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In this essay, Cristina Ávila surveys the different phases and formal trajectory of Maria Helena Andrés’ career. Trained in Rio de Janeiro and in her hometown of Belo Horizonte, Andrés developed an intimate, expressive style of lyrical figuration that Ávila describes as “luminous poetry.” In the 1950s, she cites Mondrian as the primary influence on Andrés’ Illuminated Cities series, which marked a break with the lyric qualities of her early work and transitioned toward Concrete, organized compositions. After a trip to New York City in the 1960s, her canvases took on the thick, agitated surfaces associated with Abstract Expressionism. And in the 1970s and 80s, Andrés’ interest in travel and Eastern cultures informed an introspective exploration of mystical themes and circular compositional motifs. This period, Ávila writes, synthesized her early interests in light and abstraction, allowing for “free, but reflexive, gesture.”
This document is part of The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The Brazilian art historian Cristina Ávila contributed this introductory essay to a retrospective exhibition of Maria Helena Andrés’ career at the Palácio das Artes in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais – Andrés’ birthplace and home. The exhibition, which encompassed 50 years (1944-94), speaks to the longevity of her career and, as Ávila highlights, its distinct phases.
Though she has not achieved the same degree of fame as some of her contemporaries, Maria Helena Andrés (b. 1922) played an important role in the development of Brazilian Constructive art in the mid-twentieth century. She was part of an early generation of artists to link Minas Gerais to the national avant-garde in the late 1940s, and the emergent principles of geometric abstraction to the first São Paulo Biennials of the 1950s. After spending a year at the Art Student’s League in New York, Andrés exhibited in Santa Fe, New York and Seattle, in Valparaíso and Santiago de Chile, and at the Galerie Valerie Schmidt in Paris. She participated in eight of the first ten São Paulo Biennials and in the survey exhibition Bienal Brasil Século XX (also 1994). The retrospective to which this short essay belongs was the second devoted to Maria Helena Andrés. The first, held at the Museu de Arte da Pampulha in Belo Horizonte, was in 1974. Andrés began teaching at the Escola Guignard in Belo Horizonte in 1958, and became director in 1963.
[For more on Maria Helena Andrés, see her essay “Depoimento” (doc. no. 1293835) in the ICAA digital archive. For complementary reading on artists from Minas Gerais, see “Pintura em Minas,” by Mário de Andrade (doc. no. 1110459); “Amilcar de Castro,” by Hélio Oiticica (doc. no. 1091536); “Da dissolução do objeto ao vanguardismo brasileiro,” by Mário Pedrosa (doc. no. 1110435); “Escultura, objeto e participação,” by Frederico Morais (doc. no. 1111085); “O futuro é construtivo,” by Amílcar de Castro (doc. no. 1111049); “Uma certa vertigem,” by Alberto Tassinari (doc. no. 1111429); “A respeito da obra de Mary Vieira” (doc. no. 1091605); “Imagens da imagem,” by Roberto Pontual (doc. no. 1110688); and “Indagações, extensão e limites do regionalism,” by Aracy Amaral (doc. no. 1126533)].