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In this short clip, the Brazilian journalist Gilberto de Abreu discusses the controversial cancellation of the New York presentation of the Hélio Oiticica retrospective organized in 1992 by the Projeto Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro) in collaboration with the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (Paris) and Rotterdam’s Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. Slated to open in October 1995 at the Guggenheim Museum’s Soho branch, the institution had cancelled its participation by May of the previous year. In a phone interview with Globo, the Rio de Janeiro daily, the Guggenheim’s public relations head, Catherine Dare, mentioned the impossibility of clearing dates on the institution’s tight exhibition schedule as the reason for the cancellation. However, Luciano Figueiredo of the Projeto Hélio Oiticica criticized the New York institution’s evasiveness in their official position because, in his opinion, the cancellation had more to do with its struggling finances. To that effect, he cited a document signed by Thomas Krens, the Guggenheim director, who confirmed it lacked the funds needed to mount the retrospective.
This document is part of The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Following the untimely death of Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) at age 42, his family and friends established the Projeto Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro to care for, preserve, analyze, and disseminate his work. Even though Oiticica had been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship to assist research and artistic creation in 1970 and spent the following eight years in New York City, his work had been unfamiliar in Europe and North America until the 1990s. Between 1992 and 1997, the Projeto staged an ambitious retrospective that resulted from a collaborative effort by an international group of scholars led by Guy Brett, the British independent curator and organizer of Oiticica’s “Whitechapel Experience” in 1969; Chris Dercon, director of Witte de With at the time and current director of Tate Modern; Catherine David of the National Gallery of the Jeu de Paume; Luciano Figueiredo and artist Lygia Clark, who directed the Projeto Oiticica along with Waly Salomão. The exhibition, which presented a complete survey of Oiticica’s work, included reconstructions and the first public presentation of the controversial Cosmococa—Programa in Progress series (1973-74). The Cosmococas, which the artist coauthored in New York with Brazilian filmmaker and actor Neville D’Almeida, blended the languages of art and cinema. Never exhibited during Oiticica’s lifetime, each of these “Block Experiments [Experiences] in Cosmococa”—as the artists also referred to them—incorporated slide projections of D’Almeida tracing over album art, book and magazine covers, or other surfaces with lines of cocaine; a soundtrack; texts; and a plan for public participation in a prearranged location. Underlying the Brazilian positions recorded in O Globo is a questioning of whether or not the radical nature of this series may have been an influencing factor in the Guggenheim’s cancellation of the retrospective.
The exhibition opened at the Witte de With and then traveled to the Jeu de Paume, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, the Centro de Arte Moderna da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. With the Guggenheim’s relatively last-minute cancellation, the works were held in storage at the Walker Art Center from 1994 until 1996, when the pieces returned to Rio de Janeiro for a final showing at the Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica.