In 1957 the major art promoters in São Paulo noticed that important figurative artists had been excluded from the biennial, which was more focused on Concrete art. As a result, the industrialist Isaí Leirner (who was, at the time, the director of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo) sponsored an alternative exhibition of works by twelve São Paulo artists. This first exhibition—which was later called the Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea—was held in the lobby of the building where the newspaper Folha de São Paulo had its offices. Leirner eventually created a space specifically for this purpose, known as the Galeria de Arte das Folhas (which was open from 1958 to 1962), where exhibitions were presented and debates and lectures were organized to discuss a wide range of trends and styles other than the ones endorsed by the organizers of the Bienal de São Paulo. Leirner and the other businessmen who were involved in the Galeria often bought the works exhibited there, which they then donated to various museums, thus contributing to the institutional recognition of participating artists. During its four-year lifespan the Galeria introduced many emerging artists, such as Franz Weissmann, Regina Silveira, Maria Helena Andrés, Mário Silésio, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, Willys de Castro, and Hermelindo Fiaminghi, among others. [For the whole catalogue, see the following in the ICAA Digital Archive: “Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, 1960” (1232976).]
The German art critic Wolfgang Pfeiffer (1912–2003) immigrated to Brazil in 1948, where he held various curatorial and academic positions in the city of São Paulo. He was employed as the technical director of the MAM-SP (Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 1951–59), and played similar roles at the Third and Fourth editions of the Bienal de São Paulo. Pfeiffer was appointed cultural attaché at the German Consulate in São Paulo (1960–77), chairman of the board at the Goethe Institut (1970–82), and director of the MAC-USP (Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, 1978–82), and held a number of teaching positions at universities in the Greater São Paulo area. He made a name for himself through his searing critique of baroque art and his writings on the twentieth-century historical avant-garde. He is one of the writers selected for this small exhibition of five prizewinning artists at the Prêmio Leirner de Arte Contemporânea, together with the artist and theorist Waldemar Cordeiro (1925–1973), the art critic Oswaldo de Andrade Filho (1914–1972), and the Concrete poet Décio Pignatari (1927–2012). This document includes a brief biography of the artist Moacyr Rocha and a list of the works that were shown at the event.
Moacyr Rocha’s painting expresses the original idea behind the Prêmio Leirner, which was established to recognize the work of figurative artists who had not caught the eye of the organizers of the biennial, which was more focused on Concrete art. Rocha (b. 1929), from São Paulo, was not very well known; he was a student of Joan Ponce’s and a frequent visitor at Di Cavalcanti’s studio. In 1955 he had a show at the MAM-SP; his work was shown at the Salão de Belas Artes de Santos, the XVI Salão de Belas Artes do Paraná, the Salão Paulista de Arte Moderna (XI and XII versions), and several edition of the Exposição da Jovem Gravura Nacional.
[For more information about Pfeiffer, see his essay “Niobe Xandó” (1232976); in the same catalogue, see “Murilo Penteado” (1309128) by Oswaldo de Andrade Filho; “Thomaz Perina” (1309148) by Waldemar Cordeiro; and “Pignatari: vanguarda e Raul Porto” (1233071) by Décio Pignatari.]