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.
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
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
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)
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
Cf.: NeoConcretism Exhibition catalogue / 1959-1961, Banerj Art Gallery,
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
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
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."
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
'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."
Poem by Reynaldo Jardim
Cf.: MAM documentation section.
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."
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
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.
Lygia Pape shows her "Book of Creation" at the Second NeoConcrete
Cf.: NeoConcretism Exhibition catalogue / 1959-1961, Banerj Art Gallery,
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,
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.
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.