Hélio Oiticica

B11 Box Bólide 09


Hélio Oiticica 1937–1980
Original title
B11 Bólide caixa 09
Wood, glass and pigment
Object: 498 × 500 × 340 mm
Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, Tate Members and the Art Fund 2007


B11 Box Bólide 09 1964 is a rectangular plywood box that contains three horizontal moveable elements. Two sides of the box – one short and one long – are painted orange, while the other two are painted yellow. One of the moveable components is a wooden, glass-lined drawer, which is unpainted and partly filled with bright yellow powdered pigment and is positioned just below the middle section of the box. A second moving part consists of a glass panel that is painted yellow and held in a groove running around the inside of the top of the box, resembling a sliding lid. The third moving element is a 6 mm thick wooden shelf, which is painted orange and sits in a thin slot across one long side of the box at a distance of 90 mm from its top. This shelf can slide in and out, but when displayed it always protrudes from the box’s edge by at least 25 mm. It was originally intended that these three elements could be manipulated by spectators, but this is now prohibited, and instead the work is exhibited with both the drawer and the glass panel partly open and the shelf extended. The box is rough and unsanded at its corners and upper rim, and the matt paint on its surface has been applied in multiple directions with visible brushstrokes.

This work was created by the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica in 1964, when he was living and working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Oititica made the box using several plywood panels each measuring 340 x 500 x 20 mm, which he cut with a saw and then pinned and glued together. He painted the box with a brush, layering the orange and yellow paint over a white undercoat. It is likely that the large reserve of powdered yellow pigment in the drawer element of the work was created by Oiticica himself, since the artist produced many of his own pigments and took a great interest in this process (see Wynne H. Phelan, ‘To Bestow a Sense of Light: Hélio Oiticica’s Experimental Process’, in Tate Modern 2007, pp.75, 95–6).

B11 Box Bólide 09 is one of a large series of works by Oiticica called Bólides, or ‘fireballs’, which also includes several subgroups. Although the Bólides vary in shape and size, this work belongs to the subcategory Box Bólides, which are all box-shaped and often feature moveable parts (see also B09 Box Bólide 07 1964, César and Claudio Oiticica Collection, Rio de Janeiro). Both the Bólide series and the Box Bólide subgroup were initiated by Oiticica in 1963 and all of the Bólides are titled using reference numbers, although some also have subtitles (see, for instance, B17 Glass Bólide 05 ‘Homage to Mondrian’ 1965, Tate T12415). In the case of this work, ‘B11’ denotes that this was the eleventh Bólide to be completed and ‘09’ indicates that it was the ninth Box Bólide.

The term ‘bolide’ is used in astronomy to refer to an extremely bright meteor that explodes in the atmosphere, thus resulting in a fireball. Oiticica discussed the title of the Bólide series in 1979, stating that it was inspired by Brazilian director Humberto Mauro’s 1933 film Ganga Bruta (Brutal Gang):

I was attempting to paint structures in which color was a physical part of the object, in which the objects would be possessed or inflamed by color ... That’s why I used the word “bolide” ... The idea came to me while I was watching Ganga Bruta, a film by Humberto Mauro in which the characters wear white and their white costumes catch and reflect the light. Mauro lit his actors ... and, as they rolled across a lawn, in this one scene, the effect was very much one of fireballs.
(Ivan Cardoso and Hélio Oiticica, ‘Ivan Cardoso Interviews Hélio Oiticica for the Film “HO”’, in Roesler 2008, p.33.)

Discussing this reference to fireballs, the curator Mari Carmen Ramírez has observed that by ‘allowing light to penetrate the interior space’ of his Box Bólides, Oiticica made them appear to have ‘a luminous centre’ (Mari Carmen Ramírez, ‘The Embodiment of Colour – “From the Inside Out”’, in Tate Modern 2007, p.64).

The conservator Wynne H. Phelan has argued that the Bólides were crucial to Oiticica’s increasing interest in creating participatory artworks from the mid-1960s onwards (see Phelan 2007, p.101). In 1967 Oiticica wrote that because viewers were permitted to touch and manipulate the Bólides, the works operated within ‘the tactile-sensorial field, as opposed to the purely visual’ (Hélio Oiticica, ‘General Scheme of a New Objectivity’, in Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art 1992, p.113). One year earlier Oiticica had also stated that he became interested in producing art that invites participation from the spectator because he did not want to ‘impose ... an “idea” or “aesthetic model”’ upon the viewer, but instead to make work that ‘answers the collective need for creative activity which is latent and can be activated in a certain way by the artist’ (Hélio Oiticica, ‘Position and Program’, in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthhology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1999, p.8).

Further reading
Hélio Oiticica, exhibition catalogue, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam 1992, reproduced p.78.
Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Colour, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2007, p.100, reproduced pp.276–7.
Silvia Roesler, Hélio Oiticica: Painting Beyond the Frame, Rio de Janeiro 2008, reproduced p.10.

David Hodge
March 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

The Bólides (or Fireballs) are a series of sculptural objects, which Oiticica referred to as ‘Trans-Objects’, in which colour is apparently ‘inflamed’ by light and therefore embodies energy. Originally designed to be handled, they frequently incorporate raw earth or pigment in powdered form and other inexpensive, everyday or organic materials such as shells. This large Box Bólide includes a series of drawers or panels which are pulled out to reveal their contents or the different colours in which they are painted.

Gallery label, November 2015

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