Antonio Dias, 'You escaping', 1964. PHOTO: Vicente de Mello

In the history of art transitional periods are always somewhat neglected. In an effort to present perfect syntheses of the dominant movements in a given period, researchers forget to illuminate the gray areas, the hybrid processes, jumping from certainties to certainties. Fortunately, every now and then some efforts are made in an attempt to understand transitory moments, as can be seen in the exhibition “Between Construction and Appropriation – Antonio Dias, Geraldo de Barros and Rubens Gerchman in the 60s”, on display at Sesc Pinheiros until 03rd of December. June.

It is not a reminiscent exhibition or the conjunction of three mini-retrospectives. Built with care and attention, the show proposes a complex plot between the work of the three artists and the artistic and cultural scene in Brazil in the 1960s. tensions that the country was going through at that time, both in broader cultural and political terms, and in relation to the transition process between the predominant type of art in the previous decade (constructivism) and the gestation of a type of artistic expression more linked to the pop, a movement that originated in England in the 1950s and that from the following decade spread across the world under American primacy.

As the visitor is remembered in a careful timeline assembled from texts and images of the period that embraces the exhibition, listing several important events between the 1960s and 1968, it is a moment marked by violent cultural transformations, by an influence growth of mass culture, for the struggle in defense of individual liberties around the world, while internally violence and repression created an environment in frank boiling. Explaining such an environment makes it easier to understand the moment of transition experienced by the three artists contemplated. If the approximation between the productions of Antonio Dias, Geraldo de Barros and Rubens Gerchman is not evident, considering them inserted in the broader cultural context makes the dialogue between them more explicit and makes their particular readings richer.

Even coming from different generations and regions of the country, the three present in the 1960s a rescue of figuration, the use of everyday images as a form of expression and a growing appropriation of graphic language (which they all explore in parallel with plastic poetics), leaving aside the search for geometric-constructive rigor, hegemonic in the 1950s. “There seems to have been an exhaustion of constructive poetics in tune with the national-developmentalist project”, explains curator João Bandeira. The exhibition's conception, which purposely extends the reflection beyond the field of visual arts, emphasizes the steps taken by them towards a more expressionist type of representation, in which the deformation of the human figure assumes increasing importance.

It is curious to note throughout the exhibition – purposely conceived as a kind of labyrinth in which one poetics leads to the other – the nexus that exists between private research and more general concern. According to Bandeira, in the period between the last neo-concrete exhibition (1961) and the anthological exhibition Nova Objetividade Brasileira (1967), which included the participation of the three artists contemplated, there was a growing awareness that what had been done in the 1950s was not would apply more to the aesthetic interests of the moment.

By the veteran Geraldo de Barros (1923-1998) the exhibition features a set of virtually unpublished works, in which there is an evident experimentation of new paths. The constructive forms of the 1950s give way to figurative compositions, such as urban snapshots. The serial character, a strong mark in Barros' work, is indisputable. All the paintings have the same dimension, they were made on top of graphic material (showing here and there the advertising grid) and using the colors yellow and black. “Between one trend and another, he stayed with both”, jokes the curator.

Even though a certain elegance resulting from the formal sensibility of Brazilian-style constructivism is more evident in Barros' works, Bandeira insists on emphasizing how the geometric weave, the application of formal elements that organize the space of plastic representation, are also intensely present in the works of Antonio Dias (1944) and Rubens Gerchman (1942). During this period, Dias' production focuses on the human body, which is recreated in pieces, reconstructed in three-dimensional forms that leap from the canvases – in a mixture of eroticism, eschatology and violence –, and which at times makes direct allusions to the brutality experienced during the dictatorship, as for example in “Carrasco”, a 1966 work in which the legs of a hanged man can be seen in the corner.

Rubens Gerchman is perhaps, in the trio, the one that is most directly associated with pop art, for the appropriation he makes of elements of mass culture, as demonstrated by two of his iconic works, present in the exhibition: “Lindonéia, a Gioconda dos Subúrbios” and “O Rei do Mal Gosto”, both from 1996. Even so, his adherence to the plot is still clear, to the spatial organization resulting from a rational, constructive way of thinking about the space of representation.

Among the characteristics that guarantee a certain approach to creators with such strong personalities are the combination between a structural organization of form and a deformed, expressive figuration; the search for an art more connected with the social and political context of its time, incorporating material and symbolic elements of the moment and a tendency to seek a balance – even if tenuous – between formal experience and an astute look at reality. Bandeira adds another unifying aspect to the work developed by them in this fertile and somewhat abandoned decade of transition: “the three of them have this particularity; they have something sinister, violent, depressive and at the same time vibrant”.

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