Hélio Oiticica made work that aimed to reconnect art and life, as well as establishing a uniquely Brazilian form of experimental art.
Tropicália, Penetrables PN2 ‘Purity is a Myth’ and PN3 ‘Imagetical’ 1966–7 is a landmark work of early installation art. It includes two structures, PN2 ‘Purity is a Myth’ and PN3 ‘Imagetical’. Oiticica called them ‘penetrables’ because people were originally encouraged to enter them. They mimic the improvised, colourful dwellings in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, or shanty towns. The lush plants and sand help to convey a sense of the tropical character of the city. When Oiticica exhibited the work, he also included live parrots.
In Tropicália, Oiticica wanted to give contemporary art a specifically Brazilian character. In his early work, he was inspired by the geometric painting of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and the Russian Kazimir Malevich. Here, however, he introduced the disorder, resourcefulness and communality of lived experience into the artwork, employing Brazilian reality to subvert the ‘purity’ of European modernism.
Originally shown in 1967 in Rio, the work helped to inspire a wider cultural and political movement in Brazil, encompassing visual art, music, film and literature, to which it gave its name: Tropicália. The ‘poem-objects’ by Roberta Camila Salgado formed part of the original installation. Tropicália was also included in Oiticica’s interactive exhibit held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1969. To highlight how different this immersive exhibition was from a conventional retrospective, Oiticica preferred to call it the ‘Whitechapel Experience’.
Curated by Tanya Barson
The James Chanos Gallery