I first learned about Lygia Pape's 1968 work Divisor (Divider) in an art-history lecture hall, but I gained a new perspective on the dynamic piece when I participated in The Met's recent re-creation last Saturday.
In front of The Met Breuer, I joined about 60 others in poking our heads through holes in a large "blank canvas," which obscured views of our bodies and limited the use of our hands. Together, we set off in a closed lane of traffic up Madison Avenue to 79th Street, where we crossed over to Fifth Avenue and concluded our trip in front of The Met Fifth Avenue.
Within the shared performance of Divisor, each participant had their own experience. While my position on the edge of the canvas afforded me a view of the street and a sense of my surroundings, my neighbor closer to the middle of the cloth had completely surrendered herself to the guidance of our fellow participants.
Occasionally, those closer to the front would call out when there was a step up to the curb or relay directions to pick up the pace in order to cross with the walk signals. When we reached the plaza in front of The Met Fifth Avenue, we expanded the canvas to accommodate even more participants, at which point we walked in circles, jumped up and down, and made waves with the fabric.
After Divisor, I returned to The Met Breuer to see Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms, where I watched the videos of previous Divisor stagings that are on view in the exhibition. Almost 50 years after the work's creation, I had joined an international legacy of participants by walking in New York City's iteration.
As a recent transplant to New York, one of the great pleasures of the city is forging relationships with places while knowing that millions of others have their own connections to the same sites. Divisor provided a fitting representation of the city's beautiful, if sometimes difficult, balance between individual and collective, and the experience gave me a memory that will forever shape my relationship with the city streets we walked.
Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms, on view at The Met Breuer through July 23, 2017
To Live Is to Invent: Perspectives on the Art and Times of Lygia Pape
Thursday, May 4, 10:30 am–4:30 pm
The Met Fifth Avenue - Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall, Uris Center for Education
Free with Museum admission
Curators and other art historians discuss the work of Lygia Pape, placing it in dialogue with the history of modern art and the context of postwar Brazil.