Critics’ Picks

Hélio Oiticica, Penetrável PN28 “Nas Quebradas,” 1979, mixed media, 11' 6“ x 9' 1/2” x 14' 1/2".

New York

Hélio Oiticica

Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
528 West 26th Street
May 4–June 16

Upon entering this show, viewers pass by a monograph on the receptionist’s desk titled Hélio Oiticica: Painting Beyond the Frame, by Brazilian artist and writer Luciano Figueiredo; those words are an appropriate enough introduction to the show. In the rectilinear Penetrável Filtro (Filter Penetrable), 1972, for example, the viewer walks through a series of narrow corridors across which hang curtains of lurid primary colors—framed, translucent color fields that the viewer tentatively parts along the way to a painterly scene beyond. Revealed there, among other treasures, are blaring radios, orange juice, and a television set broadcasting a local station. Somewhere in the labyrinth, the participant arrives back at one of the work’s exterior walls, here a translucent green, revealing the gallery—and by extension the world—beyond. The scene is at once a colored perspective of the outside and a recursive moment; the viewer stares from inside the piece at a field of green gallerygoers, soon to enter the work itself.

This is, notably, the first appearance of Oiticica’s “Penetrávels” in New York City, an island of love and hate for him. In 1970, Hélio Oiticica received a Guggenheim grant and was included in “Information,” MoMA’s landmark survey of Conceptual art. As the money dwindled and Oiticica’s life turned to one of struggle and at times dire poverty, he came to regard his surroundings as an “infernal island” that “lives off slave labor,” as Oiticica wrote in a letter to Lygia Clark on January 24, 1972. It is interesting, then, if somewhat perverse to stumble over mounds of gravel in the more uneven, freeform Penetrável PN28 “Nas Quebradas,” 1979, inspired by the streets and people of his native Rio, in the middle of a gallery on that infernal island. This particular piece takes its inspiration from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and, according to the press release, it “achieves one of [Oiticica’s] primary goals of fusing art and life,” providing people with “vivências” (experiences). As the show’s accompanying video, which was shot in Brazil by Hélio’s nephew César Filho Oiticica, perhaps suggests, the best step into this faux-vela is a barefoot one.