by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Hélio Oiticica is an artist who has been spoken about so much, that there is little that can be said which is new. However, Oiticica’s artistic journey is one which developed like a flower growing out of the cracks in the concrete of Brazil’s dictatorship. The South-American struggle to escape the severity of society in the 20th century Rio at that time can be likened to that of several countries globally in the 21st century.
Born in 1937, Oiticica lived a short but riveting life. He left behind a rich legacy in his wake, making him known across the world today as one of the most influential artists of his time. This December, at Art Basel Miami Beach, viewers were privy to one of the last artworks by Hélio Oiticica - Penetrável Macaléia, the last in his paradigm-shifting series of installations known as Penetrables.
In the mid-1900s, when ‘high art’ was broadening the gap between the viewer and artwork, Oiticica came in with a revolutionary concept - art which could be touched, walked into and played in. Perhaps the most notable in this series is Tropicalia, an installation which triggered a movement in Brazil, his home country. An underground figure in the art scene at the time, Oiticica was at the forefront of the counter-cultural movement in Brazil, which can be identified as the rise of the Neo-Concretism movement.
Ambient art, Oiticica wrote, “is the overthrow of the traditional concept of painting-frame and sculpture - that belongs to the past. It gives way to the creation of ‘ambiences’: from there arises what I call ‘anti-art’”.
The artist’s estate is now exclusively represented by Lisson Gallery, an establishment regarded highly in the world of contemporary art. With galleries in New York, London and Shanghai, Lisson supports over 60 international practitioners and represents some of the world’s most remarkable names in art today - Marina Abramović, Ai Weiwei and more. At Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, Lisson Gallery showcased works not only by Oiticica, but also Anish Kapoor, Carmen Herrera and Ai Weiwei.
Hélio Oiticica’s work is particularly special to Lisson Gallery. Alex Logsdail, executive director of the gallery, explained, “After founding the gallery in 1967 with a programme that included Brazilian contemporaries such as Mira Schendel, my father, Nicholas, first encountered and admired Oiticica’s work at his legendary 1969 exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery. Now, fifty years later, we look forward to continuing Oiticica’s boundary-breaking legacy.”
Although it has been over 40 years since the passing of the visionary artist, his life and philosophy continue to hold bearing for us all today. From rejecting pre-conceived notions about the way we must experience art to developing multi-sensory experiences for the viewer, Oiticica’s work had strong socio-political undercurrents while remaining accessible and enjoyable to people from any cross section of society.
Alex Logsdail said, “Oiticica's influence on artists working today is profound, with his participatory installations and socially engaged practice. His relevance goes beyond that of Brazil or of Neo-Concretism — he transformed the counter-cultural scene and defines what it means to be a multidisciplinary artist.”
Oiticica’s work at the Lisson Gallery booth (G21) at Art Basel Miami Beach was on view from December 5 to 8, 2019.