Research Programs: Summer Stipends

Period of Performance

3/1/2015 - 4/30/2015

Funding Totals

$6,000.00 (approved)
$6,000.00 (awarded)

Forming Abstraction: Art and Institutions in Postwar Brazil

FAIN: FT-61616-14

Adele Edelen Nelson
Temple University (Philadelphia, PA 19122-6003)

I seek support to complete research for my current book project. The book, tentatively titled Forming Abstraction: Art and Institutions in Postwar Brazil, illuminates how the practice and theory of abstract art developed in twentieth-century Brazil in close relation to the founding of several newly formed institutions for the collection, exhibition, and teaching of modern art. Challenging received wisdom, I will demonstrate that abstract art was not an imported phenomenon but one that emerged out of complex local conditions as politicians and art professionals ascribed an important role to culture in the negotiation of Brazil's return to democracy and the initiation of the Cold War. Ultimately, the project will establish that Brazil, often understood as a separate or special case in the Americas, was participating fully in the region's cultural trends in the postwar period.

Media Coverage

How to Organize Delirium? (Review)
Author(s): Camilla Maroja
Publication: Art Journal
Date: 10/12/2017
Abstract: Review of exhibition and exhibition catalogue, including regarding my text: "In the catalogue, Adele Nelson revises the Concrete period, associating Oiticica’s early work with Paul Klee rather than with the ubiquitous references to Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. Guilheme Wisnik subsequently examines Tropicália, placing the artwork in the larger context of the countercultural and musical movement in Brazil during the years of dictatorship. Both essays are excellent additions to a vastly studied phase."

Associated Products

“There is No Repetition: Hélio Oiticica’s Early Practice" (Catalog)
Title: “There is No Repetition: Hélio Oiticica’s Early Practice"
Author: Nelson, Adele
Abstract: An essay regarding the early work of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica included in the exhibition catalog "Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium," edited by Lynn Zelevansky, Elisabeth Sussman, James Rondeau, and Donna De Salvo with Anna Katherine Brodbeck.
Year: 2016
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description:
Catalog Type: Exhibition Catalog
Publisher: Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art; Munich: DelMonico/Prestel

Art as Real, Direct Construction: Waldemar Cordeiro and Grupo Ruptura (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Art as Real, Direct Construction: Waldemar Cordeiro and Grupo Ruptura
Author: Adele Nelson
Abstract: Grupo Ruptura (Rupture Group), the abstract and Concrete art group established in São Paulo in 1952, is commonly characterized by its dismissal of all but the most stringent practice of geometric abstraction. This paper asserts that the crux of the group's approach entailed the conception of art as a form of knowledge and social relation more so than a claim to stylistic unity or hard-and-fast antagonism to figuration. The group's leader, artist and critic Waldemar Cordeiro, was, along with critic Mário Pedrosa, one of abstraction's most significant interpreters in Brazil in the decade following World War II. I analyze the parallels Cordeiro constructed between non-representational abstraction and day-to-day, material reality and his criticisms of the private, exclusionary nature of the new modern art institutions in Brazil in relationship to his engagement with the discourses of Marxism and formalist art theory. Challenging an account of the history of Brazilian abstraction that centers the international contact fostered by the first São Paulo Bienal (1951) and the influence of Max Bill, I explore Cordeiro and his contemporaries' manifold immersion in the history and theory of modernism and the heterodox early abstract practice of Cordeiro and fellow Grupo Ruptura members, including Geraldo de Barros.
Date: 11/5/2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Program for Getty Center Conference
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Announcement of event on site dedicated to the Pacific Standard Time initiative of the Getty Foundation.
Conference Name: Encounters, Utopias, and Experimentation: From Pre-Columbian Tenochtitlan to Contemporary Buenos Aires, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA Symposium, The Getty Research Institute

There is No Repetition: Hélio Oiticica's Early Practice (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: There is No Repetition: Hélio Oiticica's Early Practice
Author: Adele Nelson
Abstract: "There is no reason why my pre-1959 work should be taken seriously," Hélio Oiticica stated in 1972, dismissing the hundreds of works he produced in the mid- to late 1950s as an unoriginal working through of other artists' ideas-"infinitesimated mondrianstructure." Oiticica's thinking about European modernism and the art and ideas of Paul Klee, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian, in particular, was indeed paramount in his production of these years, as he expressed in a gouache on cardboard work from 1958 he retrospectively titled MALEKLEDRIAN in Four Positions (MALEKLEDRIAN em 4 posições). Scholars have persuasively interpreted Malevich and Mondrian as key interlocutors for Oiticica in his abandonment of painting and pictorial space in favor of three-dimensional and social space, but Klee's significant role has gone largely unanalyzed. Klee was among the first modern artists whose work Oiticica viewed in significant quantities in person, at the National Gallery of Art and possibly the Klee Room at the Phillips Collection when his family lived in Washington, D.C., between 1947 and 1949, and at the remarkable historical displays at the second Bienal de São Paulo in 1953-54. He also acquired numerous Klee monographs during the 1950s. Moreover, Klee's stylistic heterodoxy was central to the expanded conception of modernism put forward by critic Mário Pedrosa, whose writings and ideas were foundational to Oiticica's own. As I will argue, Oiticica's interest in Klee - documented in sketches, writings, and works over the course of the 1950s - encompassed more than formal concerns and extended to the foundations of Oiticica's conception of art making as an ethical, nonlinear practice.
Date: 9/25/2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Program of conference at University of California, Berkeley
Conference Name: Critical Interventions on Latin/o American Art Conference, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of California, Berkeley

Lygia Pape, Fields, and Language (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Lygia Pape, Fields, and Language
Author: Adele Nelson
Abstract: In the early 1960s, Pape exhibited the two works, both unbound books, in tandem in the and she and critics discussed the works as interconnected projects. One was Book of Creation (1959-60), widely considered a landmark work in postwar art history, now held in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and as an embodiment of the participatory principles of Neo-Concretism - the movement that has received more attention than any other of Brazil's contributions to contemporary art. The other is the lesser known Poemas-Xilogravuras (Poems-Woodcuts) (1960), composed of fourteen sheets of cardboard printed with poems and woodcuts on cardboard. And indeed Poemas-Xilogravuras soon receded into the background of Pape's representation of her production and the work has been little studied by historians. Placing the works back into relation to one another, I argue, reinforces an original and radical component of Book of Creation, namely the withholding of language. The juxtaposition of the two projects allows us to perceive the different representational and expressive labor Pape assigns to language, touch, and vision in the description of nature.
Date: 5/4/2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Program of conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Video of conference proceedings
Conference Name: To Live is to Invent: Perspectives on the Art and Life of Lygia Pape, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Forming Abstraction: Art and Institutions in Postwar Brazil (Book)
Title: Forming Abstraction: Art and Institutions in Postwar Brazil
Author: Adele Nelson
Abstract: Art produced outside hegemonic centers is often seen as a form of derivation or relegated to a provisional status. Forming Abstraction turns this narrative on its head. In the first book-length study of postwar Brazilian art and culture, Adele Nelson highlights the importance of exhibitionary and pedagogical institutions in the development of abstract art in Brazil. By focusing on the formation of the São Paulo Biennial in 1951; the early activities of artists Geraldo de Barros, Lygia Clark, Waldemar Cordeiro, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, and Ivan Serpa; and the ideas of critics like Mário Pedrosa, Nelson illuminates the complex, strategic processes of citation and adaption of both local and international forms. The book ultimately demonstrates that Brazilian art institutions and abstract artistic groups—and their exhibitions of abstract art in particular—served as crucial loci for the articulation of societal identities in a newly democratic nation at the onset of the Cold War.
Year: 2022
Primary URL: http://
Primary URL Description:
Secondary URL: http://
Secondary URL Description: University of California Press:
Publisher: University of California Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780520379848
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes