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    In this poetic essay, in the pocket-sized catalogue produced for the 1960 Leirner Prize for Contemporary Art, Décio Pignatari explores the idea of the avant-garde. Rather than tracing a linear discursive development, he discusses the term as a constellation of times, individuals, groups, and societies that produce a concrete – though continually reinvented – idea of an avant-garde. While he claims that the São Paulo group of Concretists represented a high point for Brazilian painting, he also describes how the complex dynamics of such a group ultimately lose coherence, creating an entropy that undermines their definition as avant-garde. If the notion of an avant-garde group is unstable, however, the idea re-emerges elsewhere. Pignatari points to artists in Campinas as new sources of vanguard activity: “Raúl Porto and Thomaz Perina,” he writes, “represent the idea of the avant-garde.”


    Pignatari’s poetic language reflects the conceptual tensions that characterize Porto’s work: all/nothing, positive/negative, light/dark, figure/ground, black/white, symmetry/asymmetry, and “spatial ambivalence.” Referencing the interplay between rigid geometry and optic effects, he concludes, “Raul Porto has joined the battle of precise imprecision.”


    This document is part of The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 


    The Concrete poet and semiologist Décio Pignatari (1927–2012) was a close friend of Raúl Porto (see doc. no. 1233093). In 1952, he helped found the publication Noigandres before traveling in Europe for several years. Upon his return, with the Noigandres group, he launched the concrete poetry movement during the 1956 Exposição Nacional de Arte Concreta at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. In 1965, he published the book Theory of Concrete Poetry. His interest in theory and research on semiotics is evident in this essay, which he contributed to a small exhibition of five artists recognized by the Leirner Prize for Contemporary Art along with Oswaldo de Andrade Filho (1914–72), Waldemar Cordeiro (1925–73), and Wolfgang Pfeiffer (1912–2003). The document includes a short chronology of the artist’s exhibitions and a checklist of his works shown in the exhibition.


    When, in 1957, art patrons of São Paulo felt that important figurative artists had been excluded from the Concrete-focused biennial, the industrialist Isaí Leirner (who, at the time, was director of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo) sponsored an alternative exhibition of 12 São Paulo-based artists. This initial exhibition, which became known as the Premio Leirner, was held in the lobby of the office building of the newspaper La Folha. Leirner eventually founded a space dedicated to this cause, known as the Galeria de Arte das Folhas, which operated from 1958–62 and 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. 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. In its four years of operation, the gallery exhibited many emerging talents, including Franz Weissmann, Regina Silveira, Maria Helena Andrés, Mário Silésio, Di Cavalcanti, Willys de Castro, and Hermelindo Fiaminghi.


    Though the Leirner Prize was initially established to recognize the work of figurative artists who had been left out of the biennial, Pignatari’s involvement and Raúl Porto’s inclusion in this exhibition suggest that it also recognized Concrete works. Porto (1936–1999), who was born in Cidade de Dois Côrregos, began drawing in art school in Campinas in 1952. His early work includes illustrations for the poems of Alberto Amêndola Heinzl in O Messidor, the newspaper of the Academia Estudantina Panamericana de Campinas, in 1952. This interest was renewed in 1957, when he illustrated “Minarete,” the literary page of the Jornal Correio Popular de Campinas. Three years later, he assumed the directorship of “Minarete-experiência,” the journal’s page on literature and art.


    Through the Concrete group in São Paulo, he befriended Pignatari and began exhibiting geometric ink drawings with them. Along with Thomaz Perina and the journalist and poet Alberto Heinzl, among others, Porto formed the Grupo Vanguarda, publishing a manifesto in the Jornal do Centro de Ciências, Letras e Artes de Campinas. With a similar tone to that of the Manifesto Ruptura (see doc. no. 771349), the Grupo Vanguarda considered the art of the past to always be in danger of going stale, and that artistic renewal must be constant and progressive. The Grupo Vanguarda mounted more than twenty group exhibitions between 1957–66, including one at the Galeria de Arte das Folhas in 1959. He was also the subject of a solo exhibition at the Galeria Folha the following year. Porto participated in the first and second Exposição de Arte Contemporânea de Campinas and the 8th and 9th editions of the Salão Paulista de Arte Moderna. In Campinas, he also founded and directed the Galeria Aremar and the Campinas Agência de Turismo Aremar (which Pignatari references in this essay), whose mission was to promote abstract art and geometric trends in the city.


    [For complementary reading, see “Pignatari: Vanguarda e Raúl Porto” (doc. no. 1233071), “Seja breve: Décio Pignatari escreve resenha-depoimento sobre o artista plastico Luiz Sacilotto” (doc. no. 1233093), and “A arte concreta brasileira” (doc. no. 1110350) by Décio Pignatari. For the entire catalogue, see “Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, 1960” (doc. no. 1232976) in the ICAA digital archive.


    For more by Décio Pignatari, see “Antíarte artística” (doc. no. 1111106), “Antonio Manuel, the cock of the golden eggs” (doc. no. 1111097), “A arte concreta brasileira” (doc. no. 1110350), “Arte concreta: objeto e objetivo” (doc. no. 1087349), “Forma, função e projeto geral” (doc. no. 1090070), “Plano-pilôto para poesia concreta” (doc. no. 1090135), “Sacilotto: expressões e concreções” (doc. no. 1087263), and “Semana nacional de poesia de vanguarda: comunicado e conclusões” (doc. no. 1110501)].