On the surface, post-war Britain and Brazil would not seem to have much in common. But in art, two movements were moving in parallel on opposite sides of the Atlantic – both concerned with shape and form, both working primarily in the abstract.
In Brazil, ground-breaking artists such as Mira Schendel, Ligia Clark, Alfredo Volpi and Hélio Oiticica were bringing a tropical sensuality and a brasher use of colour to their own concretismo movement. In Britain Peter Lowe, Kenneth Martin, Robert Adams and Victor Passmore were working in a complementary, equally non-figurative style, although as Peter Lowe explained in a 2011 interview, they didn’t like the word ‘concrete’, as employed by their Latin American contemporaries.
“We could have translated the term ‘art concret’ but decided not to because, although ‘concrete’ is the antonym to ‘abstract’, it also has the misleading connotation in English of a mix of stones, sand and cement,” said Lowe. It is just one example of how two groups of artists approached the same visual area differently.
Held in conjunction with São Paulo’s vast Bienal of contemporary art, and staged at both the Centro Brasileiro Britânico in Pinheiros and the Dan Galeria in Jardins, Concrete Parallels: Brazilian and British Constructive Art is an important and interesting exhibition that illuminates the parallels and differences between both movements. It covers the period from the 1950s-1970s and features works by all the artists listed above.
Perhaps it would be a cultural cliché to observe that the Brazilian artists were perhaps more dramatic, more colourful, more fluid in their geometric designs, and the British if anything more precise and architectural. But even cliches hold their own truths. And the parallels between both movements are as fascinating as the differences. Even in a pre-internet era, artists on two different continents were riding the same waves.
Concrete Parallels: Brazilian and British Constructive Art runs until December 2 as part of the British Council’s Transform series. If you can't make it to the show you can read a lot more about it here.
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