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Towards an Aesthetics of Poverty: Architecture and the Neo-Avant-Garde In 1960s Brazil

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This essay is a comparison between the neo-avant-garde, as it appears in Peter Bürger's writing, and the Brazilian architectural group, Arquitectura Nova, between the years 1960 and 1970. Its members, Sérgio Ferro, Flávio Império, and Rodrigo Lefèvre, were not engaged in any major dialogue with European artists at the time, but their ideas have much in common with the Italian tendency Arte Povera. In each case, what I will term an 'aesthetics of poverty' is in operation. They employed remarkably similar ideas (albeit in different contexts) and shared similar prejudices. However, they enjoyed quite different fates. Put crudely, Arte Povera was quickly recuperated by the category of 'art', and illustrates Bürger's thesis about the ineffectiveness of the neo-avant-garde (Bürger 1984: 58). The architects, by contrast, increasingly eschewed art in favour of social action, and paid the price. The comparison is worth making in the context of this volume, because it shows that ostensibly similar neo-avant-garde practices can have quite different outcomes or effects. Once the concept of the neo-avant-garde moves beyond New York, or Paris, or Cologne, it arguably ceases to make much sense. But equally, it might be said that away from these centres, neo-avant-garde type activity can have real political effect.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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