Hélio Oiticica (Brazilian 1937-1980)
Hélio Oiticica (Brazilian 1937-1980)

Metaesquema (Dois brancos)

Hélio Oiticica (Brazilian 1937-1980)
Metaesquema (Dois brancos)
signed, dated and titled 'Helio Oiticica, DOIS BRANCOS, 1958' (on the verso)
gouache on cardboard
18 x 21 5/8 in. (45.7 x 55 cm.)
Executed in 1958.
Acquired directly from the artist.
Private collection, New York.
By descent to the present owner.

Lot Essay

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, 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)

"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 forays into the Concrete idiom display the "essential issue of his artistic proposal at that time: they are about chromatic entropy and spatial rhythm."(2) The deconstructionist course first begun in the mid-1950s by the earlier Secos, which methodically dissected color into geometric modules, carried over into the Metaesquemas (1957-58), a series of works that forged increasingly dynamic incursions 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.

Based on a limited, constructivist palette of black, white, blue, and red, the Metaesquemas document Oiticica's intense study of the spatial and perceptual properties of color as form. In Dois Brancos, the pattern of black rectangles creates a visual rhythm that reverberates to the edges of the board, splaying open the "in-between" space of the picture plane and eliding the distinction between figure and ground. The geometric shapes of the color blocks, pulled just off-axis, perceptually activate the flat surface, undermining the stability of the grid through the animation of its underlying structure. The chromatic effect is visually arresting: the perceptual vibration of the shapes, which seem almost to dance across the board, creates depth across and within the picture surface through the dynamic interaction of color alone. These paradigmatic Metaesquemas mark the beginnings of Oiticica'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.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.
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.

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