For a few vigorous decades in the mid-20th century, artists in the rapidly-growing cosmopolitan cities of Montevideo, Caracas, Buenos Aires, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were exploring concrete art. This exhibition highlights the period when concretism – and thus, the boundaries of art – were being examined.
The exhibition Concrete Matters also presents the emerging Brazilian neo-concretism. In the late-1950s, artists such as Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape and Helió Oiticica challenged the concept of the work of art as a static object.
Rejecting figurative art
In the mid-1940s, movements in Argentina began to reinterpret and develop the European concrete art initiated by the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg in Paris in 1930. These artists said that figurative, representational art tended to “dampen the cognitive energy of man, distracting him from his own powers”.
The concretists rejected the illusionism that artists had used over the centuries to create a three-dimensional pictorial space on the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. Instead, they proposed that people should be surrounded by real things, not illusions. Concrete art was the path forward, since it ”accustoms man to a direct relationship with things and not with the fiction of things”.
Visual similarities – different intentions
Over the ensuing decades, concretism was interpreted and reinterpreted by artists in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. Despite obvious visual similarities, their works are also partly contradictory in innumerable ways with regard to the artists’ ideas and intentions.
Countless artist factions were formed, broke up and reunited in the slightly more than four decades covered by this exhibition. Like the early-20th century avant-garde movements, these groups also occasionally presented utopian visions in texts and manifestos, which were distributed as flyers or printed in their own magazines, or published in daily newspapers.
Concrete Matters presents some 70 works made from the 1930s to the 1970s in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, and is based on works in the collection Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.