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 Ivan Serpa  (1923 - 1973)

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Lived/Active: Brazil/Europe      Known for: avant-garde, abstract geometric painting, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Série Amazonica, N°27
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Ivan Serpa was a key figure within the Brazilian post-war constructivist avant-garde. He first began painting in the abstract geometric genre in 1947 when, together with fellow artists Almir Mavignier, Abraham Palatnik and the art critic Mario Pedrosa, he worked as an art therapy tutor in the Engenho de Dentro Psychiatric Hospital in Rio de Janeiro.  Astonished by the expressive power and ‘authenticity’ of the patients’ artwork, this group of artists found new approaches for their own production in constructiveoriented art. Serpa’s geometric work attracted attention during the first edition of the São Paulo Biennial in 1951, where he was awarded the young painter prize.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he worked as an artist while also holding a critical role as an art educator. Serpa’s open classes took place at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio, transforming it into a progressive alternative to the then-conservative art schools.  He had a fundamental role in the formation of many significant artists over the period, including the Oiticica brothers and, from 1960 onwards, many who would become involved in the new figuration group, such as Anna Maria Maiolino. Antonio Manuel is another important artist who emerged in the 1960s and acknowledges Serpa’s significance, both through artist’s statements and artworks produced in homage.
Serpa organized the Grupo Frente, a group of artists from Rio de Janeiro who worked in loosely abstract geometric style; many were his students, and would later form the core membership of the Neo-Concrete movement.

Hélio Oiticica’s early work was very much influenced by Serpa’s teaching, and this is particularly evident in Oiticica’s Grupo Frente work and in his Metaesquemas series, where strong compositional associations between the two artists can be found. Informed by the increasing interest in concrete art in Brazil, particularly following Max Bill’s retrospective and award-winning participation at the 1951 São Paulo Biennial, Serpa explored rhythmic arrangements of lines in a rigid geometrical composition.  In 1957 Serpa was awarded the foreign travel prize at the VI Salão Nacional de Arte Moderna of Rio de Janeiro, and as a result spent two years in Italy and Spain, which perhaps explains why he himself did not become associated with Neo-Concretism.
Upon his return to Brazil, Serpa resumed his courses at the museum and later participated in exhibitions which are now considered pivotal to the development of Brazilian art, such as Opinião 65, which juxtaposed artists from France and Brazil working loosely with issues surrounding new figuration and Pop Art.

During the 1960s Serpa began exploring parallel lines of aesthetic enquiry, including a strongly expressive and figurative mode. His work was in tune with the radical Tropicalist ideals that began to cause shock waves in the Brazilian cultural milieu of the late 1960s.
Perhaps because of his early death, Serpa remains relatively unknown outside Brazil, yet in his home country his significance as both artist and educator is unquestioned.
Dr. Michael Asbury, Phillips DePury Auction House

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