I saw this exhibit on March 2nd, but its taken me quite a bit of time to process the work. I was fortunate enough to take a curators tour with Dr. Mari Carmen Ramirez, which on its own, made me star-struck and speechless.

Bolide B02 Box Bólide 02 “Platónico”. 1963

During her introduction, she mentioned that Oiticica was very anti-institutional and that he never wanted to sell his work. Only one of his hundreds of series, Metaesquemas, was ever sold. He came from a well-to-do family, his father was an entomologist and his grandfather was a published anarchist. The family was very supportive of Oiticica’s work.

Not only was Oiticica obsessive and prolific in his artistic production, but he was also a theoretician and kept numerous journals and writings throughout his career. I thought what a dream that would be, even if exhausting, for a curator/historian to come across such rich work and the extensive writing. It is estimated that the Projeto Helio Oiticica of Rio de Janeiro owns approximately 95% of Oiticica’s life production.

The exhibit begins with Oiticica’s geometrical work in Grupo Frente, where he begins his studies on the vibration of color. He is deeply influenced by Mondrian, particularly Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, which was shown at the first Sao Paulo Biennial. From this he moves on to the period of the Metaesquemas. Oiticica is extremely methodical and always works in a series. In the making of the Metaesquemas he begins to use the mirror effect in the composition. His use of gouache renders incredibly vibrant colors. There is a sense of impeccable perfection in the work. During this series he abandons the use of the grid and his geometrical figures seem to float in space.

metaesquema Metaesquema 1958

Oiticica was a self-taught artist who mastered through repetition. He was very well read and was influenced by many philosophers, one of them being Henri Bergson. After exhausting all possibilities on a two-dimensional plane, his work turns three-dimensional, leading up to his environments. The environments are installations in which the viewer goes through a maze-like structure and through the reflection of light is bathed in color. It is important to note that Oiticica considered himself an inventor, and he explored color as a scientist would.

The exhibit ends with his Parangole series. As an anti-institutional artist, Oiticica begins to use viewer participation in his work. The Parangoles are hand-made capes, where he uses fabric, plastic, and other materials to reflect light. Their purpose is to shield and protect the person who wears them. As a member of the Samba School of Mangueira, he used samba dancers to demonstrate color in rhythm.

Dr. Ramirez mentioned that it took five years to conceptualize, research and produce this exhibition. It is an excellent overview of the progression of Oiticica’s work and his meticulous exploration of color. I hope some of you will have a chance to see it this weekend.

On view through April 1st @ Museum of Fine Arts Houston. This exhibition will travel to the Tate Modern, June 7-September 23, 2007.