Concrete Visions

Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema, 1955 - © Private Collection, São Paulo

Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema, 1955 - © Private Collection, São Paulo

While the international abstract style that dominated the postwar world was primarily materialist and gestural, prewar geometric abstraction did persist, albeit with an impetus quite distinct from that of European prewar artists. Concrete art in South America united the vitalism of Joaquín Torres García with European modernism and became an entirely independent phenomenon. Modernist forms were adopted early on in parallel to a nationalist developmentalism that did not simply stand against Western capitalism but figured in competition with it. “Concrete” art in Latin America — by the Madí group, for example, and such artists as Waldemar Cordeiro — was followed quickly by apparently very similar forms made by such neo-concrete artists as Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica, which nonetheless were quite different in spirit. As Clark said, “We use the term "neo-concrete" to differentiate ourselves from those committed to non-figurative "geometric" art and particularly the kind of concrete art that is influenced by a dangerously acute rationalism … none of which offers a rationale for the expressive potential we feel art contains.” Instead, neo-concrete art was imbued with an antirational vitalism, made socially specific, physically participatory, and psychologically liberating. In this sense, neo-concrete art rhymes with the non-programmatic, everyday formalism of an artist like Ellsworth Kelly,whose “geometric” art eschewed the rationalism — and still more broadly — the authority and dogmatism of earlier avant-garde movements.

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