Hélio Oiticica was an important figure of the Neo-Concrete (1959–1961) art movement in Brazil. Neo-Concretists called for artworks to be like living organisms, engaging in spatial relationships with the viewers and thereby rejecting a rationalist approach that emphasised pure forms of representation. Despite the short span of the art movement, it informed the artist's progression towards an artistic style that was less formalistic and more interactive, and left a lasting impact on later works in which the participation of the viewers remained a recurring theme.Read More
Oiticica was born to a scholarly family in Rio de Janeiro in 1937. As a teenager, he learned painting under artist and educator Ivan Serpa at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro. A year later, in 1955, he joined Grupo Frente (1952–1964), a collective that was co-founded by Serpa and embraced Concrete art. The term Concrete art was first used by Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg in 1930, who advocated for a form of abstraction that removed all reality and symbolic meaning by working with lines, colours, and planes, which he considered to be truly concrete. In his earlier artworks, Oiticica often used gouache on paper or cardboard to explore colour, shape, movement, and geometrical arrangement. The 'Metaesquemas' series (1957–1958), comprising over 350 gouache paintings, is an example of the artist investigating the interaction between shapes and background.
After 'Metaesquemas', Oiticica shifted his artistic interest from two-dimensional paintings to artworks that invite viewers to evaluate their relationship with the physical space. In 1960 the artist became an active participant in the Neo-Concrete movement, which had been initiated in the previous year by Brazilian artists—including Lygia Pape and Lygia Clark—who had grown dissatisfied with the rigidity of Concrete art. Hélio Oiticica's artwork Spatial Relief (red) REL 036 (1960), for example, presents geometrical pieces of plywood painted in red, suspended overhead so that viewers needed to actively navigate through space to see the colours and shapes from different sides.
Oiticica was eager to break the polite distance between viewers and artworks. In the mid-1960s, he began to make other artworks that people could physically interact with, such as his 'Parangolés': capes and banners printed with messages that people could wave or wear while dancing. The artist's most notable participatory artwork, Tropicália (1967), was an installation recreating the stereotype of Brazil as a tropical state, where visitors were invited to lounge on the sand, stroll around the palm plants, or even relax in the makeshift structures. In the artist's own words, 'The museum is the world' and an 'everyday experience.'
Chelsea Ma | Ocula | 2019