The late Hélio Oiticica—a leading artist of the Neo-Concrete movement, member of Grupo Frente, and countercultural icon—made significant contributions to modernism throughout his life. With an extensive oeuvre, including performance, film, painting, and architectural projects, Oiticica is one of the most influential members of the Brazilian avant-garde. Guided by the philosophy of “anti-art”— which promoted involvement in creative actions over aesthetics—Oiticica created conceptual and participatory works such as habitable paintings, all-encompassing installations, and architectural environments.
One such environment, Tropicália (1966-67), may now be experienced at one of Lisson Gallery’s Chelsea spaces. As Oiticica’s first large-scale architectural work to be realized in installation, the piece manifests the stereotypes of Brazil as a tropical paradise and turns them back upon the viewer in an immersive world of sand and gravel, plants, macaw birds, television screens, poetry, and box-like wooden structures.
On view at Lisson Gallery’s other Chelsea space, Oiticica’s objects call attention to the economies of consumption surrounding these paradisiacal fantasies of Brazil and the consequent social and environmental impacts. The wooden structures’ colorful and precarious walls recall Rio de Janeiro’s favelas— while the appearance of macaws gains new significance with the current endangerment of the species. The installation demonstrates the essence of Oiticica’s artistic work: finding ways to facilitate creative engagement through participation grounded in bodily experience that inspires social action.
Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália, Penetrables PN 2 'Purity is a myth' and PN 3 'Imagetical, 1967. Wood, wire mesh, tulle, wood chips, sandalwood, patchouli, plastic, plants, gravel, sand, birds, bricks, black and white television, tiles and vinyl squares, Dimensions variable. © Estate of Hélio Oiticica, courtesy Lisson Gallery