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    In this pocket-sized catalogue for an exhibition of Samson Flexor’s work from 1948–58, Luis Martins assesses a transitional moment in the Flexor’s career: his abandonment of figuration. Martins reads in Flexor’s work from this period that “the impression was that the painter had a painful experience, an arduous search. Flexor’s poetic sensibility was inexplicably clashing with an artistic form that seemed in complete contradiction to his romantic and sensual temperament.” In fact, as Martins goes on to acknowledge, what seemed like “a renunciation of painting” was ultimately an “intermediary phase” between figuration and geometric abstraction. In later works, Flexor managed to reconcile his “lyrical and passionate temperament” with “daring achievements of plastic virtuosity.”


    An another short essay, reproduced from a French exhibition in July 1948, Charles Estienne argues that Flexor’s paintings bear the mark of a French style that has freed itself from representing “the outside world [and] despises the picturesque and the accessory.” He describes them as “crystals,” or distilled expressions “in which the light of the world decomposes, in fact, only to be reconstituted charmingly in another light, not so much ideal as pure, and which reflects, above all, the power of man over his creation.”


    Samson Flexor (1907–71) began to study painting and music at age eleven in Romania, moving to Brussels and then Paris to continue his studies in 1922. When he converted to Catholicism in 1933, he painted religious murals, and, while a member of the French Resistance during World War II, expressionist and cubist studies of the Passion of Christ. After visiting São Paulo in 1946 to exhibit at the Prestes Maia Gallery, he moved his family there permanently in 1948. Flexor’s difficulty in Europe during the war and his transition to abstraction upon settling in Brazil may indeed be the “painful experience” Martins references. Tellingly, this exhibition began with work from 1948, the year he arrived in São Paulo. Two years later, Flexor founded the Atelier Abstração, a studio in his home that taught the principles of abstraction, held recitals and conferences, and served as a hub for artists and intellectuals. While he nourished a generation of abstract painters, Flexor’s work is ultimately less simple to categorize; as Martins writes, “in the artistic circles of Brazil, he ended up in a solitary, isolated, and strictly personal position. But true artists transcend schools—and that is exactly the hallmark of their value.”

    This catalogue also accompanied individual exhibitions of Anatol Wladyslaw and Paulo Rissone, fellow recipients of the Leirner Prize for Contemporary Art in 1958. When, a year earlier, 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 on Samson Flexor, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: by León Degand “Do figurativismo ao abstracionismo” (doc. no. 1085735); by Samson Flexor “Flexor: abstracionismo não é fato improvisado” (doc. no. 1111157), “Artistas de Sao Paulo e Rio pleiteiam modificacoes no regulamento da Bienal” (doc. no. 1307093), “Pintores do Atelier Abstração” (doc. no. 1085247), and “Atelier Abstração” (doc. no. 1232253); and by Mário Schenberg “A representação brasileira na IX Bienal de São Paulo” (doc. no. 1111146).


    For complementary reading on the Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, see by Oswald de Andrade Filho “Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, 1960” (doc. no. 1232976), and “Murilo Penteado” (doc. no. 1309128); by José Geraldo Vieira “Anatol Wladyslaw” (doc. no. 1322921); by Geraldo Ferraz “Paulo Rissone” (doc. no. 1322939); by Wolfgang Pfeiffer “Moacyr Rocha” (doc. no. 1309168), and “Niobe Xandó” (doc. no. 1309188); and by Décio Pignatari “Raúl Porto” (doc. no. 1309108)].