Hélio Oiticica - Latin America New York Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Hélio Oiticica Family
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    Hélio Oiticica has become one of the principle references for understanding Brazilian contemporary art. Although associations between his work and the broader field of cultural production are often oversimplified, his heterogeneous production did indeed respond to a turbulent period in Brazilian history. His career began while he was still a teenager during the 1950s, a period in which a blind faith in the modern and industrial potential of the nation was predominant. This optimistic mood was replaced by popular and grass roots movements of emancipation in the early 1960s, which were brutally suppressed by the repression and persecution that followed the military coup of 1964. Oiticica’s work and writing responded insightfully to these shifts, while the last decade of his life was marked by the worldwide counterculture movement.

    Studying under Ivan Serpa in the mid-1950s, he joined Grupo Frente, a loose association of artists in Rio de Janeiro engaged in developing the legacy of European Constructivism within the wider context of the modernisation of the nation. Disagreements with the São Paulo Ruptura group as to how such a legacy should be approached, led to the formation of the short lived but hugely influential Neo-Concrete group (1959-1961). The heated debates that framed Neo-Concrete theory are the background of Oiticica’s emergence as a key cultural player within the local scene— as an artist, writer and increasingly, over the course of the 1960s and 70s, as a polemicist. His post-Neo-Concrete work was profoundly marked by his involvement with the marginalised sectors of society in Rio de Janeiro. In 1964, he was introduced to one of the most notorious slums in Rio de Janeiro, the ‘favela’ of Mangueira, where he became an enthusiastic carnival dancer and incorporated that effervescent experience into his work, most notably with the Parangolé. Subsequently, he held a solo show in 1969 at the Whitechapel Gallery and participated in the historically significant ‘Information’ exhibition at MoMA in 1970. He lived in New York during most of the 1970s, returning to Rio de Janeiro in 1978.


    In his habitual exercise of reassessing his production, in 1972 Hélio Oiticica retrospectively entitled a series of works dating between 1957 and 1958 as Metaesquemas. Chronologically, these works are positioned between his Grupo Frente and Neo-Concrete affiliations. The title demonstrates that the artist had identified within these works particular issues that, although still schematic (esquemas) in their development, would emerge as the principle theoretical drive in his subsequent Neo-Concrete works, namely Bergson’s concept of Metaphysics (Meta).

    Although arguing that art in the 20th century tended towards the metaphysical, his invocation of Bergson’s theories might also have been implicitly attempting to explain the Neo-Concrete ambivalence between rationalism and intuition, beyond the theories elaborated by the group’s spokesman Ferrera Gullar who drew heavily on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In this sense, the Metaesquemas could be understood as preparatory stages in the elaboration of an intuitive approach to geometric-based compositions and Oiticica’s own investigation into the perceptual properties of colour in space.

    The term Metaesquemas thus suggests works that present a schematic aspect of Oiticica’s subsequent interest in the concept of duration. Bergson realised that there was a ‘gap’ between scientific thought and the reality to which it attempted to relate to but ultimately failed to reach. In other words, the scientific act of measuring time inevitably required a conceptual ‘freezing’ of time— that is, the consideration of time as indifferent, or as a neutral space. Real time, or as Bergson defined it, duration, pertains to a subjective experience of time, which is always different and never homogeneous.

    Perhaps the most apparent characteristic of the Metaesquemas is their dynamic compositions. The surface appears through ‘cracks’ which are seemingly formed by partial dislocations. Time therefore makes its first appearance as a crucial element in the work, albeit still in a suggestive manner.

  • Artist Biography

    Hélio Oiticica

    Brazilian • 1937 - 1980

    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.

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Metaesquema n°161

Gouache on cardboard.
11 7/8 x 13 1/8 in. (30.3 x 33.3 cm).
Titled and numbered "Projeto HO N. 440, Met 161" on the reverse.

$280,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $266,500

Latin America

14 & 15 November 2011
New York