2,000 works by Hélio Oiticica destroyed in fire
Works stored at Brazilian artist’s brother home
By Charmaine Picard. Web only
Published online: 21 October 2009
new york. Nearly 2,000 works by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937-80) were destroyed on 16 October as fire ravaged a storage facility in the home of the artist’s brother César.
César Oiticica, director of the non-profit Projeto Hélio Oiticica, founded in 1981 to care for the artist’s estate, has estimated the loss at $200m. The works were uninsured.
Hélio Oiticica is widely recognised as one of the most influential Latin American artists of the 20th century. In 2007, both Tate Modern and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presented major exhibitions of his work.
Mary Sabbatino, vice president of Galerie Lelong in New York, which represents the artist’s estate, said: “I spoke with César on Saturday and he said that 90% of the collection had been lost.” She added that César Oiticica tried to save the collection, but heavy smoke prevented him from entering the storage area. The facility was equipped with a fire alarm as well as temperature and humidity controls. The cause of the fire is unknown.
The collection has been housed at César Oiticica’s residence in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, owing to a dispute between the artist’s estate and the city concerning inadequate exhibition and storage conditions at the municipally supported Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, said Sabbatino. The centre, which organises temporary exhibitions, occupies a 19th-century neoclassical building and has housed the Projeto Hélio Oiticica since the late 1990s. Reports in the Brazilian press indicate that the Projeto Hélio Oiticica had also argued with the Centro de Arte over unpaid fees for the lending of the artist’s works.
Although the family is currently in the process of assessing the damage, initial reports suggest that key works, such as Oiticica’s collection of wearable art pieces known as “Parangolés”, were completely destroyed and cannot be restored. Important works have survived in international private and public collections including major works at London’s Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Daros Collection in Zurich.
Also lost in the fire were original photographs and negatives by the artist’s father, José Oiticica, a notable Brazilian photographer. Sabbatino told The Art Newspaper: “The family is devastated by the loss of their brother’s and father’s work. This is a personal loss for the family, for Brazilian patrimony and for all who love art”.
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