Exhibition details ::: MMK Frankfurt am Main

Hélio Oiticica

The Great Labyrinth

MMK 1

28 September 2013 — 2 February 2014

In the autumn of 2013, the MMK will feature the most comprehensive retrospective of the work of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) ever staged. To be shown in Frankfurt following presentations in Brazil and Portugal, this overview will encompass works from all phases in the career of the most important Brazilian artist of the post-war era.

The active inclusion and involvement of the viewer were fundamental to his oeuvre, with which—like Joseph Beuys in Germany in the same period—he strove to depart from the traditional conception of the artwork. Oiticica was ahead of his time, farther ahead than virtually any other artist of his generation. It would be many years before the terms "participation," "environment" and "proposition" would come to dominate artistic discourse in Europe and North America; Oiticica already formulated them at an early stage in his career, and to this day they lend his oeuvre key significance.


In the 1950s, Oiticica—who had started out as a painter—was driven by the conviction that color and form should emancipate themselves from the surface. Within the circle of the Grupo Frente in Rio de Janeiro, he developed ideas about a kind of neo-concrete art that would turn away from the schematic forms of abstraction which in his view had come to a standstill. His oeuvre ranges from early abstract painting to reliefs floating freely in space, the "Relevos Espaciais" and "Bilaterals", and labyrinth-like rooms. This development went hand in hand with Oiticica's deliberations on how the relationship between the work and beholder could be changed. In his large-scale installations, the so-called "Penetráveis" (from the Portuguese penetrar—penetrate), he began integrating the viewer as an elementary part of the art experience. Immersion, engulfment, and dissolution in color, space, time, society, music, and delirium took on key significance in Oiticica's creative work. In 1964 he went a step further with his "Parangolés"—textile pieces made of colored layers of cloth and intended for wearing and performing in. At around the same time, Oiticica took an increasing interest in the organic structures of the Brazilian favelas, the street culture of their inhabitants, Samba, and the role as an outsider, which exerted a fundamental influence on his work and led him to a more comprehensive understanding of the unity of art and life.
His most well-known work, "Tropicália", a walk-in installation consisting of sand, plants, live parrots, and tent-like dwellings, was inspired by the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. With it, he propagated an open understanding of Brazilian influences on culture and merged them with his fundamental deliberations on the development of art. This room installation gave its name to one of the most important cultural movements in twentieth-century Brazil, which—in addition to the visual arts—found expression above all in music. 

In cooperation with the Frankfurt Palmengarten, the exhibition will be enhanced by three works to be presented at the Palmengarten from 31 August to 27 October 2013. These outdoor works will be conceived in such a way that visitors can enter and interact with them. The Goethe-Universität Frankfurt's Curatorial Studies course developed an accompanying programme featuring films, concerts and performances.
That part of the show is result of cooperation with the Palmengarten of the city Frankfurt and the masters course Curatorial Studies – Theorie – Geschichte – Kritik.

The retrospective is being curated by César Oiticica Filho and Fernando Cocchiarale in cooperation with Peter Gorschlüter, deputy director of the MMK.

The exhibition is a joint project of the Projeto Hélio Oiticica and the MMK Frankfurt. It is taking place within the framework of the culture program on Brazil as the guest of honor of the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair.

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