The NeoConcrete Movement (1959-1961)

Regina Célia Pinto


Around the late 1950s, the Rio group carried out an en-masse critical review of their previous position. They denounced the excessive dogmatism that led to Concretism, the production of art according to formulas that ended up submitting it to a system devoid of critical or artistic potential instead of integrating art into life.

As a result, the NeoConcretist Manifesto was published in the Sunday Supplement of the Jornal do Brasil newspaper on March 23, 1959. The First NeoConcrete Art Exhibition showed works by Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Amílcar de Castro, Franz Weissmann, Reynaldo Jardim, Sergio Camargo, Theon Spanudis and Ferreira Gullar. Other exhibitions followed, in which other artists took part.

"We split from the concrete group from São Paulo because they wanted to create a ten-year plan for future work. The Rio group thought this was taking rationalism to the extreme. We wanted to work intuitively but freely.
We exchanged a great deal of information, but there was also a certain impregnation, to the extent that one person conversed with another. The NeoConcrete (movement) did not arise by chance, nor was it something we developed and then started working on. We were led to it by our previous experiments. Later, Gullar, who was a poet and copy-editor at Jornal do Brasil, was a very good writer and had studied art theory, was charged with writing a paper that covered everyone's work - a paper that succeeded the work.
There was total freedom. Nothing was dogmatic. Everyone was willing to be creative. We didn't stick to conventional categories. 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. I invented a book called the 'Book of Creation,' which recounts the creation of the world without words. It is half plastic art, half poetry. 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." (Lygia Pape's deposition to Regina Célia Pinto)

Mário Pedrosa has observed with his habitual acuity that NeoConcrete art was the "prehistory of Brazilian art." This definition, which should not be taken literally, underscores the radical nature of the NeoConcrete movement: it was prehistoric to the extent that it questioned the essence of the existing artistic language and proposed a return to the "beginnings" of art.
The NeoConcrete Manifesto, which is based on the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, retrieved humanity and rehabilitated the palpable, disqualified since Plato, making it the basis of a real knowledge. The aim was to revitalize the relationship between the individual and his or her work. 1


7- NeoConcrete Manifesto
Cf.: NeoConcretism Exhibition catalogue / 1959-1961, Banerj Art Gallery, September 1984.
Note the modern layout of the Sunday Supplement of the Jornal do Brasil, published on March 23, 1959.

We do not conceive of a work of art as a "machine" or "object" but as a "quasi-corpus"; that is, a being whose reality is not exhausted by the external relationships of its elements; a being that can be deconstructed into parts for analysis but can only be fully understood through a direct, phenomenological approach. We believe that a work of art surpasses the material mechanism on which it rests, but not because it has an extraterrestrial quality: it surpasses it by transcending such mechanical relationships (which is the aim of Gestalt) and create, in and of itself, a tacit meaning (Merleau-Ponty) that emerges for the first time.2

A work of art was seen as being similar to a living organism. The absence of a frame or support would bring it into real space - take art down from its pedestal and include it in life - so people could become a natural part of the artwork. By establishing relationships and carrying out exchanges, the individual would continually create and recreate the work. Thus, the support would cease to be the frame or pedestal of a sculpture and become the body itself. This replacement of conventional support with natural support indicates the radical nature of NeoConcrete art. The aim was to be achieved somewhere between nature and culture, almost anteceding culture as the original formulation of the real.3

From this standpoint, one can easily understand why Claude Lévi-Strauss dedicated his book The Savage Mind to the philosopher Merleau-Ponty.4 In this book, we learn that there are two different modes of scientific thought: one that is approximately adapted to the realm of perception and the imagination, and another that is dislocated. It is as though all necessary relationships, the subject of every science, Neolithic or Modern, could be attained through two different paths - one that is very close to sensitive intuition and the other more removed from it.

Ronaldo Brito 5 writes that NeoConcretism is centered on the positivity of the constructive tradition - art as an instrument for constructing society. If so, it would be contradictory, in view of the fact that it would contradict its own postulates due to the artists' practices, and work to partially break them. In the view of this critique, the NeoConcrete was both the vertex of Brazilian constructive awareness and the agent of its crisis.
Lygia Pape disagrees with this view and writes that, for the NeoConcrete movement, the idea of "inventing" new things would be a revolutionary stance that did not involve politics or participation.

Establishing a connection between these two opinions, we can conclude that the NeoConcrete was seeking new paths. More palpable paths. The manifesto postulated what had been learned through experience. Thus, experience would be the act of doing merged with being - being that could be constructed through the palpable. And such learning would involve the entire body. It should be said that art could not be subjected merely to the desire for certainty and accuracy; to extreme constructivist rationalism. It is also subjected to the participation of viewers of the work, making them take part in its explanation; awakening in them the awareness their capacity for bringing about change.

This transfer of artistic support to the body itself and the awareness that we can become agents of change is said to have its remotest philosophical origins in Nietzsche 6, who in the late nineteenth century stated his opinion of despisers of the body, advising them to "bid farewell to their own bodies, and thus be dumb": "Body am I entirely, and nothing more; and soul is only the name of something in the body."


8- A woodcut from the Tecelares series
Cf.: PAPE,Lygia et al., op. cit.,1983, p.8.
Shown at the First NeoConcrete Exhibition, this woodcut represents research done within a deliberately limited vocabulary to arrive at complex compositions in which exactitude becomes tension and drama. It is a phase of large black compound surfaces in which things cease to be what they are and disclose their other self. The artist plays with space - what is the figure, what is the ground? And what is the individual, what is society? What is in and what is out? What is sensibility, and what is sense?
9- NeoConcrete Ballet.
Cf.: Revista Galeria / 21, photo: Fernando Duarte
The support for the art of "NeoConcrete Ballets" was the body itself.

"In 'Balé I,' there were four white cylinders and four orange-red parallelograms; they were two meters high and set on small wheels. The people hidden inside these shapes moved them around, using the human body as an engine. The ballet was based on a poem by Reynaldo Jardim. The choreography followed the poem, which consisted of two words, "alvo" (target) and "olho" (eye), repeated by moving them on the paper. Only the geometric shapes were visible on the stage. The sound, produced by Reynaldo Jardim, consisted of two notes, using the piano as a percussion instrument: pam, pam - pam/ pam - pam."


10- Poem by Reynaldo Jardim
Cf.: MAM documentation section.

"As for 'Balé II,' it consisted of nothing but two large 2 x 2-meter squares - a pink one and another with a blue stripe along the top. These shapes were also set on wheels, but they only moved at right angles. The choreography was more rigid. The backdrop was also black, and there was a very interesting moment when the pink square entered upstage and was transformed into the ground, while the black one seemed to be the figure. The inversion obtained was very beautiful."

According to Arnheim 7, a concrete poem should be a concatenation and not adopt the standards of logic, sparking a reaction in the reader's mind by fusing all the elements into an organized whole. This is what the ballets did. In fact, as the artist mentioned, the choreography of "Balé I" was based on one such poem.

NeoConcrete ballets could be called organic because they not only use the human body to support art works but they point out the inconclusive nature of reasoning. They express a multiplicity of relationships, ambiguities and contradictions that lead spectators to complete the work, removing them from their passive role.

"NeoConcrete ballet hides the body to reveal it. There are no dancers, only the dance." 8

These ballets only comprehend the parts when they form a whole. This whole could be the dance or culture / society. Similarly, the individual is only fully revealed in his or her cultural and social context. The ambiguity found in these ballets links the spectators' attention to enable them to perceive this absolute unity.


11- Lygia Pape shows her "Book of Creation" at the Second NeoConcrete Art Exhibition
Cf.: NeoConcretism Exhibition catalogue / 1959-1961, Banerj Art Gallery, September 1984.


1-GULLAR, Ferreira, in MORAIS, Frederico. Neoconcretismo/1959-1961. Exhibition Catalogue Banerj Gallery. Rio de Janeiro: n.p., 1984, n.pag.
2-GULLAR, Ferreira et al. Manifesto Neoconcreto. Jornal do Brasil, Suplemento Dominical . Rio de Janeiro: 1959, n.pag.
3-GULLAR, Ferreira, op. cit, 1984, n.pag.
4-LÉVI-STRAUSS,Claude, op. cit., 1989, p. 30.
5-BRITO, Ronaldo. Neoconcretismo. Malasartes. Rio de Janeiro: (3): 9-13, Apr./ Jun. 1976 , p. 9.
6-NIETZSCHE, Friedrich Wilhelm. Assim falava Zaratustra.Tradução de Eduardo Nunes Fonseca. São Paulo, Hemus Editora Limitada, s/d.
7-ARNHEIM, Rudolf. Arte & percepção visual. São Paulo: Livraria Pioneira Editora, 1989, pp. 103, 104.
8-DOCTORS, Marcio. Lygia Pape , a radicalidade do real. Galeria. São Paulo, Área Editorial Ltda, 21: 68-75, 1990, p. 73.

Essay extracted from:

PINTO, Regina Célia. "Quatro olhares à procura de um leitor, mulheres importantes, arte e identidade" ("Four Views in Search of a Reader, Important Women, Art and Identity"). Rio de Janeiro, 1994. 415p. Tese (Pós Graduação em Artes visuais, Mestrado em História da Arte, área de Antropologia da Arte ) - Escola de Belas Artes, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.