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

Between 1959 and 1963 De Castro made a series of sculptures and painted wall reliefs he called Active Objects. The simple, rhythmic color pattern in this work shifts as a viewer circles it, "activating" the space between object and viewer. In 1959 De Castro joined the Brazilian Neo-Concrete art movement, which in its founding manifesto cites Piet Mondrian as a "true artist." Like Mondrian, Neo-Concretists believed in the power of abstract art to communicate universally, transcending specific circumstances. De Castros work was included in the 1960 exhibition Concrete Art: 50 Years of Development, organized in Zurich by Max Bill.

Gallery label from 2010.
Oil on canvas on wood
59 1/16 x 1 9/16 x 1 9/16" (150 x 4 x 4 cm) on artist's base 2 x 39 3/8 x 39 3/8" (5.1 x 100 x 100 cm)
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Kathy Halbreich
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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The artist.
1996 - 2010, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, New York, and Caracas, purchased through Sylvio Nery da Fonseca, Escritório de Arte.
2010, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as promised gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

Exhibition history

MoMA Exh. #2103: "Painting and Sculpture Changes 2010", 4th Floor, gallery 26, added July 6 - August 23, 2010; 5th Floor, gallery 11, added November 23, 2010 - January 3, 2011

MoMA Exh. #2138: "Painting and Sculpture Changes 2011", 5th Floor, gallery 10, added January 5, 2011 - January 3, 2012

MoMA Exh. #2178: "Painting and Sculpture Changes 2012", 5th Floor, gallery 10, added March 16 - November 27, 2012

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

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


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