A major retrospective on the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica opens tomorrow (July 14) at the Whitney Museum. It is the first show in the United States to survey Oiticica’s entire career and also one of the very few devoted to a foreign artist at the Whitney, an institution focused on the promotion of American art. The show highlights the formative years that Oiticica spent in New York (almost a decade) and traces the influence that his work and ideas had in the American art scene.
The exhibition begins with Oiticica’s geometric abstract sculptural works that hang elegantly from the ceiling. The entrance gallery room invites visitors to explore his Neo-Concrete phase and encounter early paintings, such as Metaesquemas, and famous installations, such as Grande Núcleo (1960-66). His ingenious interactive color-boxes, Bólides, and iconic flags, Seja Marginal, Seja Héroi (1968 – Be an outlaw, be a hero), also make an appearance, leading visitors into a room with Parangolés ready to be tried on––these are Oiticica’s colored capes, made in collaboration with sambistas from Mangueira.
Parrots, plants, sand, straw, water, and gravel invade the galleries featuring the artist’s main large-scale installations. Eden (1969) and Tropicália (1967) are celebrated for their combination of geometric rigor, participation, and the range of sensorial experiences they provide to participants. The retrospective also brings video-installations, such as CC5 Hendrix-War (1973, with Neville D’Almeida) and short films portraying Oiticica’s friendships and life in the city.
Oiticica lived in New York from 1970 until 1978 and, as many New Yorkers, had a love-hate relationship to the city. He loved wandering on its streets and subways with no destination, hanging out with fellow artists and musicians, but his time here was also one of struggle, determination, and nostalgia for Brazil: this major retrospective marks his triumphal return to New York, with all due glamour and respect. A moment not to be missed.
What: Exhibition “Helio Oiticica: to Organize Delirium”
Where: Whitney Museum of American Art
When: July 14 – October 1