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Hélio Oiticica

Brazilian  •  1937-1980

Biography

Hélio Oiticica is one of Brazil's most influential artists. His work ranges from abstract compositions to early environmental installations exploring color, form, and material. He studied under Ivan Serpa in the mid-1950s and joined Grupo Frente, an association of artists in Rio de Janeiro interested in developing the legacy of European Constructivism within the context of the modernization of Brazil. Disagreements with the São Paulo Ruptura group led Oiticica and Lygia Clark to create the Neo-Concrete group (1959-'61).

His Metaesquemas (1957-'58) are an important series of gouaches where color is reduced to a few tones and broken into irregular shapes that are isolated within a grid. However he soon rejected this conventional art form for more radical ones that demanded viewer participation, including his Parangoles (1964–'68), three-dimensional sculptures based on traditional Brazilian Carnival costumes. Yet an exploration of the physical nature of color remained a constant in his work up until his untimely death in 1980.

Insights

  • Phillips set a new auction record for Hélio Oiticica when P31 Parangolé, capa 24, Escrerbuto, 1972 sold for $615,000 in the November 2017 New York Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art.

  • An important body of work within Oiticica's oeuvre are his installations entitled Penetráveis (Penetrables), which viewers could step into and interact with. Tropicália (1967) was the most influential, giving the Tropicalismo movement its name.

  • In 2009, a terrible fire at the home of César Oiticica, the artist's brother, destroyed nearly 2,000 of the artist's works —  representing 90% of the estate's collection.

  • Oiticica was celebrated with a major 2017 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art, New York.

"Color is the first revelation of the world."

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