Willys de Castro - Latin America New York Thursday, November 21, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection, São Paulo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Willys de Castro worked as a painter, printmaker, theatre designer, graphic designer, Concrete poet and composer. In the field of fine art, his work gained a constructivist orientation around 1953, leading him to become one of the signatories of the Neo-Concrete Manifesto in March 1959. With the exception of Hércules Barsotti, all other members of the group where based in Rio de Janeiro. The reason for his affiliation with the Neo-Concrete group as opposed to the local São Paulo Ruptura group, might be simply understood as a consequence of the fact that he had only recently returned from Europe in 1958. Willys de Castro missed therefore the public disagreements between Waldemar Cordeiro together with the Campos brothers and Ferreira Gullar, who demanded a taking of sides from fellow artists and poets. However, there is enough evidence to justify the argument that his work had far more in common with the approach proposed in Rio de Janeiro, and indeed de Castro would contribute significantly to Neo-Concretism’s theoretical engagement with phenomenology.

    As a signatory member of Neo-Concretism, 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, in the State of Bahia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, all of which took place between 1959 and 1961.

    It was during this period that he 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 and/or the positioning of other planes at varying angles from 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 emphasized by inverting the color of an element from the side of the plane to the plane itself. For Gullar, what made this operation interesting in the phenomenological context was the fact that it demonstrated, in painting’s own terms, the conflict between the two-dimensional surface and real space, in all its depth. The ground for the exploration of real space was thus established and would lead to unexpected consequences. In this sense we find proximities, despite the distinct individual methods, between Willys de Castro’s work and other Neo-Concrete artists such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, or sculptors such as Amilcar de Castro and Franz Weissmann, whose work relied on being apprehended by the spectator moving 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 any given moment in time. Not surprisingly we also find here a close relation between Willys de Castro’s work and the theoretical premises of Neo-Concretism, which had been published in the pages of the weekend supplement of the Jornal do Brasil newspaper by Ferreira Gullar in his two treatises The Theory of the Non-Object from December 1959 and Dialogue about the Non-Object of March 1960. In these texts, the critic argued that with Neo-Concretism it was increasingly difficult to distinguish between the fields of painting and sculpture.

    Willys de Castro’s Objeto Ativo demands from the spectator a semi-circular movement around the work in order to “unveil” the relationships that it establishes between color and form. This aspect of the work becomes evident by the fact that it cannot be photographed from one single angle but requires, in a typical Neo-Concrete manner, to be documented from several points. Here lies the individuality of Willys de Castro’s contribution to Neo-Concretism, a movement where each artist sought his or her individual expression amongst a collective concern with the phenomenological engagement between the spectator and the work of art.



Objeto Ativo

screenprint inks on cut and folded paper
11 x 11 x 2 3/4 in. (27.9 x 27.9 x 7 cm.)
This work is from an unnumbered edition of 3.

$70,000 - 90,000 

Sold for $62,500

Contact Specialist
Laura González
Head of Latin America Sale
+ 1 212 940 1216

Latin America

New York 21 November 2013 4pm