Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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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 themes of spontaneity and imagination in the work of Niobe Xandó. A self-taught painter, Xandó transitioned gradually from narrative painting to more “sublimated” plastic abstraction, though Pfeiffer notes that her “modest” devotion to these themes maintain an integrity throughout her work, “avoiding fashions and cheap effects.” For Pfeiffer, Xandó’s style is personal and expressive of lived experiences. They are not analytic experiments in pure form and color, but “living colorism and organic forms.” Comparing her to Paul Klee, Pfeiffer praises her independence as an artist and her unique ability interpret “this world of natural creation” and “its immanent cosmic forces.” He holds up Xandó as an example to young artists, who, with patience and modesty, can carve out their own path and remain true to it, as Xandó has with her “happy world of deep color and pure feeling; a rare thing in art and life today.”

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

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    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 Niobe Xandó and a reproduction of a painting shown in the exhibition.

     

    Niobe Xandó (1915–2010) was a self-taught painter, designer, and writer. Born in Campos Novos Paulista in the interior of São Paulo, she married at age 16, moved to the city, and began painting in 1947. That year, she met the painters Yoshiya Takaoka and Geraldo de Barros in the studio of Raphael Galvez. Later remarried to the Czech intellectual Alexandre Bloch, Xandó befriended Vilém Flusser, who wrote about her work. She traveled widely in Brazil, often finding her subjects in the landscapes of Bahia, Amazonas, Estados do Norte and Minas Gerais, and in Europe, where she exhibited at galleries in Madrid and Paris. She exhibited at the Galeria das Bandeiras (1953), Club dos Artistas e Amigos da Arte (1955), Galeria Belvedere (1956), Café Cezanne, Madrid (1957), and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris (1957 and 1958). She participated in the Salão Paulista de Arte Moderna, winning prizes in 1957 and 1959, the 10th Bienal Internacional de São Paulo (1969), and the first Bienal Latino-Americana de São Paulo (1978). Xandó’s paintings exemplify the founding purpose of the Leirner Prize: to recognize the work of figurative artists who did not attract the attention of early biennial organizers interested in Concrete styles.

     

    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.

     

    [For more by Wolfgang Pfeiffer, see his essays “Simulacros” (doc. no. 1110656) and “Exposição de fotografias de Ademar Manarini” (doc. no. 1111015) in the ICAA digital archive. For complementary reading, see “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 complementary reading on Niobe Xandó, see “Cem anos de arte afro-brasileira,” by Marta Heloísa Leuba Salum (doc. no. 1110524). For the entire catalogue, see “Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, 1960” (doc. no. 1232976)].