Neoconcrete Experience | 11 Dec 2009 – 30 Jan 2010

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Neoconcrete art movement, this exhibition focuses on the principle platform for the dissemination of Neoconcrete concepts and critique between the late 1950s and the early 1960s: the Sunday supplement of the Jornal do Brasil newspaper. The exhibition highlights how not only the content put also the layout of the supplement were radically changed by the contributions from avant-garde artists, poets, designers and art critics.

Although increasingly referred to at an international level, particularly through the recognition of artists such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, the Neoconcrete movement itself still remains relatively unknown and often misunderstood. This exhibition is therefore timely as it unveils a central driving force in the contemporaneous local dissemination and the depth and breadth of the discourse generated by the Neoconcrete group.

In addition the renowned 'Manifesto Neoconcreto' (March 1959) and the 'Theory of the Non-Object' (December 1959), research undertaken in the archives of the Jornal do Brasil has uncovered other, lesser-known articles and reviews, reproductions of which will be on display for the first time in Britain. While the exhibition focuses on the graphic re-structuring of the newspaper following the Neoconcrete intervention, a facsimile has been produced offering English translations of a selection of pages containing reviews and critical comments on the activities of the movement, such as the I Exposição de Arte Neoconcreta (1st Neoconcrete Art Exhibition) which included artists Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Amilcar de Castro, Franz Weissmann, Reynaldo Jardim, Theon Spanudis and Ferreira Gullar, all signatories of the Manifesto.

The exhibition also includes a documentary by Katia Maciel in which artists recall the 'Neoconcrete Experience' and further contextualise the significance and the controversial nature of the movement.

Design based on the cover image of Suplemento Dominical
– Jornal do Brasil, 1959

installation view

Neoconcretism and the sdjb

This exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Neoconcrete Movement. However, without dismissing the notoriety of artists such as Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape, the principle focus here is on the Sunday Supplement of the Jornal do Brasil newspaper (Suplemento Dominical do Jornal do Brasil – SDJB), whose pages during the course of 1950s, displayed the graphic, poetic and critical interventions of a group of artists and intellectuals who towards the end of that decade would form the Neoconcrete Movement. In fact the newspaper’s role in both the formation and the development of this influential avant-garde group was crucial, giving them not only a public voice but contributing towards many of their innovative ideas, such as the formal parallels that were established between Neoconcrete poetry, particularly with the book-poem, and the widespread presence of the fold within Neoconcrete threedimensional works of art. In this development the roles of Reynaldo Jardim, Amílcar de Castro and Ferreira Gullar were fundamental. The partnership between Jardim and de Castro led to the radical graphic restructuring of the newspaper between 1956 and 1960, which this exhibition aims to highlight, while Gullar, already an acclaimed poet and during the course of the 1950s establishing himself as one of the foremost Brazilian art critics and polemicists, added to the sleek page designs uncompromising, intelligent and highly critical articles that would forge the theoretical identity of the Neoconcrete group. If we are to consider the current content of newspaper print, and here I am not even thinking of the tabloid press, it seems hard to believe the level and the breadth of theoretical discussion that a Brazilian newspaper, in mid-twentieth century, was able to provoke. In order to understand how this feat was accomplished it is useful to remind ourselves of the fact that Brazil during the 1950s was a country undergoing immense change, where modernity seemed to be the national destiny, and its promised utopia almost within reach. If the connection between the government of President Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961), the architectural and urban confidence that brought the construction of the new capital Brasília (1956-1960) and the Neoconcrete Movement (1959-1961), undeniably sets a historical context marked by the ideology of developmentalism – or demonstrates, in the words of the art critic Mário Pedrosa, to what extent Brazil was a ‘country condemned to modernity’ – Neoconcretism itself should not be simplistically reduced to such a historical frame of reference. Although it shared with Brazilian modern architecture a lineage that connected it back to early 20th century European Modernism, its development was very distinct and far less hegemonic. According to Ronaldo Brito, it was a ‘laboratory of aesthetic experimentation’, which suggests a certain detachment from the contemporaneous drives in society.

As we can see in the pages here selected, the prevailing tone of the articles is often one of stubborn defiance in the face of the diverging international tendencies in the art of the time. The attacks against Tashism (see the articleby Gullar ‘Critique and Engament’ 31 October 1959) which appeared as the predominant tendency at the 5th São Paulo Biennial are a case in point. If we consider the earlier versions of the Biennial, which from 1951 brought the international art circuit into ‘live contact’ with local artists and intellectuals, constructivist movements had certainly received a warmer reception, but this was far from unanimous. Many important figures, such as Alfred Barr (the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York), could not see how the constructivist tendencies, with their overwhelming reliance on the rational, could possess any relation to life in Latin America. Barr had dismissed works by the Brazilian Concrete artists as being nothing more than Bauhaus exercises, implying the movement was clearly derivative and backward. With hindsight, however, we recognise in those early experiments and those that would follow, particularly with the advent of Neoconcretism, a close relation with theories that would arise in the US around the mid-1960s with the emergence of Minimalism. The relation for instance between Gullar’s ‘Theory of the Non-Object’ (see 19 December 1959) and Donald Judd’s seminal text on Minimalism ‘Specific Objects’ (1965) is uncanny.

Neoconcretism as the name suggests was a reaction to the intransigence of Concrete poetry and art. It rejected the idea that a work of art could be predetermined, since this would inevitably dispose of intuition and expression within the creative process. Yet Neoconcretism is also inextricably connected to Concrete art: it was, as will become evident in these pages, an attempt to take it further, beyond those premises determined by its European pioneers. In this sense it is inaugural within the Brazilian context, since by ignoring the perverse desire to be up to date with metropolitan fashions, it stubbornly became the first instance in which genuinely new theoretical propositions within the field of art were able to arise, and thus established an autonomy for the local production which became highly productive for artists of the most diverse tendencies during the following decades. In short, the constructive tradition in Brazil, to which Neoconcretism belonged, inscribed itself within a set of historical conditions that pertained both to a local political context as well as to the more general post-war re-evaluation of Modernism which affected artists around the world. Ferreira Gullar (Cocchiarale and Geiger, 1987) concisely described the legacy that the 1950s left to Brazilian art:

‘The 50s were, in the artistic field, disturbing, polemical and fertile; moreover, they were indicative of a moment of maturity and of an increasingly profound aesthetic experience. While one could say that
Brazilian art from the end of the first decade of the twentieth century experienced a phase of renewal and creativity, it did not develop the essential issues that governed the modern artistic tendencies from impressionism onwards. Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism and Surrealism did not possess their true significance when adopted and assimilated by Brazilian artists and critics. It was from the 50s that
these questions were placed at the centre of Brazilian art. It lost, in this way, its innocence, and precisely because of this, it experienced the crisis of art at that moment. And this is why it became capable, in some cases, of anticipating European and North American art, responding through theory and practice to that crisis’.

This exhibition brings to a UK audience reproductions of a selectionof pages from the SDJB during the 1950s while this facsimile presents some pages relative to the Neoconcrete Movement translated into English. We have attempted to keep these as close as possible to the original layout. The project as a whole is the product of a collaborative effort between the University of the Arts Research Centre for Transnational Art Identity and Nation (TrAIN), the Embassy of Brazil in London and the Jornal do Brasil (JB). Two doctoral students under my supervision, German Alfonso Adaid and Caroline Menezes carried out research at the Jornal do Brasil
archives, selecting a series of relevant pages that demonstrate the graphic evolution of the supplement. They acted as research curatorsin this sense, further contributing to the production of this facsimile in partnership with the Embassy’s Cultural section. As far as the latter is concerned I am truly grateful to the work and assistance provided by Minister Ruy Amaral, the cultural attaché Carlos Pachá and exhibition manager Laura Barbi. The Neoconcrete Experience exhibition would not have been possible without the generous assistance of the Jornal do Brasil which allowed us to publish the first collection in English of these landmark texts. I would like to express particular gratitude for the assistance we received from Humberto Tanure and Ana Paula Amorim. I would also like to thank Prof. Ildo Nascimento from the ‘Universidade Federal Fluminense’ for sharing
his research regarding the development of the Jornal do Brasil, particularly his scholarly text ‘Diagramação, Jogo de Armar: A Arte
Aplicada de Amílcar de Castro na Modernização Gráfica do Jornal do Brasil’ (2004). Finally a special thank you to my friend, Kátia Maciel, who kindly permitted the screening of her documentary ‘Os Neoconcoretos’ during the exhibition.

M I C H A E L A S B U R Y c u r a t o r

download facsimile

download press release

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