Willys de Castro Active Object 1961

  • Not on view

“The new work of art is not stagnant. This new object placed within the sensible world [becomes] an active object.” This description of Willys de Castro’s Active Object series appeared in the Brazilian magazine Habitat in 1960. At the time, the artist was working on a group of sculptures and painted wall reliefs in which he often wrapped a wooden plank or pole with painted canvas. The rhythmic color-block patterns of these works call attention to their edges and invite the viewer to circle them, “activating” the space between object and audience, a central ambition of the Neo-Concrete artists.

Gallery label from Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, October 21, 2019–March 14, 2020
Additional text

Active Object is a painting on canvas wrapped precisely around a long, rectangular piece of wood. Installed perpendicular to the wall, the work is meant to be seen on both sides by the viewer. Because of the active connection it creates between the duration of the gaze and the movement of the body, Active Object is a landmark in the connection of art to phenomenology—the study of objective reality as experienced by the individual. The artist explored the tension between formal stability and instability, conceiving it to be an agent of perceptual activation of the borders and volumes of the visual field. As such, the Active Objects series is not only a milestone in the history of hard–edge abstraction, but also a striking precedent to Minimalism.

Gallery label from New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930–2006: Selections from a Decade of Acquisitions, November 21, 2007–February 25, 2008.
Oil on canvas mounted on wood
36 1/4 x 7/8 x 4 3/8" (92.1 x 2.2 x 11.1 cm)
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund, in honor of Estrellita Brodsky
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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The artist.
? - 1998, Sylvio Nery da Fonseca, Escritório de Arte, São Paulo.
1998 - 2007, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, New York, and Caracas, purchased through Sylvio Nery da Fonseca, Escritório de Arte.
2007, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

Exhibition history

MoMA Exh. #2022: "New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930-2006: Selections from a Decade of Acquisitions", 3rd Floor, November 21, 2007 - February 25, 2008

Albany, New York State Museum, "Latin American and Caribbean Art: Selected Highlights from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art", May 17 - October 13, 2008

MoMA Exh. #2138: "Painting and Sculpture Changes 2011", 5th Floor, gallery 10, added January 5, 2011 - November 27, 2012

Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, "La invención concreta. Collección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros", January 22 - September 16, 2013

MoMA Exh. #2335: "Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980", 6th Floor, The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Gallery, September 5, 2015 - January 3, 2016

MoMA Exh. #2424: "Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift", 3rd Floor, 3 East, October 21, 2019 - September 12, 2020


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