Luiz Sacilotto (1924-2003) was one of seven artists who signed the Ruptura manifesto in 1952, signaling a watershed moment for Brazilian Concrete art. It came as a landmark exhibition of the same name—Rupture—opened at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. The so-called Ruptura Group championed a visual language liberated from figuration and naturalism in favor of the abstract elements of planes, colors, and lines.
Alongside Sacilotto, the group’s founding members were Lothar Charoux; Waldemar Cordeiro, who once described Sacilotto as the “backbone of Concrete art”; Geraldo de Barros; Kazmer Féjer; Leopoldo Haar; and Anatol Władysław. They were later joined by Maurício Nogueira Lima, Hermelindo Fiaminghi, and Judith Lauand. Collectively, Ruptura called for a “pure” art based on geometric abstraction, following in the footsteps of the early 20th-century Constructivist and De Stijl movements in Russia and the Netherlands.
“The old art was great, when it was intelligent. However, our intelligence cannot be that of Leonardo,” stated the one-page manifesto. It went on to decry “all forms and hybrids of naturalism”, including Surrealism and Expressionism, as “the old” that must be cleared away to make way for “the new”.
Sacilotto and his peers were profoundly influenced by a retrospective exhibition devoted to the Swiss polymath Max Bill—artist, architect, designer, and Bauhaus alumnus—at the São Paulo museum two years earlier. Bill is credited with popularizing the term “Concrete art”, first coined in 1930 by the De Stijl founder Theo van Doesburg to denote art that was entirely free from the representation of external reality.
The son of Italian immigrants, Sacilotto was born in 1924 in São Paulo and studied drawing at the Brazilian Association of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro from 1944 to 1947. His encounter with Bill’s scientific approach to color and Constructivist form transformed his early Expressionist style.
Despite his involvement in the dawn of Brazilian Concrete art, Sacilotto worked in advertising and as a technical draftsman for years before he became a full-time artist in his 50s, in 1977. This critical later period of his work will be the focus of a solo presentation at Independent 20th Century by the São Paulo-based gallery Almeida & Dale, which represents the artist’s estate.
Sacilotto participated in the prestigious Bienal de São Paulo in 1965, presenting three-dimensional pieces made from construction materials, yet that decade was marked by “disappointment and a lack of perspective for the future of his practice”, says Victor Lucas, a dealer from Almeida & Dale. Sacilotto took a prolonged sabbatical from art-marking lasting ten years. It was a time of political and personal tumult: Brazil was in the grip of a military dictatorship, and Sacilotto’s metal-working business went bankrupt, leading him to focus his energies on family life with his wife and their three sons.
When he returned to the studio in 1974, Sacilotto began experimenting with a new pictorial approach, tied to the rising Op Art movement. His paintings exuded rhythm, with mathematical sequences of rotations and progressions that juxtaposed color and geometric elements. These hypnotic compositions formed Sacilotto’s best-known bodies of work. Perhaps fueled by the growing Neo-Concrete and kinetic art movements across Latin America, they bore just the traces of the Concretism that had kickstarted his career.
Color assumed a new primacy in Sacilotto’s painting after the mid-1970s, when he had “become bored with pure geometric control, with the control of the lines and forms, and began turning his attention to how color impacted the work”, Lucas says. “He began producing his own paints and would mathematically calculate the concentration of pigments, of ink, and the different types of mediums that could support these colors.” Sacilotto’s precision extended to keeping “a strict register of everything he made, down to the pigments that he would use”.
He was also a prolific artist, producing around 3,000 works in his lifetime. His exhibition history includes the 1952 Venice Biennale, Brazil’s National Exhibition of Concrete Art, held in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in 1956-57, and six editions of the Bienal de São Paulo. His work is held by major public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.
Sacilotto’s legacy is now beginning to achieve recognition outside of Brazil. Almeida & Dale, founded by dealers Antônio Almeida and Carlos Dale in 1997 to champion the work of Brazilian artists nationally and internationally, organized a major presentation of Sacilotto’s later works with Cecilia Brunson Projects in London last year. It coincided with a career-spanning show in their São Paulo space and the publication of an extensive catalog featuring new scholarship by curator Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro and technical art historian Pia Gottschaller.
Sacilotto’s estate has “meticulously documented and preserved his extensive archive”, according to Lucas, and is collaborating with the gallery on a forthcoming catalogue raisonné, a valuable tool for further research. Another milestone will be the centenary of the artist’s birth in 2024. Almeida & Dale are contributing to a major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo as well as an international show to be announced.
Ultimately, “Sacilotto was very much aligned with the movement of artists striving to create a uniquely Brazilian form of contemporary art” during the country’s post-war industrial transformation, Lucas says. “Intellectuals like artists, writers, poets, architects, and so on, began to formulate a new Brazilian aesthetic.”
“There was Concrete art and then more interesting developments in the decades to come as Brazilian artists like Sacilotto started to reimagine the European avant-garde with a Brazilian twist,” Lucas adds. “Think Max Bill mixed with samba or bossa nova. As Tarsila do Amaral and Candido Portinari did in the 1920s, Sacilotto was part of a movement that took European influence and combined it with the characteristics of the Brazilian people.”
Gabriella Angeleti is an arts and culture writer born in Rio de Janeiro and based in Brooklyn. She is the Assistant Museums and Heritage editor of The Art Newspaper in New York.