This intimacy between the human and the divine was discussed by Brazilian cultural historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda as early as 1936, who gave as an example the festival of Senhor Bom Jesus de Pirapora in São Paulo which involves ‘the story of how Christ stepped down from the altar and started dancing the samba with the people.’ For Buarque de Holanda, this transformation of the Catholic religion into a more joyous and informal cult reflected a general characteristic of Brazilian culture, which he summarised in his concept of the ‘homem cordial’. Brazilian ‘cordialidade’, he explained, resists social forms and conventions, and privileges the private, intimate and familiar sphere. It is reflected in many Brazilian customs and attitudes, whether it is the constant use of diminutives, the use of first names rather than surnames, and the general preference for informal relations over rules and codes. The image of the statue of Christ stepping down from his pedestal, thus abandoning its status as an icon to be adored in order to participate directly in the celebrations, seems to me to mirror the way in which Neoconcrete works left the isolated space reserved for traditional artworks to be contemplated, and slipped into the real space of the viewers and into a more intimate relationship with the participant.
Rather than encouraging exotic stereotypes, I hope that these cultural references to the Brazilian baroque and to the homem cordial may suggest additional reasons for the Neoconcretists’ attraction to phenomenology, and their exploration of a more intimate relation between viewer and the artwork. Similarly, Judd’s debt to pragmatic philosophy can help us understand some of the issues at stake in his definitions of the specific object. Other historical, social and economic factors could no doubt be brought in to develop these comparisons – this account can only be fragmentary. The brief but significant story of the emergence of the non-object in Brazil suggests another trajectory for three-dimensional geometry hesitating between painting and sculpture in the 1960s. A focus on the characteristics of the non-object, I have suggested, can shed light on the specificities of Judd’s specific objects, and some themes in Minimalism in general. The history of the Neoconcrete movement and its aftermath remains another story to be told – I can only invite you to catch some glimpses of those later narratives in the exhibition upstairs.