Hélio Oiticica

Witte de With presented the first retrospective of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937 – 1980), whose work had previously been unfamiliar in Europe and North America. The exhibition and accompanying monograph contributed to a more complete understanding of the history of contemporary art, by showing how an artist who was so very representative of his times has influenced the work of a younger generation of artists.

Inspired by Mondrian’s color theories and the neo-concrete movement in Brazil, Oiticica’s early works explored the basic structural questions of color and painting. He sought to overcome the surface’s passivity and inertia by hanging works freely in space, and by arranging his suspended color-planes so the viewer could walk among them. In a series of innovative experiments, Oiticica transformed the artwork’s support into a live element. He developed the Box Bolides, introducing spatial divisions and plays on opening and closing; the Penetrables, cabins or labyrinths to be physically entered and explored; and the Parangolés, structures resembling clothing, capes, banners, tents for wearing and dancing. With these works, the word ‘support’ lost its meaning; in the Parangolés, the body was not the support for the work, it was its total incorporation. These works aimed to create an environmental world, in which the participation of the spectator was essential.

Oiticica’s work is closely linked to the social and cultural realities of Brazil. His environmental works have a deliberately anti-Beaux Arts, anti-bourgeois aesthetic, which delights in the unpredictable poetry of the streets, such as the architecture of the slums or the samba, both forms of live culture in which everyone participates. Oiticica’s experiments were aimed at finding a true Brazilian art that would transgress stereotypical conceptions of Latin American culture, by aiming not at a new conditioning of the participator, but at overturning every conditioning in quest for individual liberty.

The exhibition, which presented a complete survey of Oiticica’s work, included original works and installations as well as reconstructions and the first presentation of the installation Cosmococa (1973), which had never been exhibited during Oiticica’s lifetime.

The exhibition traveled to the Galerie nationale de Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, the Centro de Arte Moderna da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
This international attention for Oiticica’s work has helped the Projeto Hélio Oiticica, the organization that preserves the artist’s oeuvre, receive support from the Ministry of Culture in Rio de Janeiro for the foundation of the Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, which opened in September 1996.

The extensive website Programa Hélio Oiticica is the result of a collaboration between Itaú Cultural and the Projeto Hélio Oticica. This website, with over 5000 images and documents, opens up the complete oeuvre of Hélio Oiticia for the public at large. In Portuguese.