Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium

Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) is arguably the most influential Latin American artist of the post–World War II period and is recognized for his significant contributions to the development of contemporary art. A relentless innovator always pushing the traditional boundaries of art, Oiticica moved rapidly and radically from early works influenced by European Modernism to large-scale installations meant to be experienced. This exhibition offers the first retrospective in the United States of the Brazilian artist’s groundbreaking and influential achievements.

Demonstrating the great breadth of the artist’s oeuvre, the exhibition begins in the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries with the adventurously elegant works on paper from early in Oiticica’s career. These progressively dynamic compositions paved the way for his later liberation of painting from a flat plane (1955–1958). By 1959, Oiticica’s painterly-sculptural Spatial Reliefs and Nuclei broke free of the wall and entered the space of the viewer. The Nuclei, composed of panels suspended from the ceiling, created areas through which the viewer would walk. His later installations, designed to engage the senses and promote creative thought, continued to expand the interaction between viewer and artwork. Among the most ambitious, Eden (1969) encourages viewers to pass through water and leaves and relax in tents and beds made of straw. This exhibition is the first anywhere to treat these later works in depth, acknowledging Oiticica’s New York years (1971–1978) and his return to Brazil (1978–1980) as discrete periods within his oeuvre.

Throughout his brief but energetic career, Oiticica seamlessly melded formal and social concerns in his art, seeking to be internationally relevant and, at the same time, specifically Brazilian. Above all, he aimed to communicate to his audiences the deep pleasure and satisfaction inherent in creative work. That aim reached fruition as his career advanced and his work took on an increasingly immersive nature, transforming the viewer from a spectator to an active participant or “participator”—as visitors to Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium will discover. In addition to viewing the original works on display, visitors will be invited to wear and manipulate exhibition copies of the artist’s interactive works.