Art Institute of Chicago - Helio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium

A coworker invited me to a tour of the exhibit Helio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, led by the nephew of Oiticica. At the time, I’d not yet had a chance to fully explore the exhibit, but I was nice to check it out while gaining his insights about the work. It made me want to dive in on my own time that much more.

One point raised throughout our walk through the exhibit was the idea of intent vs. display. His art was and is meant to be experienced, so the traditional idea of a museum object being off-limits doesn’t sit well. There are pieces that visitors can enjoy as they were intended, walking through sand and pools of water, but even here there are limitations. And there are some works that the museum has chosen to display without interaction, motion sensors in place and pedestals and white lines employed to discourage touching.

We have been exploring the topic of artist intent in contemporary art in class, with more work in nontraditional media that aren’t archival. One important aspect of this is the emergence of comprehensive artist documentation and interviews, where possible, and when the artists will allow it. In this case, it is clear that Oiticica has created comprehensive guidelines for the work, but these wishes aren’t always reflected in the presentation of his work. As we looked at one of his 3D paintings, the idea of preservation and access came up, and I think this is a perfect example of it. It’s a hard balance to strike when museums are in the business of acting as collections stewards and artwork is interactive. It is clear that there needs to be good communication and a spirit of collaboration when working on exhibits like this one, to assure the museum is presenting the work as faithfully as possible, and that surviving family, friends, contemporaries or representatives have agency when decisions are made.


Pieces like this one were meant to have participants walk through them, but this is not allowed in the museum setting. 


Protest flag now encased and hanging on a wall. 


Spaces that allowed for interaction. 


Playing a game of pool by the parrots.