Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this essay Nicolau Sevcenko strives to provide historical context regarding the political and social climate of Brazil in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the time when many of the artists in Adolpho Leirner’s collection were practicing art. He suggests that although there is still a lot more to uncover, regarding Latin American and Latino modern art history, we have two advantages to the study of the field today. The postwar period of the Second World War, induced so much change that it quickly caused a disconnect between the people who fought and survived and the people who were coming into adulthood as the war came to a close. Sevcenko includes that the technological race and “military industrial complex” became prevalent in the Cold War, following WWII, which greatly affected the economic situation of the United States making it the most dominant economic power in the world, which greatly affected many other regions, including Latin America.

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    In Nicolau Sevcenko’s essay Brazilian Concretismo: Introductory Remarks on Postwar History and Culture, “a doubly advantageous position, in time and space” is established. He suggests that although there has been a lack of research and scholarship into the cultural and artistic history of Brazil, as scholars looking back to the past, we have a dual advantage. The first is the fact that we are “approaching the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, which offers us a relevant historical perspective.” The second is the fact that “we are in Houston, Texas, which affords the advantage of distance and detachment from these events and, clearly, provides us with a vantage point of the mechanics operated by the perverse play of force and representation between the center and the periphery.”

    Sevcenko looks closely at the historical context of the time, which in this case was the formative moment of the post WWII era, in which the artists included in Adolpho Leirner’s collection were participating. He delves into the music, theater, literature, and concrete poetry that all played a part in the new “avant-garde” and serve as an “evolutionary line of Brazilian culture.” Sevcenko focuses on key Modernist movements that were happening at all four corners of the earth, such as the International Style, Russian Constructivism, Kinetic Art and Neo-Plasticism, and how these movements affected the two aesthetic currents of Concretism in Brazil. Sevcenko mentions how these currents influenced not only the plastic arts, but city development and planning. He attributes artists such as Lygia Clark, Glauber Rocha, Hélio Oiticia, among others, to functioning as the critical counterpoint to questioning the detachment of power and logic of submission. Their efforts acted as an “antidote to the abstract rationalization and imperial homogenization that denied the human longing for difference.”

    This essay is crucial in understanding the historical context of the time when Brazilian Constructivism was actively developing. [See in ICAA digital archive, the texts: “Preface” by Adolpho Leirner (doc. no. 1324518), “A Curator/A Catalogue” by Aracy Amaral (doc. no. 1324585) and “Max Bill on the Map of Argentine-Brazilian Concrete Art” by Maria Amalia Garcia (doc. no. 1324602) regarding the publication Building on a Construct: The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art]

     

    The child of Ukrainian Soviet immigrants, Nicolau Sevcenko (1952–2014) was born and raised in Brazil. He received his doctorate at the University of São Paulo and began writing extensively in magazines and newspapers, frequently sharing his opinions on a variety of issues in Brazil. He was well-known as a public intellectual, a scholar and international expert on Brazilian cultural history. In 2009, he became a full-time professor of Romance languages and literature at Harvard. He authored many books including A Corrida Para o Século XXI, Orfeu Extático na Metrópole – São Paulo nos Frementes Anos 20 and Literatura como Mossão: tensões socais e criação cultural na I República.