Genoming Brazilian Art, Then and Now

Artsy Editors
Sep 4, 2013 5:49AM

Brazil in 1960s was a hotbed for new ideas and debates about art. These were documented through a number of landmark texts and exhibitions, such he Neo-Concrete Manifesto in 1959 the New Brazilian Objectivity exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. The notion of vivênicas, roughly translated to "life-experience," was central to much of this artwork, and as a result much of it was never meant to be preserved over time as an object. It was an art of momentary situations and experiences, fitting in with the broader modernist aim to fuse art and life. However, it drew from Brazilian sources such as samba dance and favela life, and assumed particular poignance and urgency after the arrival of military dictatorship in the country in 1964. 

The output of the period was incredibly diverse. The Neo-Concrete Manifesto had struck out against the international Concrete Art movement for its overly rigid methods and emphasis on mathematical forms. The ideas of Concrete Art were influential in the 1950s in Brazil after Swiss artist Max Bill showed in São Paulo, and are indeed visible in the solid shapes and colors of Neo-Concrete Art. But the Neo-Concrete artists, based mainly in Rio de Janeiro, wanted to work flexibly and to give these forms new life. Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape and several others made art that was often meant to be manipulated, entered or worn by its viewer. 

As Pape wrote, "In sculpture, the idea was to destroy the base and create an object that could be called a sculpture, but could be positioned in any way. Paintings would no longer be surrounded by frames. They would move out in space… This sense of invention, of creation, was what truly characterized the movement. In those days, people still believed that a painting had to be hung on the wall for mere contemplation. There was no sense of participation, of using different materials: so all of this led to a tremendous feeling of freedom. It wasn't easy back then. The whole world was against us."

In his essay on New Brazilian Objectivity for the MAM Rio exhibition, Oiticica assessed the broad range of art being made in Brazil at the time and distilled a few key tendencies, not unlike the Contemporary Tendencies we have on the Art Genome Project. Translated to English, these tendencies included: 

- "a move towards the object" (see The Altered Canvas, to start with)

- "the participation of the spectator" (see Interactive or Immersive)

- "an engagement and a position on political, social and ethical problems" (see Political)

It is these kinds of characteristics that help to describe artwork being made within a particular context, and also help to connect artwork from different contexts.

Consider, for instance: 

- how Carlos Bunga explores The Everyday by painting on cardboard,

- how Ernesto Neto constructs immersive environments, and 

- how Graciela Sacco engages politics 

Indeed, many of the questions and challenges that confronted the artists of the New Brazilian Objectivity have continued to do so in the generations since, both in Brazil and other parts of the world. The selection of works on display at ArtRio showcases some of the best of Brazil's 1960s scene, as well its legacy. Enjoy! 

Artsy Editors