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Concretism: A Global Dialogue I

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Organizer: Odile Cisneros

Co-Organizer: Patrick Greaney

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In 1960, Max Bill curated the exhibit “Concrete Art, 50 Years of Development” in Zürich. Showing work by over 100 participants from two dozen countries, he also positioned himself as leader of this vast movement, revealing its global influence. Bill spread Concretism in Europe and promoted its ideas in Argentina and Brazil in the 40s, yet as early as 1930, Theo van Doesburg had used the term “concrete art” for paintings constructed “completely with pure plastic elements.” Rationalism and the primacy of visual elements became the inaugural hallmark of Concretism, even as the movement developed internal contradictions. Alistair Rider recently showed that early concrete practices and theories bridged an improbable gap between rational thought and organicism; Renato da Silva argues they anticipated debates that characterized Concretism in Brazil in the 1950s. Significantly, the expansion of the movement to Europe, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela would develop contrasting agendas. This seminar proposes discussing the many conflicting, diverging manifestations of Concretism. In poetry, in the 1950s, Eugen Gomringer rejected discourse, composing poems with isolated words, while Haroldo and Augusto de Campos, and Décio Pignatari proposed the “verbi-voco-visual” poem, where semantic, visual, and sonic elements are equally valued. These versions of Concretism would influence generations of poets internationally. Given its varied circumstances, Concretism may be grasped as a privileged site to explore how constructivist practices and theories made their ways into society and mingled with other practices. Despite its disappearance as a major trend after the 1960s, its artistic and critical legacy is still strongly felt worldwide, especially but not exclusively in Brazil. In the contexts of Brazil, Cuba, and Scotland, respectively, scholars such as Da Silva, Price, and Lucas continue to probe concretism’s many facets. Yet the critical literature has not yet exhausted the many meanings of the term “concrete.” In this seminar, we seek to spark a debate on Concretism on a global scale. We invite abstracts dealing with the inception of Concretism, its international development and disappearance, and how concrete ideas and practices travelled widely to inform major players (Doesburg, Bill, Tomás Maldonado, Torres García, Eugen Gomringer, and the Campos brothers, among others) and movements (Arte Concreto Invención, Madi, Movimento Arte Concreta, the Ulm School of Design, Poesia Concreta, Poesia Visiva, Neoconcretism, Gruppo Zero, Synthèse). We also invite abstracts on Concretism’s connections to other movements (like Russian Constructivism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Minimalism, Op Art, Conceptualism), documentary poetry, and other concepts of the "concrete" (like Ernst Bloch's), as well as on how it assimilated previous constructivist art and poetry to formulate proposals that wielded a major influence in twentieth-century art and poetry.  

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