The Collection was formed by the São Paulo-based art patron Adolpho Leirner and acquired by the Museum between 2005 and 2007. It represents a brilliant window into the seminal decades of the 1950s and 1960s when, stimulated by an economic boom and a surge in modernization, Brazil emerged at the vanguard of the region’s social and cultural development. Two paramount events defined the utopian spirit of this time: the establishment of the São Paulo Biennial in 1951 and the inauguration of Brasília, the futuristic new capital, in 1960. Energized by these unprecedented achievements, artists from the São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro axis embraced the legacies of Russian Constructivism, Dutch Neo-Plasticism, and, above all, the School of Design in Ulm, Germany, to create the unique yet highly modulated voice of Brazilian Constructivism. Comprised of nearly one hundred objects, the Adolpho Leirner Collection is presented here in six curatorial clusters that are organized thematically: Samson Flexor and Atelier Abstração, Grupo ruptura and Arte Concreta, Grupo Frente, Neo-Concretos, Graphic Arts and Design, and the Independents.
The son of Polish Jewish immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the 1930s, Adolpho Leirner was born in 1935 in São Paulo. In 1953 he traveled to England to study textile engineering and design. During his four-year stay, he became acquainted with the legacy of the international Constructivist movements of the first half of the twentieth century. At the same time, he developed a passion for architecture and design. Upon his return to Brazil in the late 1950s, Leirner focused his attention on Brazilian decorative arts and contemporary art. In 1961 he bought the first work of what would later constitute his unique collection: Em vermelho [In Red] (1958) by the artist Milton Dacosta (1915–1988). Naturally drawn to Brazilian Constructivism, Leirner took note of its disappearance from the public’s attention in the 1960s, as the emergence of figure-based trends such as Pop Art flourished. At that point, Leirner decided to concentrate his collecting efforts on Brazilian geometric and constructive abstraction. Largely through his direct contact with living artists and influential dealers, he was able to systematically gather exemplary works of these key movements in his country. As an art collector, Leirner combines both a passion for art as well as a sense of social responsibility. In a well-publicized statement about the meaning and purpose of collecting, taken from the book Constructive Art in Brazil: The Adolpho Leirner Collection, organized by art historian Aracy Amaral, Leirner describes his philosophy: “To collect is to nurture a love affair, a passion; it is to uncover findings in a game of search and find, all of which are part of my life.” At the same time, he underscored the ethical responsibility that comes with collecting: “. . . collectors understand they gather their collections not only for private fruition but for the benefit of society, and for this reason they keep and preserve them.”
The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art is a critical component of the Latin American art initiative at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which is represented by the Latin American Art Department and its research arm, the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA). Established in 2001, the purpose of this dual initiative is to collect, exhibit, research, and educate audiences about the diverse artistic production of Latin Americans and Latinos, which includes artists from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, and artists of Latin American descent living and working in the United States.