The second Brazilian Avant-Garde: The Concrete Art Movement

Two groups from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro pushed forward abstraction and changed Brazilian art in the 50s.

Helio Oiticica, Metaesquema (1958)
Helio Oiticica, Metaesquema (1958) / Image WikiArt

From the second half of the XX century, Brazil starts a quick acceleration in its industrialization and goes through profound changes in society. The desire for progress represented by the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa with the construction of Brasilia also brings the opening of modern art museums in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the first “Bienal Internacional de São Paulo” (São Paulo Biennial).

In this context, a new aesthetic begins to develop by artists looking to create universal and international art, in opposition to the nationalist ideas from 1922, when the “Semana de Arte Moderna” marked the beginning of Modern Art in the country. For the “concretistas”, forms, lines, colours and space were more important than figurative images.

A big influence on this new movement was Max Bill, a Swiss artist that exhibited works at MASP in 1950 and was awarded a prize for “Unidade Tripartida” in 1951 at the I São Paulo Biennial. Bill was a teacher at the Ulm School of Design in Germany who followed and disseminated the Bauhaus ideas for design, art and architecture. He was interested in the formal aspects of the compositions, precision, and an almost mathematical approach to art.

Max Bill, Unidade Tripartida (1948-49)
Max Bill, Unidade Tripartida (1948-49) / Image MAC USP

With these new ideas in mind, two groups emerged: “Ruptura” in São Paulo and “Frente” in Rio. They were exploring geometric abstraction, experimenting with different materials and working to create a new visual language for that intense moment in Brazilian society. 

Grupo Ruptura

Formed by artists that had mostly technical studies in graphic design and printmaking in São Paulo at the end of the 40s, they had a common goal and followed Max Bill’s ideas more strictly. With their rational approach of abstraction, they painted with industrial paint, used plexiglass, metal and other industrial materials to emphasize their engagement with art as a process that happened before the object itself, where the concept and idea is more important than the act of painting. They rejected gestural paint, brush marks or anything that could be viewed as subjective or emotional.

Among the artists that were part of Ruptura we have Waldemar Cordeiro, Luiz Sacilotto, Geraldo de Barros, Judith Lauand and Hermelindo Fiaminghi and also the poets Décio Pignatari and brothers Haroldo and Augusto de Campos.

In 1952 they launched their manifesto defending a break with the old canon of art and a search for new “clear and intelligent artistic principles*” more suited to the industrial society.

1.Manifesto Ruptura / Image Wikimedia; 2.Waldemar Cordeiro, Contradição espacial (1958); 3. Luiz Sacilloto, Vibrações Verticais (1952); 4. Judith Lauand, Do círculo oval (1958) / Images Itaú Cultural

Grupo Frente

In Rio the artists had more varied backgrounds, worked with different techniques and materials, experimentation was encouraged and they were not closely following any principles for creation. The group centralized around the figure of Mario Pedrosa, an art-critic that was a great enthusiast of abstraction and pushed forward the renovation of the arts. The artists Ivan Serpa, Franz Weissmann, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape along with poet Ferreira Gullar are the main proponents of the movement.

The “First National exhibition of Concrete Art” was exhibited in December, 1956 at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) in São Paulo and in January, 1957 at MAM in Rio. It showed paintings, sculptures, engravings and poetry in innovative layouts. 

The exhibition highlighted the differences between the two groups, so in 1959 Ferreira Gullar and the others from Rio, launched the NeoConcrete manifesto. They identified a gap between science and art, defending visual expression and artistic creation. 

Although brief, the Concrete Movement reached its main goal of breaking with the past and giving a new direction to the arts in Brazil. After the 60s many of the names that appeared in the two groups, lead extremely interesting and successful careers.

It’s fascinating to try and see not the differences between the artists, but their similarities in the search for this new visual code, something that would, through experimentation represents the way they were living at that time, their thoughts and expectations for the future.

* Glaucia Villas Boas, professor at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in the article “Aesthetics of rupture: Brazilian Concretism”

To know more:

– Through the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston you can see paintings, sculptures and read more about the artists: Grupo Ruptura and Grupo Frente

– The Moderna Museum in Stockholm showed in 2018 “Concrete Matters” an exhibition about Concretism in Latin America and you can see works and learn more about the artists.

– In this video created by Getty Museum and the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros you can learn more about the materials used by the artists

Let me know your thoughts about the “concretistas” below!

Have a great week!

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