The neoconcrete rupture in Brazilian art dates from March 1959, when the Manifesto Neoconcreto [Neoconcrete Manifesto] was published, and should be understood within the context of the Brazilian Concrete Art movement, which dates from the early 1950s and can be traced back to the work of artists from the Grupo Frente [Frente Group], in Rio de Janeiro, and the Grupo Ruptura [Rupture Group], in São Paulo. An offspring of the modern abstractionist trends from the first decades of the 20th century - drawing equally upon the Bauhaus, De Stijl [The Style] and Cercle et Carré [Circle and Square], as well as Soviet Suprematism and Constructivism -, the Concrete Art movement gained ground in Brazil keeping with the formulations of Max Bill, who pioneered its introduction in Latin America following World War II (1939-1945).
The ideology of development, with its attendant belief in industry and progress, marked the environment in which the Concrete Art movement in Brazil would evolve. Its program relied primarily on the approximation between art and industry. The former was stripped from any lyrical or symbolic connotations whatsoever. The artwork, reduced to the essentials of planes and colors, had no other meaning but this. Rather than representing reality, it was a complex of interrelated structures and planes, serial and geometrical patterns that had a meaning in and of themselves. Although both shared, to a greater or lesser extent, the tenets of the Concrete Art movement in Brazil, the São Paulo branch stressed in their research the notion of purely visual forms, whereas the Rio de Janeiro branch placed special emphasis on the relation of art and life, therefore rejecting the notion of the work of art as a "machine", or "object", and highlighting the instrumental role performed by intuition. The differences between the two groups became apparent during the Exposição Nacional de Arte Concreta [National Exhibition of Concrete Art], held in São Paulo, 1956, and Rio de Janeiro, 1957, which marked the beginning of the rupture.
The 1959 manifesto, signed by Amilcar de Castro, Ferreira Gullar, Franz Weissmann, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Reynaldo Jardim and Theon Spanudis, stated that the "Neoconcretist stand" had been taken "especially vis-à-vis the Concrete Art movement, which has dangerously indulged in excessive rationalism". Opposing the orthodox dogmatism of the constructivist and geometric trends, Neoconcretism defended freedom of experimentation, return to the expressive act and the restoration of subjectivity. The recovery of the creative potential of the artist - no longer considered as an inventor of industrial prototypes - and the effective incorporation of the spectator - who, by touching and manipulating the works, becomes an integral part of them - were presented as attempts to neutralize a certain technical and scientific inclination perceived in Concretism. If art is essentially a means of expression rather than a product of industry, it is because the creative process draws upon a definite experience of time and space. Neoconcretism responded to the Concrete Art movement's reliance on empiricism and objectivity, ultimately leading to the uniformity of the work of art, by upholding the latter's "aura" and restoring humanism.
An attempt to renew the geometric language may be noticed in the sculptures of Amílcar de Castro. The cuts and folds practiced in non-pliant materials, like iron, evidence the work expended in making the object. From the struggle between the artist's gesture - who aims at precise strokes - and the resisting materials, the work of art is born, a result of construction but also of emotion. In the words of Castro: "Art without emotion is a trifle thing. Max Bill wished for something so incredibly pure and devoid of emotion". In the series Bilaterais [Bilaterals] and Relevos Espaciais [Spatial Reliefs], 1959, of Hélio Oiticica, as well as in Lygia Clark's Trepantes [Climbers] from the 1960s, for example, form conquered space decisively only to immediately abolish the distance between the work of art and the spectator, as in Bichos [Animals], by Lygia Clark, and Livros [Books], by Lygia Pape. Art questions the world, life and the body itself, as evidenced by the Ballet Neoconcreto [Neoconcrete Ballet], 1958, of Lygia Pape, and by Penetráveis [Penetrables], Bólides [Bolides] and Parangolés, created by Oiticica in the 1960s. Rejected by Concretism, color was the subject of an in-depth investigation by neoconcrete artists, like Aluísio Carvão, Hércules Barsotti, Willys de Castro and Oiticica. Studies focusing on Neoconcretism have emphasized the role of the movement as a watershed in the history of Brazilian art. Indeed, it was a point of rupture reached by modern art in Brazil, said the critic Ronaldo Brito.