Hélio Oiticica - Latin America New York Monday, May 23, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Collection of Moyses and Vilma Lupion, Paraná, Brazil
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Brazilian born artist, Hélio Oiticica, is arguably one of the most innovative creators of the second half of the 20th century. Oiticica, whose untimely death in 1980 tragically cut short his remarkable artistic production, will finally be having a major retrospective at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh later this year that will then travel to Whitney Museum of American Art and The Art Institute of Chicago. The artist produced a body of work that evinces a myriad of conceptual approaches, styles and techniques of limitless originality and experimentation. The present lot, Metaesquema (1958), belongs to an early and pivotal series of gouaches that the artist created between 1957 and 1958. This phenomenal series not only allows the viewer an insight into the artist’s uniquely creative oeuvre, it also exemplifies his extraordinary contribution to the world of contemporary art.

    Oiticica’s background was an unconventional one at many levels, starting with his apprenticeship in 1954 to the Rio de Janeiro based Concrete artist, Ivan Serpa, who fervently advocated abstract art and with whom Oiticica developed a very close friendship. Serpa’s unorthodox pedagogical approach focused on his students achieving a “language of their own, genuine in comparison to others and to the past; one that might become a language of the future” as aptly stated by Serpa himself (M.C. Ramírez, Hélio Oiticica – The Body of Colour, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2007, p. 35). This included encouraging his students not only to study of the nature of color in depth, but also to experiment with textures and techniques in order to create their own visual language. Oiticica himself was never interested in a traditional career in art; rather, he had quite a radical position whereby he rarely worked with dealers or sold his work, as he believed that the “function of art should be in an increasingly reified world.” (M.C. Ramírez, Hélio Oiticica – The Body of Colour, p. 35). It’s essential to understand that in the years that followed his indoctrination within Brazil’s art scene, Oiticica was working as a visual artist within a radically challenging political situation in Brazil, living under the authoritarian and violent military regime of 1964-1985. Instead of making political oppression the explicit subject of his art, Oiticica conceived ways of making art that implicitly conveyed his opinions by incorporating the direct participation of audiences, thus injecting the element of subjectivity into his art.

    Despite this unconventional approach to art, one must not forget that Oiticica was a consummate master of material. The craftsmanship of his works is meticulous and rigorously planned, and his execution of materials and techniques is extremely sophisticated. Furthermore, one of the fundamental aspects of his body of work was his lifelong preoccupation with the function of color. He believed that color has its own independent spatial and temporal dimensions, such that color could be “liberated into space,” metamorphosing into its own body, thus going beyond pictorial representation. This novel theoretical approach and chromatic experience informed the creation of the present lot and the larger series of Metaesquemas. He reduced the colors to a few tones, breaking them up into irregular shaped, isolated modules within a grid, thus inserting the element of unpredictability. In doing this, he was ultimately deconstructing space through color, which allowed him to propose a completely new method of investigating color and space that was entirely unique to him as an artist, as well as investigating the issues posed by Concrete art.

    In the present lot, Oiticica obsessively partitioned the raw cardboard through horizontal rectangles of brilliant red, thereby dissecting space. In doing so, he also created an intense texture that defies the picture plane because he transformed the spaces between the vibrating rectangles into the last space of representation. For this reason, Oiticica also considered these Metaesquemas, as he himself pointed out, “something that lies in-between that is neither painting nor drawing. It is rather an evolution of painting.” (M.C. Rámirez, Hélio Oiticica – The Body of Colour, p. 40). The artist arrived at this notion of dissecting space through color by inventing a myriad of Metaesquemas and meticulously organized them into multiple symmetric and asymmetric combinations. These works, which were influenced by Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich and which the artist would later go on to reject as he continued to radicalize his exploration of color, still mesmerize viewers with their structured forms yet intrinsic instability, creating a jostling kinetic movement within their seemingly simple geometric compositions.

  • 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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gouache on cardboard
15 3/8 x 16 7/8 in. (39.1 x 42.9 cm)
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by César Oiticica and dated March 30, 2016.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $286,000

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York Auction 23 May 2016