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Lightopia: Carlos Cruz Diez And The Happening Of Color


The Venezuelan artist who pioneered a unique direction in Art History.

“Ideas by themselves are intoxicating,” states Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz Diez, who materialized his theory of color to the point of prompting a new direction in the discourse of art––to the extent of changing Art History in itself. In his work, color left its state of rest and became a pure experience, a situation that evolves, a happening. In this sense, he is one of the last remaining Renaissance men, but also the first worker of his kind.

He not only invented a new phenomenology of color, but also built all the machines required for his pieces and created the supporting materials; he knew that if one wants to invent a new discourse, one must first invent the alphabet, the grammar and its rules. Perhaps his greatest merit is having set himself apart from other artists who have wanted to represent reality, and instead invent an autonomous reality that represents itself. Thus, his work is an exercise on how color can be perceived without interpretation or a pre-existing cultural knowledge––Without even perceiving “the hand of the artist”, as it is romantically procured. By projecting color into space, Cruz Diez allows it to be pure, without anecdotes or symbols, without being fixed in space and time. That is why instead of “pieces,” his works can be said to be a pure experience.

cruz diez

In Venezuela, Cruz Diez is identified as one of the most important modernist masters in the country, and in Europe, in the 1960s, his name became synonymous with the exploration of color’s kinetic potential. His series Fisicromías, which began in 1959, probably best defines his color phenomenology and the direction his work would take in the coming years. Each of these pieces is made with hundreds of strips of cardboard, aluminum, and plexiglass (which he cut himself), arranged in two collated levels: one flat, another in relief. This rhythm produces a vibration where the color appears to change and evolve depending on the light of the place and the spectator’s distance and angle. “The simpler one says things, the more it reaches people,” he says in an interview.

By experimenting with the immediacy of color disassociated from any narrative allusion, the spectator can rest––he is free from the burden of having to interpret a message or an ulterior concept. His work demonstrates what color is doing, and the formats or materials he uses are only the circumstances to show this, to allow color to flow in its natural behavior. In this way, Cruz Diez has bestowed on the world a type of art that challenges the traditional, romantic or intellectual relations between the artist, the spectator and perception. Thanks to him there exists a vibrant possibility to embrace the continuous transformation of color as a happening. Everything in his work is quicksand. There is nothing that is fixed in time, and yet––and here is their merit––something about them remains with the spectator and changes him.

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