• Latin American Sale auction at Christies

    Sale 2222

    Latin American Sale

    17 - 18 November 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 63

    Helio Oiticica (Brazilian 1937-1980)


    Price Realised  


    Helio Oiticica (Brazilian 1937-1980)
    ink on cardboard
    17 x 20¼ in. (43 x 51 cm.)
    Executed in 1957.

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    This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by César Oiticica, Director of Projeto Hélio Oiticica dated 24 June 2009 and another certificate signed by Lygia Pape dated 3 August 1991.

    The Metaesquemas represent the culmination of Hélio Oiticica's brief concretista period, spent in an unusually independent apprenticeship under Ivan Serpa, the leader of Rio de Janeiro's vanguard Grupo Frente and a stalwart advocate of abstraction. Just twenty years old, Oiticica found spiritual and intellectual kinship with the principal European exponents of abstraction--Kandinsky, Klee, Malevich, and particularly Mondrian--whose works and theories he studied under Serpa's tutelage. Taking as a point of departure the primacy of the Modernist grid and the flatness of the picture plane, but rejecting the rationalism of his predecessors, Oiticica set out on a more organic, experimental path toward the distillation of painting to pure essences of color and space. The self-described "obsessive dissection of space"--the "space without time: cracks in the mute plane, infinitesimal mondrianstructure"--that for Oiticica characterized the Metaesquemas would gradually lead him to discover "the end of painting in the colour square."(1) The conceptual ends of painting would indeed prove remarkably fertile for the artist, who would go on to deconstruct the tactile and phenomenological properties of color in the Bólides and Parangolés of the early 1960s, effectively turning the visual vocabularies of Modernism into the formal tools of its critique. But in 1957 Oiticica was still probing the limits and possibilities of the two-dimensional plane, and the transitional Metaesquema series of 1957-58 documents his intense study of the spatial and perceptual properties of color as form.

    The origins of the Metaesquemas can be traced to a small series of abstract-geometric gouaches on cardboard--the Sêcos--that Oiticica worked on toward the end of 1956. "From the very beginning, Oiticica's paintings reveal a tendency to articulate color as an entity vis-à-vis space," curator Mari Carmen Ramírez has remarked, and his first foray into the Concrete idiom displayed already the "essential issue of his artistic proposal at that time: they are about chromatic entropy and spatial rhythm."(2) The deconstructionist course begun by the Sêcos, which methodically dissected color into geometric modules and set them in motion within a grid-based composition, would carry over into the Metaesquemas, which represented a more dynamic incursion into the surrounding space. A neologism that combined "meta" (beyond) and "esquema" (structure), the title Metaesquema would be applied to approximately three hundred and fifty works in which Oiticica experimented with the placement of different configurations of geometric shapes within an invisible grid.

    A Metaesquema represented "something that lies in-between that is neither painting nor drawing," Oiticica once explained. "It is rather an evolution of painting." Painting became finally commensurate with space, he suggested, through the more and more perfect distillation of color: "I tried to cleanse color, leaving the cardboard raw...To me, Metaesquema means that because I am not using color; by scarcely using color and using the cardboard it continues to be painting. Simply because space itself is painting."(3) Typical of the early works in this series, the present Metaesquema plays open the "in-between" space of the picture plane through the dynamic interplay of the positive and negative forms that energize its strong diagonal axis. The monochromatic open squares and rectangles mirror each other, eliding the distinction between figure and ground and virtually destabilizing the two-dimensionality of the surface. The animation of the perceptual field through this meticulous dissection of its space effectively extends the visual field beyond the frame, signaling already the end of painting and anticipating the transformation of its materials into what Oiticica would later call a vivência, or pure life-experience. The paradigmatic Metaesquemas mark the beginnings of the artist's rebellion against pictorial space, and they herald both the evolution of his work into three dimensions and the phenomenological directions that he would explore over the course of the following decade.

    1) H. Oiticica, quoted in Hélio Oiticica, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1992, 27.
    2) M. C. Ramírez, "The Embodiment of Color--'From the Inside Out,'" in Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color, Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 2007, 35, 40.
    3) Oiticica, quoted in Ramírez, "The Embodiment of Color," 40-1.


    Projeto Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro.
    Eduardo Muniz Ventura collection, Rio de Janeiro.