“Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium” at the Whitney

Had the great pleasure to view the superb exhibition “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium”, which is a retrospective of the of the work of the late Brazilian artist and designer Hélio Oiticica, on at the Whitney. The exhibition is the first comprehensive U.S. retrospective of the Brazilian artist’s oeuvre in the past two decades. Oiticica (1937—1980) is described on the exhibition website as “One of the most original artists of the twentieth century (who) made art that awakens us to our bodies, our senses, our feelings about being in the world: art that challenges us to assume a more active role”. The exhibition publication describes the evolution of Oiticica’s creative exploration as “Beginning with geometric investigations in painting and drawing, Oiticica soon shifted to sculpture, architectural installations, writing, film, and large-scale environments of an increasingly immersive nature, works that transformed the viewer from a spectator into an active participant.” The viewer-engaged installations “Tropicalia” and “Eden” have been reproduced for the Whitney show, barefeet in the sand and all. The show is indeed successful at capturing the “…excitement, complexity, and activist nature of Oiticica’s art, focusing in particular on the decisive period he spent in New York in the 1970s, where he was stimulated by the art, music, poetry, and theater scenes.” Of particular interest are the “parangoles” which are a series of sewn sculpture-as-flag-as-costume that are intended to be worn and embody political engagement. These were also re-created for the show and were available hanging on a rack for visitors to wear, and then dance to the pumping Brazilian Samba music in the gallery. Brilliant and truly innovative, Oiticica tragically was one of the generation of queer activist-artists that were lost to AIDS. He died in Rio at only 42 leaving his legacies of embodied activism and proto communal creative community engagements unfinished. There is still a lot that can be learned from his pioneering vision. Definitely has me thinking about the nature of corporeal engagement with the material as a site of political resistance:


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