I thought I’d reached the end of the Lygia Pape retrospective at the Met Breuer: A Multitude of Forms, when “Ttéia 1” caught me off guard. I entered the dusky room around an unexpected corner, blinking while my eyes adjusted to the darkness. My breath stopped short when I saw it—thin wires stretched from floor to ceiling to form giant-scale geometric patterns. The strands were only visible when overhead spotlights hit them directly; the illuminated sections shimmered with warmth while the start and finish of these points were swallowed into darkness. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe as I studied it.
Since I was alone in the room, I leaned in close to figure out what exactly the strands were made of. At one angle they looked like thin gold chain; at another, more like strings on a violin. I had the unrelenting urge to reach out and touch them. I wanted to strum my finger across them to see if they made a sound like a harp. I wanted to press my cheek onto them to feel if they were cold–were they metal or cotton threads? As other people entered the room, including a museum guard, it took every ounce of self control not to touch those strings.
I couldn’t look away, so I walked slowly around the space, over and over, noticing new things as I went. No two columns were alike, whether square, rectangle, or a square inside of a square. All of the strands were perfectly spaced, so that no two fibers touched each other—even in one case where two columns intersected. It had the grand-scale magnificence of a symphony, but the intimacy and grace of a calming inhale. Despite the small noises around me—the footsteps and polite whispers of other museum visitors, and the distant echoes of video installations playing in other rooms—I could imagine what the strands might sound like. They made a soft but sublimely beautiful humming vibration that only I could hear. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and let the imagined sound wash over me. When I opened my eyes again, Ttéia 1 took my breath away all over again.
According to the description at the room’s entrance, Pape constructed the work with students in her class called “Espaços poéticos” (poetic spaces) in 1978. I could see references to earlier works that I had wandered past—the clean symmetry of line and shape from Tecelares (weavings) prints; the use of simple structure and audience interaction in Livro da Criacao (book of creation); the mesmerizing feeling of endlessness from staring down the wall at 365 different shapes in her Livro de Tempo (book of time). But Ttéia 1 was the first time I really stopped to consider how I felt about her work. This was the sum of all of those simple parts, compiled into something with a soul and a voice all its own.
“Livro de Tempo” (book of time)
When I left the museum, the afternoon’s brightness overtook me. I entered Central Park, walking toward the West Side. Colors around me made distinct sounds: trees fizzed bright green as their leaves shuddered from a breeze. Flashes of red swished as a soccer team raced by performing drills. Yellow daffodils laughed hysterically, as if the sun had just told a dirty joke. I felt high—who hears flowers laughing?—and wondered if I should find something to eat. Standing in that dark room had reminded me that anywhere can be a poetic space. Ttéia 1 had connected me with an energy much greater than myself, and I wasn’t going to forget about it.
See Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms at the Met Breuer through July 23.