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This original booklet produced for the Leirner Prize for Contemporary Art of 1960 includes a short biography of each artist receiving an award: Thomaz Perina (1921-2009), Murilo Penteado (born 1928), Nobe Xandó (1915-2010), Raul Porto (1936-1999), and Moacyr Rocha. The small pamphlet also has brief critiques from important artists such as Waldemar Cordeiro (1925-1973), Oswaldo de Andrade filho (1914-1972), Wolfgang Pfeiffer, and Decio Pignatari (1927-2012), highlighting the significance of each of the recipients and how their exhibited works relate and compare to those of other art events such as the São Paulo International Bienal.
These critiques employed visual elements and poetry in their reviews, emphasizing aspects of the artists and their work, adding a level of quality to the art. In this way, the critic played a role almost as important as the art work itself. Waldemar Cordeiro wrote about Tomas Perina: “Nao e apenas um talento ao estado natural, e um artista. Pinta concebendo e concebe pintando.” [“He is not just a talent in its natural state, he is an artist. (He) paints while conceiving and conceives while painting.”] Cordeiro also pointed out the diverse, yet simultaneous, conceptual associations that could be created even through the relative simplicity of Perina’s design.
Decio Pignatari, the writer chosen to critique Porto’s work, was a close friend of the artist (see doc. 1233093). Pignatari was a poet and essayist who was particularly interested in the dialogue that art could create and the theories behind this process. In his review of Porto’s work, Pignatari took the opportunity, in poetry form, to illuminate the term “vanguardia” [vanguard] and the complex process of its development, adding: “Raul Porto e Tomas Perina representam a idea da vanguarda.” [“Raul Porto and Tomas Perina represent the idea of vanguard.”] The reader would thus understand that these artists were not merely creating intuitive images; they were in fact among the artists at the forefront of contemporary Brazilian art.
In 1957, in preparation for the IV São Paulo International Bienal, the jury commissioned to choose the Brazilian entrants excluded the work of several Brazilian artists. Led by artist Flavio de Carvalho (1899-1973), certain factions within Brazil’s cultural milieu objected that the selected works were predominantly from Concrete artists, and that the jury had essentially ignored figurative art. Other prominent Brazilian artists agreed and, with their backing, the industrialist Isai Leirner—who, at the time, was also a director at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo [São Paulo Museum of Modern Art]—sponsored an exhibition in 1958 of 12 São Paulo-based artists as an alternative to the Concrete vision that was offered by the Bienal. This initial exhibition, which became known as the Premio Leirner, was held in the lobby of the office building of the newspaper La Folha.
This exhibition generated the stimulus for an alternative to the Bienal, and, eventually, Leirner found a space dedicated to this cause, known as the Galeria de Arte das Folhas, which operated from 1958 to 1962. Leirner and his colleagues had their own views on what was significant in contemporary Brazilian art and what deserved national and international recognition. Their space hosted not only exhibitions but also debates and conferences that promoted a wider array of tendencies than those backed by the organizers of the São Paulo Bienal at that time. Leirner and the other patrons who coalesced around the Galeria Folha often bought the exhibited art themselves and donated it to museums, thus driving the institutionalization of the showcased artists.
One of the artists chosen for the Leirner Prize in 1960 was Raul Porto (1936-1999). Porto, a Cidade de Dois Córregos native, showed an early interest in painting and graphic design. Porto’s work was part of the Primeira exposição de arte contemporânea da Campinas [First Exhibition of Contemporary Art in Campinas] in 1957. A year later he joined the Grupo Vanguarda in which he operated as the “spokesman” of the group. He eventually achieved wide notoriety. Between 1959 and 1972, Porto participated in the V, VII, VIII, and IX International Bienal of São Paulo.
The Leirner Prize was originally established to recognize the work of figurative artists who had been left out of the Bienal de Sao Paulo, which had focused basically on Concrete art. But this was not a line drawn in the sand. Later, artists like Raul Porto and Thomas Perina introduced their own Concretist tendencies and won this prize showing their art works at the Galeria das Folhas as well.