6 Giants of Neo Concrete Art in Brazil

Artist(s) in Focus, Top Lists, Art History

April 26, 2021

Looking from the contemporary stance, the development of Abstract art couldn’t be imagined without Concrete art, the movement which had an enormous impact on the entire generation of post-war artists. Fascinated by the domains of geometrical abstraction. Theo van Doesburg first used the term "concrete art" in 1930 to define the difference between his vision of art and that of other abstract tendencies of the time. After this great figure died in 1931, another relevant practitioner, Max Bill, disseminated the term further, in 1944 organized the first international exhibition, and popularized the style in Latin America.

The Neo-Concrete Movement, 1959–61, emerged in Brazil from Rio de Janeiro’s Grupo Frente. The artists gathered around this particular group abandoned the purism of Concrete art and created artworks according to their less scientific, and more phenomenological observations. The main inspirator of these ideas was Ferreira Gullar whose essay Theory of the Non-Object and the Neo-Concrete Manifesto inspired other proponents of the movement such as Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Lygia Pape.

The group, sadly, lasted only two years, most likely due to the changing political climate. After leaving The Neo-Concrete movement, the artists shifted towards Conceptual Art. Nevertheless, their legacy inspired generations to come and helped invigorate a further development of abstraction in Latin America.

Let's take a closer look at the practices of six seminal Neo-Concrete artists!

Featured image: Lygia Clark - Estruturas de caixas de fosforos preto branco [match box structures black and white], 1964. Gouache, match boxes and glue, 6 x 6 x 8.5 cm. Courtesy Bergamin & Gomide.

Lygia Clark

Probably one of the most influential Brazilian artists after the war, Lygia Pimentel Lins (1920 –1988), better known as Lygia Clark is saluted for her painting and installation work, but also for her pioneering activity in Brazilian Constructivist movements and the Tropicalia movement.

In the late 1940s, Clark studied with Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, and between 1950 and 1952, the artist shared her Parisian studies with the likes of Fernand Leger and Isaac Dobrinsky. She participated in Rio de Janeiro's first National Concrete Art Exhibition in 1957.

Influenced by the Constructivist movement and the European Geometric Abstraction in general, Clark became a prolific practitioner best known for her Bichos (Critters), hinged objects that could transform by the participant. After 1966 the artist claimed that she abandoned art, and during Brazil's military dictatorship, the artist fled to Paris where she taught art at the Sorbonne and eventually explored the idea of sensory perception through her art. Between 1979 and 1988, Clark focused on art therapy, using her objects in interactive sessions with patients.

Featured image: Lygia Clark – Bicho Linear, 1960. Sculpture, 66 x 66 x 36 cm. Courtesy of Bergamin & Gomide.

Lygia Pape

Another relevant Neo-Concrete Movement artist was Lygia Pape (1927 –2004), who expressed herself through different media spanning from sculpture and engraving, to film. She joined the Concrete art movement by the age of 20 and was a member of the Grupo Frente, which rejected figuration and earlier nationalist Brazilian art. Shortly afterward, Pape became one of the founding members of the Neo-Concrete movement along with Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the artist focused more on video and installation production through which she criticized the Brazilian dictatorship. From 1972 to 1985, Pape lectured semiotics at the School of Architecture at the Universidade Santa Úrsula in Rio de Janeiro and was appointed professor in the School of Fine Arts of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in 1983. She received a master’s degree in philosophy from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1980. During that period, through her films, photography, and teaching, Pape focused on the architectural forms and sociability of urban space in Rio de Janeiro.

Featured image: Lygia Pape – Untitled (Grupo Frente), 1954. Tempera on wood, 40 x 40 x 5 cm. Courtesy of Bergamin & Gomide.

Hélio Oiticica

Hélio Oiticica (1937 – 1980) was a sculptor, painter, performance artist, and theorist, a member of Grupo Frente, the founding member of the Neo-Concrete Movement, and later a practitioner of environmental art. Under the influence of Concrete art and De Stijl, he developed new ideas to distance himself from the constraints of painterly traditions which reached its peak with the Neo-Concrete Movement. Oiticica produced a series of small square wooden monochromes entitled Invencoes (Inventions) in 1959, to question traditional ideas of aesthetics and art practices.

A series of small interactive sculptures called Bólides (fireballs) followed throughout the 1960s, as well as and installations called Penetráveis (penetrables) which viewers could step into and interact with. Oiticica is best known for his Tropicália (1967) works, after which the new Tropicalismo movement was founded.

In the 1970s, the artist focused on writing and obtained frequent correspondence with several important intellectuals, artists, and writers both in Brazil and abroad. After living in New York City, Oiticica experienced immigration issues, and so he returned to Rio de Janeiro, where he died.

Featured image: Hélio Oiticica – Metaesquema, 1957. Gouache on cardboard, 51 x 62.5 cm. Courtesy of Bergamin & Gomide.

Amílcar de Castro

Sculptor and graphic designer Amílcar de Castro (1920 – 2002) graduated in law from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in 1945, as well as the Escola Guignard from 1944 to 1950 where he studied design with Alberto Guignard and figurative sculpture with Franz Weissman. After moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1953, de Castro started working as a graphic designer with the magazines Manchete and A Cigarra, as well as the Jornal do Brasil newspaper in 1957-1959.

During the sixties, he was more focused on sculpture, while simultaneously executing graphic design for several other Brazilian newspapers.

In 1957, Amilcar de Castro received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation and the "Foreign Travel" prize at the 15th National Salon for Modern Art he traveled to the United States and settled in New Jersey.Almost twenty years later, the artist returned to Belo Horizonte and devoted himself to artistic and educational activities. He worked as a director of the Escola Guignard Foundation from 1974-77 and taught "bidimensional and tridimensional expression, and later on was Professor of Sculpture at the UFMG School of Fine Arts from 1979–90 and of Sculpture at the Art Foundation of Ouro Preto-FAOP in 1979.

Best known for his large, bold simple iron forms, and his teaching posts, de Castro is saluted as one of the most influential figures in the Brazilian context.

Featured image: Amílcar de Castro - Abertura. Praça da Sé, São Paulo. Photo by André Deak for the Arte Fora do Museu. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Franz Weissmann

Franz Josef Weissmann (1911 – 2005) was an Austrian-born Brazilian sculptor whose entire oeuvre is defined by geometric shapes. Weissmann came to Brazil in 1921, and between 1939 and 1941 he studied architecture, painting, drawing, and sculpture classes at the National School of Fine Arts. Then from 1942 to 1944, the artist studied drawing, sculpture, modeling, and foundry with August Zamoyski, and a year later he settled in Belo Horizonte where he privately taught drawing and sculpture.

From 1950 onwards, Weissmann started developing the constructivist style and eventually joined Grupo Frente. By 1956, he returned to Rio de Janeiro and participated in the National Exposition of Concrete Art in 1957, and between 1959 and 1965 Weissmann traveled to Europe and East Asia.

The artist is celebrated for his 1960s series Amassados (Dented) he made while in Europe with hammered zinc and aluminum sheets. The following decade is marked by his return to Constructivism, the award for best sculptor by the Brazilian Association of Art Critics he has won in 1970, and participation at the Venice Biennale.

Several of his works are located in public space across Brazilian cities, like at Praça da Sé in São Paulo, and at Parque da Catacumba, in Rio de Janeiro.

Featured image: Franz Weissmann - Cubo em cantoneiras, 1951. Aluminium and wood, 14 x 26 x 26 cm. Courtesy of Bergamin & Gomide.

Mira Schendel

Mira Schendel (1919 –1988) was a remarkable Brazilian artist best known for her delicate drawings on rice paper. She was also active as a painter, a poet, and a sculptor. In the late 1930s, she studied philosophy at the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. Schendel was Jewish and had to leave after Fascist Italy imposed racial laws in 1938. After traveling through Switzerland and Austria, she arrived in Sarajevo, with a group of refugees. After the war, she returned to Italy with her first husband Josep Hargesheimer, and in 1949 the couple emigrated to Brazil.

Inspired by the art of language and poetry, Schendel created an intriguing and evolving body of work that was not affiliated with any school or movement. After arriving in Brazil, she was transfixed by experimental attitudes that were a result of her previous experience in art and philosophy during the time spent in Milan. Schendel’s heterogeneous works are hard to categorize as she constantly searched for different directions in her practice.

Featured image: Mira Schendel – Untitled, 1954. Tempera on wood, 36 x 51 cm. Courtesy of Bergamin & Gomide.

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Bergamin & Gomide

Sao Paulo, Brazil