For the first time in New York, three of the late Brazilian avant-garde artist Hélio Oiticica's rarely-seen multi-sensorial installations of color: Penetrável PN1 (1960); Penetrável Filtro (1972); and Penetrável PN28 "Nas Quebradas" (1979), will be on view at Galerie Lelong. Oiticica's invention of the Penetrável (Penetrable) series brought a new dimension to the artist's work, allowing him to create built environments and develop outdoor installations such as the well-known Magic Square series. Oiticica's Penetrables are considered among the first art installations, and have not been credited enough for their contribution to early conceptual art. Hélio Oiticica: Penetrables opens to the public today, May 5, 2012 from 6 to 8 pm and the exhibition runs through June 16, 2012. The artist's brothers, César and Cláudio Oiticica, who direct the Projeto Hélio Oiticica in Brazil will be present opening night.
One of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Oiticica investigated color in space in a cohesive, continuous oeuvre until his untimely death in 1980. He began with the Grupo Frente, Sêco, and Metaesquema drawings, and then liberated his painting into space with series entitled Bilateral, Relevos Espaciais, Bólide, Núcleo, Penetrável, and Parangolé. Not only are the Penetrables a natural progression in Oiticica's own work, but also within the continuum of the art historical canon. Oiticica avowed, "It is not a matter of copying Mondrian, but of blazing the trail for a painting of pure color, space, time and structure." Furthering this notion of bringing painting into real time and space, in 1961, Oiticica wrote about the Penetrables:
"Here, color exudes both the decorative and the architectural…so as to become purely aesthetic and intensely experienced [vivenciada] or purely aesthetic in the sense of a heightened experience. They are like movable frescos on a human scale except that (most importantly) they are penetrable."
What makes the Penetrables stand out amongst Oiticica's body of work is the viewer's involvement as a participant and "discoverer of the work." Oiticica's first free-standing Penetrable, Penetrável PN1, is a small corridor of bright yellow-hued sliding panels which the participant can move to activate the work. One of the largest Penetrables, Penetrável Filtro takes the concepts of PN1 to a grander scale through a labyrinthine structure. Penetrável Filtro allows the participant to wander through multiple corridors and curtains of green, blue, yellow, and orange, ending the experience by drinking the final color in a glass of orange juice. Created the year before his death, Penetrável PN28 "Nas Quebradas" guides the participant over a gravel path through an architectural structure made of wood, brick, and yellow panels with a jute roof. Here, Oiticica takes inspiration from the shantytowns, or favelas, of Rio de Janeiro, and achieves ones of his primary goals of fusing art and life, providing "vivências" (experiences). Although the Penetrables were created in the 1960s and 1970s, the physical experience of engaging in and with the works activates them in the present moment.