Hélio Oiticica Metaesquema 1958

  • Not on view

This gouache drawing presents a group of black rectangles tilting rhythmically toward each other in a mirrored disposition: an imaginary axis runs vertically through the center of the work, dividing the composition into nearly symmetrical halves.

Oiticica was only twenty years old when he began working on his Metaesquemas series, which would eventually comprise more than 350 compositions. The Metaesquemas (Meta-Schemes) were pivotal in the young artist’s career, marking the shift from two-dimensional to three-dimensional space that he would pursue in his practice in subsequent years. He later described this series as exercises in the “obsessive dissection of space” aimed at destabilizing the spatial conventions of Concrete painting, a rationalist movement that promoted geometric abstraction and had dominated art-making in Brazil since the early 1950s. Indeed, the dynamic compositions in Oiticica’s Metaesquemas introduced an unprecedented range of whimsicality, upending the primacy and stability of the grid. The vibrating picture planes also subtly anticipated Oiticica’s ambition to transform viewers into active participants, a strategy that was formalized shortly thereafter in the 1959 manifesto of the Neo-Concrete movement, which counted Oiticica as one of its main proponents.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Geometric abstraction flourished from the 1930s through the 1970s in the art centers of Latin America, notably Buenos Aires, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. Oiticica, who was based in Rio de Janeiro, experimented with geometric abstraction in the late 1950s. Works in the Metaesquemas series are composed of squares and rectangles, usually against a pale background, reflecting the influence of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. Arranged in a gridlike structure but without complete regularity, his shapes seem to rhythmically shift and float slightly off the surface of the paper.

Gallery label from Geo/Metric: Prints and Drawings from the Collection, June 11–August 18, 2008.
Gouache on board
19 7/8 x 26 3/4" (50.5 x 68 cm)
Purchased with funds given by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Paulo Herkenhoff
Object number
© 2024 Projeto Hélio Oiticica
Drawings and Prints

Installation views

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The artist.
? - 1997, Projeto Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro.
1997, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchased from Projeto Hélio Oiticica.

Exhibition history

MoMA Exh. #1774: "A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions in Modern Drawing", June 5 - September 9, 1997

El Museo del Barrio, New York, "MoMA at El Museo: Latin American and Caribbean Art from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art", March 4 - July 25, 2004

MoMA Exh. #1938: "Drawing from the Modern, 1945 - 1975", Third Floor, March 25 - August 29, 2005

MoMA Exh. #2022: "New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930-2006: Selections from a Decade of Acquisitions," November 21, 2007-February 25, 2008

MoMA Exh. #2041: "Geo/Metric: Prints and Drawings from the Collection," Second floor special exhibition galleries, June 11 - August 18, 2008.

MoMA Exh. MOMAATNGV: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, "MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art from The Museum of Modern Art, New York," June 9, 2018 - October 7, 2018

MoMA Exh. #2424, "Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction―The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift", 3rd Floor, East Gallery, [The Robert B. Menschel Galleries], October 21, 2019 - October 2, 2020


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