HOUSTON, TX.- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has acquired the celebrated Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art, Dr. Peter C. Marzio, director of the MFAH, announced today. The collection, which consists of the finest examples of geometric abstraction in paintings, constructions, drawings, posters, and graphic materials by Brazil s foremost artists of the post-World War II era, has long been regarded as a brilliant window into the seminal decades of Brazil s modernization. Purchase of the collection is made possible by funds from the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund and a gift from the Caroline Wiess Law Foundation.
In building his collection, Adolpho Leirner created a new st and ard of collecting, said Marzio. The collections strength and international impact derives from its highly focused and disciplined accretion of works, from the earliest examples of geometric abstraction to the later avant-garde work originating in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro . As such, the collection is unsurpassed. The addition of this inspiring collection to the MFAH will invigorate the ongoing investigation of the contributions of Latin American artists to the art of our time. It represents a key chapter in the global story of Modernism.
While individual objects from the collection have been included in group exhibitions or in individual artists retrospectives in Europe, the United States , and Latin America, the only complete presentations were in 1998 and 1999, at São Paulo s Museum of Modern Art and Rio de Janeiro s Museum of Modern Art . The first comprehensive showing in the United States will be at the MFAH in an exhibition called Dimensions of Constructive Art in Brazil: The Adolpho Leirner Collection. As conceived by Dr. Mari Carmen Ramírez, the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art and director, International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the MFAH, the presentation will be organized to reveal the innovation and originality achieved by the various Brazilian constructive tendencies as well as to illustrate specific traits that separate them from related movements in Europe and the United States. The show will be in the Upper Brown Pavilion of the museums Mies van der Rohe-designed Caroline Wiess Law Building from May 20 through September 3, 2007 . Approximately 100 pieces spanning two decades (1950-1965) will be featured in the show. The exhibition will be accompanied by two publications, a 160-page full-color catalogue, and an exp and ed catalogue with essays by leading scholars that will accompany an international tour in 2008-2009.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the contributions of artists from the São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro axis opened up a highly original chapter in the history of international Modernism that has only now been fully been recognized outside Brazil , said Ramírez. It has been my privilege to highlight examples from the Leirner Collection in two of the MFAHs major presentations of Latin American art: Inverted Utopias: Avante-Garde Art in Latin America, organized in 2004, and Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color, presented this year. We are now thrilled to have this outst and ing addition to the museums burgeoning collection of Latin American art. The Leirner Collection offers a rare opportunity to underst and certain critical developments in Brazilian art which are also relevant to the history of avant-garde art in Latin America and elsewhere.
Highlights of the Collection - Forerunners of abstract art in Brazil , including the first artist to embrace geometric abstraction, Cícero Dias (1907-2003) and the influential teacher Samson Flexor (1907-1971) are represented, as are major works by the most cutting-edge and avant-garde artists and groups active in the 1950s: the Grupo ruptura of São Paulo , and Rio de Janeiro s Grupo Frente. Artists from these groups include Waldemar Cordeiro (1925-1973) and Mauricio Nogueira Lima (Grupo ruptura); and the brothers César (1939-) and Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) and Lygia Pape (1929-2004) from Grupo Frente. The collection is also strong in work from the Neo-concrete movement, with six major constructions by Lygia Clark (1920-1988). In addition, the collection features major artists who embraced constructive tenets yet worked independently of these groups, including Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), Mira Schendel (1919-1988), and Sergio Camargo (1930-1990).
The Collector - The son of Polish Jewish immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the 1930s, Adolpho Leirner was born in 1935 in the city of São Paulo . In 1953 he went to Engl and to study textile engineering and design. During his four-year stay, he became acquainted with the legacy of the international Constructivist movements of the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, he developed a passion for architecture and design. Upon his return to Brazil in the late 1950s, Leirner focused his attention on Brazilian decorative arts and contemporary art. In 1961 he bought the first work of what would later constitute his unique collection: Em vermelho [In Red] (1958) by the artist Milton Dacosta (1915-1988). Naturally drawn to Brazilian constructivism, he noticed its disappearance from the publics attention in the 1960s, as the emergence of figure-based trends such as Pop Art flourished. At that point, Leirner decided to concentrate his collecting efforts on Brazilian geometric abstraction. Largely through his direct contact with living artists and influential dealers, he was able to systematically gather exemplary works of these key movements in his country.
As an art collector, Leirner combines both a passion for art as well as a sense of social responsibility. In a well-publicized statement about the meaning and purpose of collecting taken from his superb book, Constructive Art in Brazil: The Adolpho Leirner Collection, he describes his motto: To collect is to nurture a love affair, a passion; it is to uncover findings in a game of search and find, all of which are part of my life. At the same time, he underscored the ethical responsibility that comes with collecting:
collectors underst and they gather their collections not only for private fruition but for the benefit of society, and for this reason they keep and preserve them. An essential reference for the collection as well as for this specific period of art history, the 363-page volume was edited by Aracy Amaral and was published in 1998 by DBA Melhoramentos.