It is on view at the Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM-Rio), until mid-April, “Acervo MAM – Obras restauradas” ["Collection MAM-Rio - Restored Works"]. The exhibition presents thirteen works all damaged by the museum’s fire in the late 70s. Twelve of them were restored, but one, a work by the Brazilian artist Nelson Leirner had a replica made by himself .
The work is “Homage to Fontana”. It is one of the best-known works of Brazilian Pop art. It imitates the format of a work on canvas but is made from fabric and zips. As the title suggests, it represents a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tribute to Italian artist Lucio Fontana. While Fontana punctured or sliced the canvas to create a new space beyond the surface of the painting, Leirner’s work is partially unzipped to reveal three additional panels of differently coloured fabric (red, pink and yellow).
Watch the video, in which Leirner talks about the project and brings a bit of his critical perspective on the art circuit.
Watch other special videos made exclusively by Matrioska Filmes for PIPA.
About Nelson Leirner (text from Itau Cultural)
Nelson Leirner (São Paulo SP 1932). Intermedia artist. From 1947 to 1952, he lived in the United States, where he studied textile engineering at the Lowell Technological Institute, in Massachusetts, leaving before completion. On returning to Brazil, he studied painting under Joan Ponç (1927 – 1984), in 1956, and briefly attended the Atelier-Abstração [Studio-Abstraction], of Flexor (1907 – 1971), in 1958. In 1966, he founded the Grupo Rex [Rex Group], together with Wesley Duke Lee (1931), Geraldo de Barros (1923 – 1998), Carlos Fajardo (1941), José Resende (1945) and Frederico Nasser (1945). In 1967, he held the Exhibition-Non-Exhibition event, a happening that marked the end of the group, in which he offered his works for free to the public. In the same year, he sent a stuffed pig to the 4th Modern Art Salon of Brasília and publicly questioned, through the Jornal da Tarde [Evening Newspaper], the standards of judgment that led the jury to accept the work. He produced his first multiples, with canvas and zipper mounted on a frame. He was also one of the first artists to use billboards as supports for artworks. For political reasons, he closed the special room dedicated to him at the 10th Bienal Internacional de São Paulo [São Paulo International Biennial], in 1969, and turned down an invitation for the 1971 edition. In the 1970s, he created allegories of the contemporary political scene in a series of drawings and engravings. In 1974, he exhibited the series, A Rebelião dos Animais [The Rebellion of the Animals], with works harshly criticizing the military regime, for which he was awarded a prize from the São Paulo Art Critics Association – APCA, for best proposal of the year. In 1975, the APCA commissioned him a work to be delivered as a prize to recipients but it was rejected on the grounds that it had been made in Xerox, leading artists to skip the ceremony in protest. From 1977 to 1997, he taught at the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation – Faap, in São Paulo, where he played a significant role in the education of several generations of artists. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1997, supervising the basic course of the Visual Arts School of the Lage Park – EAV/Parque Lage, until the following year.
Nelson Leirner is the son of the sculptress Felícia Leirner (1904 – 1996) and the businessman Isaí Leirner. Since childhood, modern art was present in his life. His parents helped to found the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo – MAM/SP [Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo] and mixed with most of the Brazilian avant-garde. This proximity did not immediately awake Leirner’s interest in art, however. He only decided to become an artist in the 1950s, motivated by the work of Paul Klee (1879 – 1940). In 1956, he began to take lessons in painting from Joan Ponç (1927 – 1984). Two years later, he briefly attended the Ateliê Abstração of Flexor (1907 – 1971), but was unimpressed with the courses. His canvases approached the informal abstraction of painters such as Alberto Burri (1915 – 1995) and Antoni Tàpies (1923). From 1961 to 1964, he continued to research into materials, albeit in another direction. Interested in Dadaist poetics, he produced his paintings with objects collected in the street, generating the Apropriações [Appropriations] series.
In 1964, the artist abandoned painting and began to work with ready-made industrially manufactured elements. He gathered utilitarian objects and shifted their meaning, as in Que Horas são D. Candida [What time is it, Mrs. Candida] (1964). His works lie between the sculpture and the object. Two years later, the participation of the spectator was incorporated into works such as Você Faz Parte I and II [You're Included I and II] (1966). Also in 1966, he founded the Grupo Rex [Rex Group], with Wesley Duke Lee (1931- ), Geraldo de Barros (1923 – 1998), Frederico Nasser (1945- ), José Resende (1945- ) and Carlos Fajardo (1941- ). The collective promoted happenings and published the journal Rex Time. The group grappled with problems such as the relationship between art and the market, institutions and the public. All of this was approached on the basis of the radical languages of the 1960s.
In 1967, he staged the exhibition Da Produção em Massa de uma Pintura [On the Mass Production of a Painting]. He showed the series Homenagem a Fontana [Homage to Fontana], one of the first series of multiples in the country. These ‘paintings’ were produced industrially and were made of zippers and fabrics, objects which traditionally lack artistic properties. In the same year, he submitted his Porco Empalhado [Stuffed Pig] to the 4th Salon of Modern Art of Brasília, the jury of which accepted the work. Leirner questioned the result and called for an explicit manifestation of the admission criteria for the exhibition, causing a dispute with critics such as Mário Pedrosa (1900 – 1981) and Frederico Morais (1936- ), known as the “critics’ happening”.
From the 1970s onwards, the questioning nature of his work shifted from direct action to an allegorical sense, which often involved eroticism. The happening had less of presence than drawing and installation. During this period, Leirner devoted himself to other languages, such as design, multiples and experimental cinema.
The presence of elements of Brazilian popular culture, notable in his work since the 1960s, grew from the 1980s onwards. In 1985, he realised the installation O Grande Combate [The Great Combat], in which he used images of saints, Afro-Brazilian divinities, children’s dolls and replicas of animals. His intention was to convert what was considered banal into art. From 2000 onwards, his work has appropriated artistic images trivialised by the consumer society. In a good-humoured way, he deals with reproductions of the Mona Lisa (1503/1506) of Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) and the Fountain (1917) by Marcel Duchamp (1887 – 1968) as an artistic theme. With the same irony, the artist reproduces images of the Brazilian Concretist tradition on cowhide, in the Construtivismo Rural [Rural Constructivism] series.
“Acervo MAM – obras restauradas” ["MAM Collection - restored works"]
The exhibition brings together 13 works from its collection prior to 1978, by domestic and international artists, recently restored with the support of Pró-Artes Visuais 2012.
February 8 – April 13
Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro
Av. Infante Dom Henrique, 85.
Parque do Flamengo.
Rio de Janeiro – RJ – Brazil
Tel: (+5521) 2240-4944
Tuesday to Friday: from 12PM to 06PM;
Saturday, Sunday and holidays: from 12 PM to 07 PM.
More information: www.mamrio.org.br