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Exhibition at Moderna Museet explores the boundaries of Latin American Concretism
Lygia Pape , Livro da criação (Book of Creation), 1959–60 Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, 2001 © Projeto Lygia Pape. Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth.

STOCKHOLM.- Concrete Matters highlights the seminal period from the mid-1930s to the 1970s when Latin American artists were exploring the boundaries of Concretism, and of art itself. The period also presents the emerging Brazilian Neo-Concrete movement in the 1950s, which challenged the notion of the work of art as a static object. This exhibition features some 80 works from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela.

“The age of representational fiction in art has come to an end. Man is less and less sensitive to illusory images. (…) The old phantasmagorias no longer satisfy the aesthetic appetite of the new man, formed in a reality that demands of him his total presence, without reservations.”

These are the introductory words of the Inventionist Manifesto (Manifiesto invencionista), which was signed by 16 artists in Buenos Aires in 1946. The Manifesto is an example of how artists in several Latin American cities were looking for a new, concrete imagery, free from depiction and abstraction.

The term “concrete art” was coined in 1930 by the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg when he formed the group Art Concret in Paris. This group existed for only a short time, but its vision of a universal imagery based on geometric shapes spread across Europe, and was interpreted and developed in the ensuing decades by artists on the South American continent. This period in Latin America is characterised by optimism and enormous social change, but also by political instability and periods of authoritarianism. The economy was booming, and cities were growing, with modernist buildings as emblems of a new era.

Despite obvious visual similarities, the works in the exhibition reveal the occasionally contradictory ideas and intentions of these artists. In the four decades or more covered by this exhibition, artistic factions were being formed and reformed, spreading their occasionally utopian visions in essays, manifestoes, flyers, their own magazines, and the daily press. The exhibition catalogue includes a selection of these manifestoes, in which the artists describe their fundamental ideas and the reasons for the necessity of Concrete art. This is the first time several of these texts have been translated into Swedish.

“Both the forms and intentions of Concretism were developed and reformulated by the Latin American artists. For many of them, this was a language with universal potential that was in line with their radical and occasionally utopian ideas for a new society. We are very excited about presenting this crucial chapter in the history of 20th-century art,” says Matilda Olof-Ors, exhibition curator.

In 1954, artists in Rio de Janeiro formed Grupo Frente. Its members included Ivan Serpa, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape and Hélio Oiticica. They shared a more experimental approach to the basic elements of Concrete art, colour, line and shape. By the end of the decade, a few of them were moving towards a more open interpretation of Concretism. In 1959, a shared ambition to dissolve the boundary between art and life led to the start of a Neo-Concrete movement in Brazil that stressed the importance of all the senses, not just sight, when experiencing a work of art. Viewers were encouraged to interact with the works and invited to shape and reshape them. The artists ventured into public urban spaces, where the people became part of the creative process. The Brazilian Neo-Concrete movement has therefore often been cast as the end of the modernist project and the beginning of postmodernism.

The artists featured in the exhibition are Geraldo de Barros, Max Bill, Aluísio Carvão, Willys de Castro, Lygia Clark, Waldemar Cordeiro, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gego, Gyula Kosice, Judith Lauand, Raúl Lozza, Tomás Maldonado, Juan Melé, Juan Alberto Molenberg, Hélio Oiticica, Alejandro Otero, Lygia Pape, Rhod Rothfuss, Luíz Sacilotto, Mira Schendel, Ivan Serpa, Jésus Rafael Soto, Joaquín Torres-García, Rubem Valentim, Franz Weissmann and Anatol Władysław.

Concrete Matters is organised by Moderna Museet in collaboration with Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, which has kindly lent most of the works in this exhibition. After being shown at Moderna Museet, several pieces will be donated by the CPPC to MoMA in New York. The exhibition also includes works from Moderna Museet’s own collection.

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