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Born in 1932, São Paulo, Brazil

Born in São Paulo in 1932 Nelson Leirner has no predilection for winners.

The football game in one of his best known works titled “Futebol” (“Football”, 2001) ends in a draw, though he devised it for the World Cup 2006. His artefacts exemplify the change in Brazilian art from adversity to diversity since the 1960s, and his “Futebol” ironically serialises modern cult objects which have sunk to the level of kitsch. His rethinking of modern industrialised pop culture brought him the honour of representing Brazil at the 48th Venice Biennial in 1999 and has made him one of Brazil’s most famous artists. However, international acclaim shows that he has been successfully assimilated by the art industry, whose ploys his life had been dedicated to exposing.


In 1966, together with Geraldo de Barros and Wesley Duke Lee, Nelson Leirner founded the São Paulo “Grupo Rex” which both humorously and aggressively criticised the dominant system of production, valuation and marketing of art at the time. On resolving to shut their magazine and gallery the following year, they turned this information with a humorous gesture into a happening by announcing that Nelson Leirner’s paintings could be taken home. After this announcement the gallery visitors stormed the gallery and tore the paintings into pieces. This reduced the acquisition of art and the artist’s role to absurdity. This should be seen against the background of the Tropicalia movement favouring the participatory rather than the elitist, the national rather than the international, and the home-made rather than the commercial. Nelson Leirner had already taken part in the São Paulo exhibition “Propostas 65”, whose artists were striving for “contemporary realism in Brazil” in the tradition of Hélio Oiticicas’ “New Brazilian Objectivity”.


In the catalogue they were advised by Sérgio Ferro to forget “good manners and grammatical constraints” so as “to formulate the new with the necessary rawness”. In many of his provocations Nelson Leirner has been content to heed this advice. In 1966 he submitted a wooden cage holding a stuffed pig with a ham tied to its tail for an exhibition in Brasilia. On its acceptance he asked for the criteria of the decision.This led to three months of debate about art and the jury, during which he and his work were virtually forgotten.

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