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    In this short essay, in the pocket-sized catalogue produced for the 1960 Leirner Prize for Contemporary Art (see doc. no. 1232976), Wolfgang Pfeiffer discusses a drawing by Moacyr Rocha (reproduced at the start of the essay) of a fish in sand. The work is thematic, he writes, and his recurring treatment of this image suggests Rocha’s interest the “rich variation” of nature. Though he paints from nature, Rocha does not reproduce or imitate; rather, he selects, concentrating the elements of an image “that lead us to feel the pure beauty, the harmony that is revealed in the sublimation of aspect into image.” His spare drawings, which evoke his background in design, harmonize materiality – graphic simplicity and experimental surface textures – with emotion and memory. Rocha’s drawings are studies in “the spirit of the work as well as in its plastic realization.”


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


    The German art critic Wolfgang Pfeiffer (1912–2003) emigrated to Brazil in 1948 and held several curatorial and faculty positions in São Paulo. He was Technical Director of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo from 1951–1959, and also at the 3rd and 4th São Paulo Biennial. He was Cultural Attaché at the German Consulate in São Paulo (1960–77), chairman of the board of the Goethe Institut (1970–82), Director of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo (1978–82), and held teaching positions at universities in Greater São Paulo. Known for his trenchant criticism of baroque art, he also wrote on the twentieth-century historic avant-garde. He contributed to this 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 Decio Pignatari (1927–2012). The document includes a short biography of Moacyr Rocha and a checklist of ten gouaches (all fish) 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.


    Moacyr Rocha’s paintings exemplify the founding purpose of the Leirner Prize: to recognize the work of figurative artists who did not attract the attention of biennial organizers interested in Concrete styles. Rocha (1929–?), a little-known artist who was born in São Paulo, trained under Joan Ponce and frequented the studio of Di Cavalcanti. He exhibited at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo in 1955, where is work is held in the collection, and in the Salão de Belas Artes de Santos, the 16th Salão de Belas Artes do Paraná, the 11th and 12th Salão Paulista de Arte Moderna, and several editions of the Exposição da Jovem Gravura Nacional.


    [For more by Wolfgang Pfeiffer, see his essay on Niobe Xandó from the same catalogue (doc. no. 1232976) in the ICAA digital archive. For complementary reading, see “Simulacros” (doc. no. 1110656) and “Exposição de fotografias de Ademar Manarini” (doc. no. 1111015), by Wolfgang Pfeiffer; “O contingente brasileiro na 3a Bienal de arte de São Paulo: preámbulo necessário,” by José Geraldo Vieira (doc. no. 1110833); and “Pignatari: vanguarda e Raul Porto,” by Décio Pignatari (doc. no. 1233071).


    For the entire catalogue, see “Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, 1960” (doc. no. 1232976)].