Review of reviews: Art & Stage
Exhibit of the week
Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, through Oct. 1
It’s time all of us learned to pronounce the name Hélio Oiticica, said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. A Brazilian artist who remains “sorely underknown” in the U.S., Oiticica (oy-ti-SEEK-a, per The New York Times) died in 1980 at just 42. But his two-decade career, which played out across three continents, produced hundreds of “superb” abstract paintings before a change of focus generated new work in sculpture, film, writing, political action, and installation, “much of which remains as fresh as this morning.” The Oiticica retrospective now showing at New York’s Whitney Museum “comes as an overdue revelation.” This was an artist of restless conscience and “acute aesthetic intelligence.” I recently gave myself over to one relatively minor installation, in which visitors lie in hammocks while Jimi Hendrix music plays on the speakers and slide images play on the walls and ceiling. “I couldn’t imagine anywhere in the world I’d rather be.”
Oiticica’s Tropicalia: The ‘beach’ that created a movement
Tropicalia, from 1967, is “likely the most startling and memorable installation here,” said Ben Davis in ArtNet.com. A beach tableau complete with sand to walk in, potted banana plants, two live parrots, and a couple cabana-style booths, it parodies the Brazil of tourist brochures but also the idea of a Brazilian soul. Writing on one cabana wall reads “Purity is a myth.” After the installation appeared in a Rio de Janeiro museum, its title was adopted as the name of a larger countercultural movement, linking Oiticica’s broader effort to redefine the viewer’s relationship to art to a wider resistance to Brazil’s post-1964 military regime. Even now, the historical context in which Oiticica produced his work is “very, very important to its magnetism.” His various invitations for viewers to cut loose, including the Afro-Brazilian style capes he created for museumgoers to dance in, seem more charged when you know they helped generate the notoriety for Oiticica that pushed him into exile—first to London, then to 1970s New York.
Though the Whitney show dwells on Oiticica’s eight years in New York, the work from that period proves “too fragmented, shallow, and trippy to repay all the attention,” said Ariella Budick in the Financial Times. The attempt to make a godhead of Hendrix “evokes its time so vividly that you can almost smell the patchouli.” But Oiticica returned to Brazil in 1978, and his final work, made the year before he died of a stroke, “provides a return-to-strength punctuation for a show that, over all, feels sketchy and unfinished,” said Holland Cotter in The New York Times. PN27 Penetrable, Rijanviera is another cabana-like booth. You enter it barefoot and walk through shallow, gently eddying water; when you step out into soft, white sand, you feel baptized. Like many other individual works in the show, “it’s alive in a way almost no art feels now.”