Hélio Oiticica’s early works are indebted to the influence of both the nascent geometric art scene in Brazil and the classical European avant-garde. A student of Ivan Serpa, founder of the Rio de Janeiro-based Grupo Frente, Oiticica began his career in the company of geometric abstract artists. During this time he developed his “Metaesquema” series, consisting of small-scale paintings, usually on card stock or paper, but in the case of Untitled (1959), on canvas. Here the artist has subverted the uniform grid structure by tilting regular quadrilaterals to form an unstable composition.
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.