Concrete and Steel: Artists in Industrial Brazil
Dr. Aleca Le Blanc, Professor of Art History
Although urban dwellers would have had to contend with the inconveniences associated with large-scale municipal projects, they also would have witnessed the engineering of new landscapes and the speed with which steel beams, poured concrete and panes of glass were assembled into museums, apartment blocks, and recreational buildings. It was in this visual context that some began to question the ontological limits of the art object and conceptualize projects at the scale of the newly built environments. In Lygia Clark’s work from the mid-1950s, she proposed moving her geometric compositions from the easel to the interior walls of the modern buildings under construction, documenting her environmental compositions with architectural maquettes in 1956. She went so far as to renounce her career as an artist—temporarily — while campaigning for the integration of visual art and architecture. Similarly, Abraham Palatnik also wanted to visually activate these new interior spaces, although for him it happened with colored light. Utilizing his training as a mechanical engineer, he built mechanized light boxes that projected a sequence of chromatic compositions generated by a system of pulleys, gears, levers, and lightbulbs contained within. In São Paulo, Geraldo de Barros produced an enormous photographic series, Fotoformas (1946-1951). Like Palatnik in Rio, light was often his subject-matter, although for Barros it was the natural light refracting through different building materials and architectural features, like textured glass or open doors. Often the light and shadows are so stark that they create compositions of geometric abstraction, a phenomenon that would become increasingly common as the city became progressively vertical. This talk demonstrates some of the ways that artists reimagined the possibilities of architecture amid a building frenzy.