When Form becomes Action: Experiencing Julio Le Parc’s first U.S. retrospective at PAMM

Dark space enveloped me. The only light was refracting off the mirrors hanging from the roof. Instinctively, my eyes want to find my face in the rows of reflective surfaces.

Someone passes by me holding a large piece of wood and some pliers and breaks my concentration. The art installation is still being set up. This is a preview.

Our curator, Estrellita B. Brodsky, a guest to the Pérez Art Museum Miami, begins to explain the artist, Julio Le Parc. A man ahead of his time whose goal is to make you question your architectural space. The mission of Form into Action, his first retrospective in the U.S., is to disrupt your senses and disorient your reality.

I begin to follow our guide while still catching glimpses of my eyes, nose and mouth in the mirrors that are now crashing against each other. The next room is bright white. Paintings of shapes surround us. If I stare too long at one it begins to morph into something else. It reminds me of those old school photos parents showed you as a kid, the pictures of simple objects with questions like, are these two tables the same size? No, of course not.

The misleading images make you wonder what the punchline is. Your mind is armed with everything you’ve been taught. You believe in the form, and then with one swift movement reality is broken and the truth is revealed: those two tables are actually the same size. WTF.

This is the audacity of Julio Le Parc. I already feel I know him a little bit.

We move on to the next room and it looks like a kaleidoscope of colors. “He is a master of geometric language,” our guide continues.

I am losing her again, this time for a rainbow drawing. My fingers follow the hues in the large overarching circle. Primary colors stand out as the crowd is straining to listen. I decide to explore, it seems Le Parc would want it that way.

The next room is what I imagine behind The Great Oz. A faint hum of machinery clicking plays in the background of another maze of mirrors. I go up to the long sheets of metal that are folding against each other. Nothing here is overly technical, though its effect is. Behind each elaborate little light show are basic parts repeating the same straightforward motions. It’s a lot like life, a series of simple movements that have the illusion of complication.

We continue into a half cylinder shaped room full of funhouse mirrors. Everything is distorted. We all crowd in and every one of us immediately tries to find their other in the wavy mirrored wall. Le Parc loves playing on the human instinct to find our own reflection.

His meticulous experimentation is apparent. No one else can make such simple parts and materials produce an installation so intricate to the human eye. “If nothing is fixed, everything is possible,” Brodsky reaffirms as we look upon our distorted twins.

The labyrinth of mirrors and flickering lights that await us already has my depth perception off. Our tiny group stumbles like we’ve had one too much champagne. The light plays tricks on everyone.

Prior to meeting the legend, I felt his choice of light was purposeful. After all, without it we would all be blind. We do not see the world around us, we perceive a reflection of it because of light. In that sense, our entire reality can be considered a mirror.

This is what I’m thinking as yet again my reflection finds its way back in front of me.

Form into Action is an installation purposefully made to be experienced. Le Parc, I’d researched, is firm on only one thing: art is not meant to be viewed. He is vehemently against the pretentious notion many big-name museums tout about its visitors not being sophisticated enough to “get it.” He’s been known to make famous museums pass out questionnaires to empower a person and get a viewer to actively participate in the experience instead of casually browsing paintings. Some parts of this installation more closely resemble a playroom than an art exhibit.

I like that about him and I like this choice for the PAMM. The museum reflects its community and chooses artwork that isn’t just popular but meaningful. It’s the first museum in the U.S. to showcase this retrospective and it’s in our own backyard.

Julio Le Parc is a provoker in the best sense of the word. His work is not meant to make you feel anything, but rather to question everything.

Le Parc’s experimentation changes the way you see the world, maybe even yourself.


Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

Photos courtesy of Aníbal Mestre Wong.

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