Willys de Castro - Latin America New York Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    "All of Willys de Castro’s works have an element of silence, present in both the humility of scale and use of materials." Steve Roden

    Despite having completed a university degree in chemistry, Willys de Castro worked as a painter, printmaker, theatre designer, graphic designer, concrete poet and composer. His highly diverse creative output nevertheless did not impede him from excelling within individual fields. In theatre alone his achievements were considerable, designing sets and costumes while working for several of the most established and experimental theatre companies in Brazil, in addition to founding and editing significant journals on the subject, such as Teatro Brasileiro (Brazilian Theatre) in 1955.

    In the field of fine art his work gained a constructivist orientation around 1953. It was also during the mid-1950s that he began producing visual poetry. Around this time, fellow artist Hércules Barsotti opened a graphic design studio, and these activities would have brought de Castro within the realm of the São Paulo concrete art (and poetry) groups. Subsequently, de Castro became a founding signatory of the 1959 Neoconcrete Manifesto in Rio de Janeiro, which formed as a reaction to the perceived orthodoxy of São Paulo concrete art and poetry. He was thus a complex character that cannot be easily framed within one particular genre or art movement, and his innovative contributions are broader than any individual association.

    His participation within the Neoconcrete group followed an educational trip to Europe in 1958, and his involvement to the movement would substantially further its theoretical engagement with phenomenology, being both highly significant and original. Although the Neoconcrete group, through their spokesman Ferreira Gullar, saw itself as further developing the legacy of European art concret, they rejected what they perceived to be the dogmatic rhetoric of the concrete art group in São Paulo that proposed mathematics as the basis for composition, whether in poetry or in other fields such as painting. As a signatory member of Neoconcretism, Willys de Castro exhibited in a series of shows that sought to firmly place the group within the cultural landscape across the country. These included exhibitions in Salvador, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro between 1959 and 1961.

    It was during this period that de Castro developed the notion of the active object, which questioned the two dimensional nature of the traditional canvas as the only possible support for painting. Here the materiality of the support was emphasised by the use of the actual side of the picture, as well as the positioning of other planes in varying angles with relation to the primary plane. For Ferreira Gullar, the active objects attempted to do away with the notion of a basic surface for painting by reducing the frontal plane of the work to merely a thread, that is to say, its own thickness. In this sense, the painting would continue around the perpendicular side of the support, a fact that the artist emphasised by inverting the colour of an element from the side of the plane to the plane itself. For Gullar, what made this operation interesting, in phenomenological terms, was the fact that it demonstrated, in painting’s own language, the conflict between the two-dimensional surface and real space in all its depth. The ground for the exploration of real space was thereby established, and it would lead to unexpected consequences.

    In this sense we find proximities, despite their distinct individual methods, between Willys de Castro’s work and other neoconcrete artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Amilcar de Castro, and Franz Weissmann, whose work relied on being apprehended by spectators as they move across the gallery space. It was therefore only through time and movement in space that the work could be perceived in its entirety, even if only partially at a given moment in time. Not surprisingly we also find here a close relation between Willys de Castro’s work and the theoretical premises of Neoconcretism, which had been expressed by Ferreira Gullar in his two treatises The Theory of the Non-Object from December 1959 and Dialogue about the Non-Object from March 1960. In these seminal works, Gullar argued that with Neoconcretism it was increasingly difficult to distinguish between the fields of painting and sculpture.

    In 1960 Willys de Castro was invited by Max Bill to exhibit together with other Brazilian concrete and neoconcrete artists at the exhibition Konkrete Kunst in Zurich. The exhibition sought to present a worldwide survey of art concret, therefore the artists included should be understood as having represented for Bill significant contributors to his overall premise. Many other important surveys displayed work by Willys de Castro, including the 2nd Paris Biennial and Brazilian Art Today in London in 1961, and Projeto Construtivo Brasileiro em Arte in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in 1977, which was the first national survey of the constructivist tendencies in Brazil. Subsequently his work was featured in Tradição e Ruptura in 1984, Bienal Brasil Século 20 in 1994 and Arte Construtiva no Brasil in 1998, all in São Paulo.

    In Objeto Ativo (1959-1960) we find many formal elements that inform Willys de Castro’s notion of the active object. Presented as a relief, it is clear in this work that the artist demands from the spectator a semi-circular movement around the object in order to unveil the relationships between colour and form that the work establishes. This aspect of the piece becomes evident by the fact that it cannot be photographed from one single angle. In typical neoconcrete manner, it requires documentation from several points. Here lies the individuality and importance of Willys de Castro’s contribution to Neoconcretism, a movement where each artist sought his or her individual expression amongst a collective concern with the phenomenological engagement between the spectator and the art work.



Objeto Ativo

gouache on graph paper
3 1/2 x 7 1/8 x 3/4 in. (8.9 x 18.1 x 1.9 cm.)
Inscribed, titled and dated "objeto ativo Willys de Castro 1959/60" by Hércules Barsotti on the reverse of the frame.

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $75,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Allsopp
Worldwide Director, Latin American Art
+ 1 212 940 1216

Latin America

New York 23 May 2013 4pm