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José M. Neistein was born in São Paulo in 1934 and holds a B.A. degree in philosophy from the University of São Paulo. With a scholarship from the Austrian government, he attended courses at the University of Vienna, where he obtained his doctorate in philosophy with a thesis on esthetics.

He was a lecturer of Brazilian studies at the University of Vienna and at the Free University of Berlin. He taught aesthetics and philosophy in São Paulo and the National University of Paraguay, and was an active member of the Advisory Board of the Ministry of Education Theatre in Rio de Janeiro, the State Commission of Culture of São Paulo and the São Paulo Association of Theatre Critics. He was formerly a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He delivered lectures on Brazilian culture in many universities and scholarly institutions in the U.S. and in England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Canada, South America and Central America, and organized a course on Brazil at the Smithsonian Institution. At the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brasilia, he held the position of Executive Director of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute (BACI) in Washington from 1970 to 2008. In 1998, he was decorated by former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso with the Order of Rio Branco.

Neistein is the author of articles on literature, theater, and visual arts in Brazil, published in magazines and literary supplements in Brazil, Germany, Paraguay, Austria and the U.S. He has also written several books on art, which were published in Brazil, England, and Brazil and a bilingual anthology of Brazilian poetry published in the U.S. A arte no Brasil, dos primórdios ao século vinte: bibliografia seleta, anotada/Art in Brazil, From its Beginnings to Modern Times: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography was published in 1997, and in 1998 the book won an award from the Academy of History of St. Paul. His work Brazilian Art V was published in 2004. He recently completed a new book on Brazilian contemporary painting.

He curated and wrote the introductory essays for more than 300 exhibitions of Brazilian art at BACI and other university museums and galleries in the US. He directed several productions of videos and multi-media performances on Brazilian art in the 20th century. He recently directed and produced a multi-cultural live poetry reading in seven languages. He is a member of the Association of Art Critics and the International Association of Art Critics in Paris.

Neistein has been a Contributing Editor (Brazilian Art) to the Handbook of Latin American Studies since 1972.

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