Vanguard movements in the arts and literature from mid-20th century Brazil are termed neo-vanguard to distinguish them from the historical vanguard movements of the century’s early decades, even though the neo-vanguards share common features with them. These include an open spirit of internationalism, experimentation with form and language, and the use of fragmentation, simultaneity, minimalism, and graphic display. When they first appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, the neo-vanguards were differentiated by a rationalist, materialist, and functional approach to language, letters and art, visible in geometrical abstraction and based on research.
The São Paulo poets Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos, and Décio Pignatari formed the most prominent and influential literary group, known as “Poesia concreta” [Concrete Poetry]. Poesia concreta continues to shape and influence vanguard art, literature, and design in São Paulo. Their 1958 manifesto, “Plano-piloto para poesia concreta” [Pilot-Plan for Concrete Poetry], reshaped national poetics while adding an international aesthetic dimension. In Rio de Janeiro, the “Grupo Frente” led by artists Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape supported the 1959 Neoconcrete movement and manifesto, defending the position that concrete poetry and art should be less mechanical and more expressive of human realities. Bossa nova introduced a syncopated, polished style that gained international fame through João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim, and it turned attention toward Brazilian arts. In the 1950s and 1960s, individual authors worked within their own neo-vanguard styles outside of any movement, the most important being João Guimarães Rosa, whose reworkings of language and orality produced the major novel of the century, Grande sertão: veredas (1956), and Clarice Lispector, creator of dense existential consciousness in prose, mainly involving women in crisis.
The 1964 military coup changed the disposition of vanguard art into one of resistance, reflected in Cinema Novo, Tropicália, theater, music, popular periodicals, mass culture, and marginal literature. Popular vanguard movements effectively ended, went underground, or adopted more unconventional formats in the 1970s because of political tension. The end of an effusive period of creativity in the 1950s and 1960s was marked by the publication of the collected works of the concrete poets, their inclusion in international anthologies, and a national atmosphere of increased political repression and violence.