moments in his career when he embraced those new opportunities and faced ever-greater challenges. These are the works where the breakthroughs occurred, and that alone makes them irreplaceable.
Precisely because, as mentioned above, historical events leave tangible traces in an artist’s creative output, in both a technical and a conceptual sense, and because what is suggested in one piece is then developed in the following one, a collection such as this one helps us to grasp a fundamental truth concerning the nature of art, which is that an artist’s body of work is not simply an accumulation of individual objects, but rather an evolutionary process over a period of time. And this process, this slow maturing of ideas decanted into this and that painting, public event, or installation, is such that it cannot be compared to what the writer or the philosopher does. A visual artist’s thoughts are expressed in the making of his works of art, in giving concrete form to pictorial situations which, though they evoke meaning, do not do so as a critical essay does. This is because, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty said, those situations are impregnated with meaning rather than being legible in the manner of a written text.
A collection of this kind—in which the works are sequential and consistent, assembled to reveal the mechanisms that made the whole possible rather than to pursue the often—illusory quest for that exceptional phenomenon that we consider the work of art—is also a reservoir of meaning and a source of problems for others. When some viewers, while standing at a particular distance and informed by different references, observe the crystal-clear transparency of what has been decanted, they can frequently glimpse what the creator himself could not see at close proximity, amidst the dust stirred up by the action.
One example of this is the distance that exists between the efficiency that Carlos Cruz-Diez calls the sole criteria for the selection of form and color, and what a careful viewer can detect in the artist’s process. In other words if the artist, while focusing on solutions to his particular problems, decides in each case to select not the colors that he likes but those that most effectively produce the desired results, a study from a distance will also confirm the presence of other mechanisms in play. Thus, when comparing his programmatic works from the 1970s with the political paintings he produced during the two prior decades, there is a certain discernible similarity in his palette and his formal solutions that cannot be interpreted simply in terms of strict artistic efficiency. There is also a matter of style that is related to what Roland Barthes called the biological history of an individual: that aggregate of factors that lead him to privilege certain chromatic ranges and to move and talk in distinctive ways, which are not a product of the faculties but of the unconscious, and are a feature of our nature and not our culture.
It is this, in fact, that explains why Cruz-Diez himself feels the need to say that although in his work color and form are explored according to a rational program and strict artistic goals, they also affect his and the viewer’s feelings and emotions, precisely because his experience with chromatic phenomena is not limited—as some insist—to the retina, but affects him at the deepest possible levels, even beyond what he believes himself able to fully control.
Similarly, when other artists—now or in the future—grapple with different historic situations and new expressive demands, they can and surely will find a source of meaning to explain their work, as Cruz-Diez did in the French pointillists, in Albers or in Mondrian. And all that will be, to a considerable extent, as a result of collections like this one that are guided and inspired by the process rather than by objects.
Art historian & Curator