Long troubled by the constraints inherent in the framing of a flat picture surface, Hélio Oiticica sought new forms in art that would eliminate the barrier between representational and real space. One such solution was his “Bólide” (Bolide) series, a term used in astronomy to describe a particularly bright meteor or a fireball. The “Bólide”
either resemble or consist of everyday objects such as cupboards, drawers, and, in this case, a glass vessel filled with various materials including powders, earth, pebbles, shells, gauze, and liquids.
B17, Glass Bólide 05 (1965) is dedicated to the Dutch avant-garde artist Piet Mondrian, suggested by the colors red, blue, and yellow that characterize Mondrian’s work. In his mature work, Mondrian limited his palette exclusively to these three primary colors as well as black, white, and gray. In 1953, works by Mondrian, including his seminal painting Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–1943), were on display at the Second Edition of the Bienal de São Paulo, an exhibition that Oiticica, then sixteen years old, visited with his family. Mondrian’s neoplastic paintings and theoretical writings proved highly influential to the development of postwar Brazilian art. His work informed the theoretical writings of the poet Ferreira Gullar, who in 1959 referred to Mondrian as a “true artist” in his manifesto neoconcreto (neo-concrete manifesto), the programmatic text which ushered in a new wave of the Brazilian avant-garde in which Oiticica was a leading figure.
Hélio Oiticica’s investigations into the essence of art led him to challenge the boundaries between art, life, and the viewer. He began his artistic career in 1954, studying painting under Ivan Serpa at the Museu de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Museum) in Rio de Janeiro. In 1955 he became a member of Grupo Frente and started to participate in numerous Concrete and Neoconcrete art exhibitions, then joined the Neoconcrete movement in 1959. In 1970 he received a Guggenheim fellowship, which enabled him to move to New York, where he lived from 1970 to 1978. Throughout his career he questioned the two-dimensional picture plane (“Metaesquemas” [Metaschemes], 1957–58) and explored viewer participation (“Bilaterais” [Bilateral], 1959), ephemeral materials, the dimensions of color (“Invenções” [Inventions], 1959-62), and multisensory art (“Bólides,” or exploding meteors). Important among his series are the “Parangolés” (mobile sculptures, costumes) and “Penetrables” (walkable color installations), both of which were part of his seminal work Tropicália (1967), an immersive installation that gave its name to the Tropicalismo movement. Besides being a visual artist, Oiticica was also a prolific writer on art theory.