Carlos Cruz-Diez retrospective at the MFAH

Posted on February 5, 2011
Chromo Interference Atmosphere at Color in Space and Time

Chromo Interference Atmosphere at Color in Space and Time

The Carlos Cruz-Diez retrospective, Color in Space and Time, opens tomorrow, February 6th, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The exhibition was curated by Mari Carmen Ramirez, MFAH Wortham curator of Latin American art, and encompasses Cruz-Diez’ entire career, from realistic paintings from the 1940s, to Physichromies from the last few years. It includes a Chromosaturation room and the Chromointerference Ambience shown above, as well as 3-D posters of his atelier in Paris and samples of the machines he has designed and built to construct his Physichromies.

From the MFAH website:

For more than five decades, Carlos Cruz-Diez (born 1923) has experimented intensively with the origins and optics of color. His wide-ranging body of work includes unconventional color structures, light environments, street interventions, architectural integration projects, and experimental works that engage the response of the human eye while insisting on the participatory nature of color.

Cruz-Diez was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1923, travelled to Paris in 1955, and moved to Europe permanently in 1960. Today he maintains studios, or ateliers, in Paris, Caracas, and Panama City. He began his research on color alongside the Kinetic Movement of the 1960s, reading Newton, Goethe, Albers and many others. His work aims to show that color, when interacting with the observer, can project into space without the aid of form.

I was struck most of all by the range, variation and infinite possibilities present in his Physichromie series, of which there are now over 2000. He first constructed these out of cardboard but later moved to PVC. When the oil crisis occurred and plastics were becoming scarce he switched to aluminum, bent into a U shape, combined with Plexiglas and screen printing. Each material problem that had to be solved has strengthened and clarified his work.

It is difficult to appreciate any of his work from photographs as it requires the viewer as an active, moving participant. Below is a video of how Physichromie 450 changed as I walked past it. Please excuse the wobble in the middle when I nearly walked into another viewer – there was a lot of that going on last night!


The Chromosaturation is a space comprised of three, interconnecting rooms, each bathed in a different color – red, green or blue. After spending a few minutes in one of the rooms your eyes adjust to the monochromatic environment and what was originally a vivid blue slowly fades to white and other colors become apparent, even though only blue light is present. At the preview photographs were allowed but no camera can capture that effect – cameras simply do not adjust and adapt as our eyes do.

Chromosaturation, Carlos Cruz-Diez

Chromosaturation, blue space, Carlos Cruz-Diez

There is a lot to see and take in at this exhibition, some of which is extremely tiring for the eyes, and it deserves multiple visits to best appreciate and absorb the long and illustrious life-work of Cruz-Diez. The only works I felt were missing were his Transchromie series – an environment of colored Plexiglas that colors the viewers world as they move through it.

In connection with his retrospective, Carlos Cruz-Diez is presenting a seminar class, The Doors of Perception, at Glassell, in collaboration with Arielle Masson.  As I am a member of that class this blog may be somewhat skewed towards color, color theory and kinetic art over the next few months!

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