A collective obituary to Abraham Palatnik (1928–2020)
Abraham Palatnik, legendary pioneer of kinetic art, proclaimed in his Folha de Sao Paulo 1986 interview that "Artists researching new media are the ones that can bring us into contact with the unexpected, giving life to what we call creativity". His words give us added meaning today, when at a time of global health crisis, it is the spark of creativity that so many people are searching for as they live in socially and physically restricted worlds while trying to reignite the sort of movement that was so much a part of Palatnik's life and work.
His insight in, and passion for recognizing the importance of notions of change and changing that became a hallmark of his kinechromatic art highlighted temporal progression as well as its variance, imbuing viewers with a greater sense of the fragility of perspective as well as the rewards of its consideration. He welcomed new media art at a time when it was still
in its global infancy and when extrovert materialism seemed to rule the day rather than the more introspective lines and bodies of his sculpture that asked us to reflect on the trajectories of our own lives that work to connect, rather than contain, people.
On June 22, 2017, Abraham Palatnik was a honoured recipient of the Leonardo Pioneer Awards paying tribute to Brazilian Pioneer Electronic Artists at the Leonardo 50th Celebration in Rio de Janeiro. Consisting of a diversity of students, professors and invited guests, the audience enthusiastically applauded Palatnik and the other recipients. This event remains one of many such unforgettable testimonials to his energy and creative innovation, and the Leonardo community is deeply saddened by the loss of such an artistic giant.
His first art and technology work was shown in 1951. When I first met him he owned a nut factory! Putting his art and technology skills to making nuts cashews etc
I'm profoundly saddened by Palatnik's passing. His accomplishments as an artist are well documented, so I'll remember the friend, the numerous joyous moments we spent together, alone or in the company of his late wife, Léa; I'll remember when we went to see a Mary Vieira retrospective at the Centro Cultural do Banco Brasil, in Rio de janeiro, and then sat down for coffee; or his kindness in always sending one of his lucite animal figurines as a souvenir for my young daughter. When MoMA reopened in October 2019, it was with immense pleasure that I saw one of his "cinecromáticos" delighting XXIst century audiences. Palatnik and I first met when I was 24 (about his age when he participated in the first São Paulo Biennial, his breakthrough moment) and he was 57 (my age today). So many memories, swirling in circumvolutions of time — a medium he brilliantly mastered in moving choreographies of glistening light.
In 2002, Leonardo/Olats with a team of writers and contributors had included Abraham Palatnik in its "Pioneers & Pathbreakers" project. http://www.olats.org/pionniers/pp/palatnik/palatnik.php
Some texts are in French, others in English and there are also links to material in Portuguese.
Artist Abraham Palatnik, 92-year-old, a pioneer in kinetic art, has sadly passed away this month, victim of Covid-19.
Born in the North of Brazil, Palatnik spent his childhood in Israel, but in 1947 - at age 20 - he returned permanently to Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, Palatnik began visiting the Dom Pedro II Psychiatric Hospital, coordinated by Dr. Nise da Silveira, where he saw works by schizophrenic patients who had exceptional production, without prior art training. Palatnik then “abandoned his brushes and began to establish a freer relationship between form and color, since he realized that his own production was impotent in the light of the work of those artists” (Jornal do Brasil, 2017). This research led to his first “Kinechromatic Device” - "Blue and purple in first movement" - a motorized light sculpture that created a play of light and shadow in space – which was awarded an Honorable Mention by the international jury of the First International Biennial of São Paulo, in 1951 (MAM, 2014). Worth mentioning that his work was initially refused by the jury, because it did not fit into the traditional categories of painting or sculpture, but ended up in the show only because one of the international delegations could not participate in it (MAM, 2014).
Palatnik was well-known for his artistic sculptures in which color pieces move beautifully as parts of a complex system of motors and gears. But in addition to creating kinetic objects, mobiles and drawings, Palatnik worked on many other fronts, including furniture design, cardboard and wood compositions and painting on glass (Spitz, 2005). Along different decades, he also worked with three new materials in succession: “in the 70s, polyester resin, in the 80s, strings on canvases, in the 90s, a plaster-and-glue compound.” (Morais, 1999).
Self-taught, the artist considered intuition to be his "initial impulse." He described it as the feeling that something artistic can be done with a non-artistic situation: "In my case, this path goes through intuition, then through thought and reasoning along with intense experimentation, and finally through a careful and careful process of construction.” (Revista Museu, 2017).
Palatnik was actively working on the conception and production of new art forms until very recently. In his atelier in Rio de Janeiro, you would always find him surrounded by nuts, bolts and tools built by him, always researching into new materials, forms, media and ideas.
I first visited his home in 1972 - I was then 16 years-old - because of my friendship to Beny, his eldest son. I was mesmerized by all the artwork that filled his living room - the creative patterns on the walls and all those colorful and dynamic objects - everything was creative, unique… and that is how I learned that Beny’s father was an artist.
In 1999 I visited Abraham Palatnik’s solo exhibition at the Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi, and had the pleasure of getting in touch with his complete oeuvre - his kinechromatics, progressions, games and kinetic sculptures … His work was magical, engaging, pleasant and incredibly vibrant.
In 2005 I returned to Palatnik’s home - this time for an interview with him. He was about to be nominated as the recipient of the 2005 Leonardo Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was interested to learn and document all about his work. He showed me his studio, his drawings and plans, all the bits and pieces he kept in his drawers for building his works, and we talked for a long time about his creative process and ideas. It was fascinating. Leonardo Electronic Almanac Vol. 13, No. 3 published a special section about him, which included an interview by Eduardo Kac, the original introduction to the 1951 Sao Paolo Biennial by art critic Mario Pedrosa, and a tribute which I wrote, highlighting his approach of combining rigorous scientific methodology to artistic intuition and sensitivity, innovation, poetry and plasticity.
Last time I saw him in person was in 2017 - he was one of the recipients of the Leonardo 50th Pioneer Awards, a tribute offered to major pioneer artists who contributed to the arts, science and technology. Abraham Palatnik - along with Waldemar Cordeiro (in memorian, represented by members of his family), Anna Bella Geiger and Carlos Fadon Vicente - would be receiving their awards during the LEONARDO/ ISAST 50th Celebration, an event held at PUC-Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July 2017. Abraham was then already 89 y-o, and avoiding going to crowded events - but he made an exception for that special occasion. He was there in person, to receive his beautiful Leonardo 50th Pioneer Awards from our hands. His big smile and perceptible joy for getting this beautiful Award from the LEONARDO community - as depicted in the photos below - are my last memories of him, and will last forever.
—Rejane Spitz, PUC-Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
MAM - Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. (2014). Abraham Palatnik – A Reinvenção da Pintura. Retrieved from http://mam.org.br/exposicao/abraham-palatnik
Morais, F. (1999). Abraham Palatnik: A Pioneer of Technological Art. In Abraham Palatnik Retrospective, Sao Paulo, Brazil: Itau Cultural.
Revista Museu. (2017, January 30). Começa a programação 2017 do CCBB: Abraham Palatnik em retrospectiva. Retrieved from http://www.revistamuseu.com.br/site/br/noticias/nacionais/2101-30-01-2017-comeca-a-programacao-2017-do-ccbb-abraham-palatnik-em-retrospectiva.html
Spitz, Rejane. (2005, March). A Tribute to Pioneer Abraham Palatnik. Leonardo Electronic Almanac. 13 (3), Retrieved from: https://test.leoalmanac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/LEA-v13-n3.pdf
Spitz, Rejane. Brazilian Pioneers in Art and Technology: Waldemar Cordeiro, Abraham Palatnik and Otávio Donasci. In Thompson, Reynaldo; Sepúlveda, Gabriela A.; Burbano, Andrés; Dal Farra, Ricardo Mariátegui; José-Carlos; Ruiz-Martin, José Manuel; Sosa, Andrea; Spitz, Rejane. Archiving Digital Heritage: Pioneers of Fin-De-Siecle Latin America. In Arango, Julián J.; Bubarno, Andrés; Londoño, Felipe C. & Mejía, G. Mauricio (eds) ISEA2017 Manizales BIO-CREATION AND PEACE. Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Arts. Bogotá: Universidad de Caldas. p. 737 - 766, ISBN: 978-958-759-161-3.