Hélio Oiticica may have lived to be just 42 years old, but over the course of his short career, his restlessly inventive spirit made him one of the most important Latin American artists of all time. He effectively helped define modern art in his home country, Brazil, though his interest in chance operations and utopian societies earned him a global audience. And now a major gallery is taking on the artist’s estate with the hope of growing that audience even more.
Lisson Gallery, which has five spaces spread across New York, London, and Shanghai, will now represent the Oiticica estate worldwide. Through the new arrangement, Galerie Lelong & Co., which has long shown Oiticica’s work, will no longer represent the estate.
Alex Logsdail, the director of Lisson, told ARTnews that the gallery’s interest in the artist goes back decades—almost to its very beginnings. “My father, Nicholas, saw his show at Whitechapel [Gallery in London] in 1969, two years after the gallery opened,” Logsdail said. “He was somewhat intimidated by him at the time—he was a wild guy. So, it’s been a long time.”
Oiticica may be best known for works that seek to merge painting and sculpture with everyday life. Having started as a painter with the Group Frente movement during mid-1950s in Rio de Janeiro, he went on to create three-dimensional abstractions that are associated with the Neo-Concretist movement. Many of these pieces feature brightly colored geometric forms that seem to fold or hang above viewers; some even appear to move as people walk past them.
During the 1960s, Oiticica became a key figure in the anti-authoritarian movement Tropicalismo, which combined music, theater, film, and sculpture in an attempt to envision a more tolerant form of Brazilian society that was opposed to consumerism. After the movement dissolved, Oiticica became active in the New York scene, and one work from his time in the city, A ronda da morte (The Rhythm of Death), 1979, will be realized for the first time as part of the forthcoming Bienal de São Paulo this July.
As for Lisson, the gallery is planning to bring one of Oiticica’s interactive works, a walk-in sculpture made of gridded metal called Penetrável Macaléia (1978), to the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair in December. In the fall of 2020, the gallery will stage an Oiticica show across its two New York spaces.
Since the artist’s death in 1980, Oiticica’s work has found a wide audience in recent years. In 2017, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York mounted the first Oiticica survey in the U.S. in two decades. Since then, it has appeared in important exhibitions about decolonization in Latin America and nonsensicalness in art of the 1960s, as well as in a show of works from a Patricia Phelps de Cisneros gift now on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Speaking of Oiticica’s wide influence, Logsdail said, “I don’t think people are fully aware of it. It’s really time.”