Calder and Brazilian neo-concretism

in  context

How the work of the American sculptor influenced one

of the most important movements of Brazilian modern

art in the 1950s.



The presence of Alexander Calder in Brazil coincides with a unique stage in the art history of this country. From his first exhibition in 1939 at the Salao de Maio to his great solo exhibitions in 1948 – also taking into account his appearance in major exhibitions throughout the 1950s – Calder was present during a time of deep transformation in the visual arts of Brazil.


It was a period of consolidation of modern art and the rise of abstractionism. A time of modernization of the market and the institutions, when the first art biennials were held and large museums were opened – the Museum of Art in São Paulo (Masp) in 1947, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro (MAM-Rio) in 1948. A time of growing cultural exchange with Europe and the United States and intense creative effervescence and aesthetic renovation.


Much of this renovation was marked by Calder's influence. His interest in industrial materials, such as sheet metal and wire, his use of pure, geometric forms and his denial of representation on behalf of the creation of an autonomous artistic universe echoed in a movement taking shape in the early 1950s in Brazil: neo-concretism.


This art movement, which gained momentum in Rio de Janeiro with the Grupo Frente [Frente Group], brought together artists directly linked to Mário Pedrosa. The art critic was one of the main disseminators of Calder's work in Brazil and extremely influential to the generation of artists looming in the 1950s.


Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Hélio Oiticica, Willys de Castro, Abraham Palatnik – all of them appearing in Calder and Brazilian Art – incorporated into the neo-concrete experience much of what Pedrosa observed in the works

by Calder: an abstraction based on subjectivity, combining construction and expression, agility and mechanics – that is, characteristics very different from the concrete, rationalist-par-excellence design of Constructivism. "Pedrosa's adherence to Calder's abstractionism is likely to have influenced the unique course followed by the Rio de Janeiro group," noted Roberta Saraiva in her book Calder no Brasil [Calder in Brazil] (Cosac Naify, 2006).


Calder's influence also reached the concrete artists in São Paulo. Painter and sculptor Luiz Sacilotto, a member of the Grupo Ruptura [Rupture Group], worked in 1946 in the office of Jacob Ruchti, a modernist architect and enthusiast for Calder's work, and went on to adhere to abstractionism. The same path was pursued by visual artist Judith Lauand, the only woman to join the group of concrete artists in São Paulo.


Art and life

Neo-concretism is considered by the critics as the group that, in a way, inaugurates contemporary art in Brazil, as their works propose a "fusion of art and life" and assume a more active role of the viewers and sensory experiences. These characteristics were also highlighted by Mário Pedrosa in the work of Calder, whose art, according to the critic, "would be confused with daily-life activities and the everyday practice of living." (Mário Pedrosa: Forma e Percepção Estética – Selected Articles, Edusp, 1995.)


This setting of expansion of horizons and consolidation of the arts community, with the opening of new museums and galleries from the 1960s onward, provides the backdrop to artists like Waltercio Caldas, Ernesto Neto, Carlos Bevilacqua and Cao Guimarães. Heirs to a greater or lesser degree of the neo-concrete-art legacy, they radicalize the sensory experience and the fusion of art and life.


By Letícia Ramos


2016 - developed by CONTEÚDO COMUNICAÇÃO