Leonor Antunes threads Bauhaus, brutalism and Cuban design in new installations
In her sublime, site-specific installations, Leonor Antunes pays homage to the practice of forgotten female luminaries in modern architecture, design and art. In Mexico City at the Tamayo Museum, she has reassembled pieces of objects made by the late Cuban designer Clara Porset to create new sculptures for a newly opened solo exhibition.
In the 1950s, Porset was widely regarded as the best modern furniture designer in Mexico, where she spent most of her career. In discrepancies with oaxacan textile i and ii, Antunes looks further back, exploring the Mexican huipil – the elaborate tunic traditionally woven and worn by indigenous women – in an imposing grid-like sculpture that refers to their design process.
Installation view of ‘Discrepancias con CP Leonor Antunes’ at Museo Tamayo, Mexico City
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic at London’s Marian Goodman Gallery, Antunes puts a spotlight on the late English architect and author Alison Smithson who worked with her husband Peter. As pioneers in the British school of new brutalism, Smithson described their architectural practice as an ‘act of form-giving’.
It’s a poem by Smithson – who also published the novel A Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl in 1966 – that gives Antunes’ exhibition its title, ‘a thousand realities from an original mar’k; but it’s the Smithson’s Upper Lawn Pavilion in Wiltshire, completed in 1962, that provides the visual reference points for Antunes’ sculptural installation, recreating its symbiosis with the surrounding space.
The free-standing screens Antunes has installed across Marian Goodman’s first floor correspond to the exact measurements of the glass panels that make up the hut-like structure of the Upper Lawn Pavilion, which the couple originally built as a weekend home and retreat. Standing within the translucent structure, with streams of sunlight pouring in through the skylights in the gallery, you can almost feel you’re far from the city for a second. ‘I really believe that art exists in a context,’ Antunes reflects of her sculptures, ‘so I don’t see them outside of the space where they exist.’
Installation view of ‘a thousand realities from an original mark’ at Marian Goodman Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery
It is not, however, an exhibition that stops you in one place. A careful pathway has been forged between hanging sculptures crafted from knotted rope and leather, that dangle like vines in a jungle, until you meet another pioneer, in brass and glass lamps, based on drawings by Bauhaus artist Anni Albers.
Antunes blew up the drawings and worked from them to design the sculpture on a new, larger scale. Similarly, sculptures climbing from floor to ceiling, fragments of colourful painted brass that truncate the room, are inspired by a relief by Mary Martin, the British sculptor whose fame has perhaps been eclipsed by her husband Kenneth Martin.
‘When you walk into a place freshly, you are able to notice things that the local people don’t notice,’ Smithson said, in a 1989 interview about working abroad. ‘You are invited as a foreign visitor to say something and therefore often you can, by perhaps saying something, release some energy or unstop a bottleneck.’
Whether in Mexico City or the London, Lisbon-born Antunes fuses her own ideas and proclivities to the specific context and legacy of these pioneering women, creating environments that mentally and physically push us in new directions. §
‘Discrepancias con CP Leonor Antunes’ is on view until 2 September at Mexico City’s Museum Tamayo; ‘a thousand realities from an original mark’ is on view until 20 July at London’s Marian Goodman Gallery. For more information, visit the Museo Tamayo website and Marian Goodman Gallery website