Thursday 16 February 2006


Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália, 1967

Hélio Oiticica, Eden, first exhibited at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1969

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Bahia Desorientada, 2005

Rhodia Dresses from the 1960s

avaf installation

Tetine playing inside avaf installation

David wearing Parangole

A Revolution in Brazilian Culture
curated by Carlos Basualdo
Press Release

16 February – 21 May 2006
Media View: Wednesday 15 February, 11am – 2pm

‘Be an outlaw, be a hero.’ Hélio Oiticica

Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture is a groundbreaking and vibrant exhibition which captures the spirit of Tropicália, one of the most significant cultural movements from South America in the last five decades. The Tropicália exhibition in the Barbican Art Gallery is the first event in a three-month long festival which encompasses art, music, theatre and education.

Tropicália marked a true revolution in Brazilian music, visual arts, theatre, cinema, fashion and architecture. Taking its name from an installation created in 1967 by the young Brazilian artist, Hélio Oiticica, it soon became the title of one of the most celebrated albums in Brazilian music history, featuring Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes.

Tropicália was born out of a powerful desire to find a new identity for Brazilian art, one in which Brazil’s multi-culturalism and popular forms, of music and dance especially, were celebrated and synthesised with international modernism. Tropicália emerged against a backdrop of political repression that was becoming ever more powerful. Exuberant and dissenting, Tropicália sought the transformation of society through cultural production and exchange.

Tropicália is the first exhibition to chart this explosion of creative energy as a cohesive cultural moment. Its starting point is the 1967 exhibition New Brazilian Objectivity, held at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, in which Oiticica’s Tropicália was the centrepiece. At the same time as Oiticica was exhibiting Tropicália, dancing samba and being inspired by the favelas, musicians like Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Oz Mutantes, Tom Ze and Gal Costa were flouting convention to sing passionately rebellious lyrics to electric guitars in front of rapturous audiences. The exhibition includes footage of their memorable concerts, as well as clips from stage productions by the infamous theatre director José Celso Martinez Correa and films by Glauber Rocha.

Tropicália thrived on ideas, dialogue and the energy of the streets. It was enormously influential across South America and is the forerunner of much contemporary work which privileges the viewer and invites participation; so-called ‘relational aesthetics’. The significance and meaning of Tropicália is still the subject of lively debate. As a reflection of this, Tropicália includes a number of commissions by contemporary artists. Each work provides a uniquely personal reflection on the spirit of tropicalismo. The contemporary artists are: Arto Lindsay, Marepe, Ernesto Neto, Rivane Neuenschwander, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Moreno Veloso, Matthew Antezzo, Rodrigo Araujo, Karin Schneider, Lucas Levitan and Jailton Moreira and Assume Vivid Astro Focus.

This landmark exhibition reassesses the cultural significance of the 1960s movement 40 years on, recapturing the rawness and uninhibited vibrancy of the pioneering artists who changed the face of contemporary art.

Visitors to the gallery will be able to experience the unrestrained, anarchic philosophy behind Oiticica’s vision in the reconstruction of his two most important installations. Tropicália, a walk-in environment, plays on the clichés of Brazilian tropicalism with plants, parrots, sand and pebbles, while Eden features a garden of straw ‘nests’ and muslin tents. Visitors are invited to lie back and relax to the sounds of Gilberto Gil, take off their shoes and paddle, confuse their taste buds with Lygia Pape’s luminous water and try on Lygia Clark’s disorientating masks. This multi-sensory adventure in a mythical garden of earthly delights is designed to catapult participants back into the vibe of 1960s Brazil. As Oiticica said, ‘Experience the experimental.’

Facilitators will be on hand to assist the public with participatory works in the exhibition.
There will be regular weekend talks and discussions, as well as samba and drumming workshops.

Major artists in the exhibition include:

Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980 Brazilian)
Tropicália, 1967
Evocative of urban life in a favela, with sand on the floor, a flower-patterned vinyl curtain, macaws and a television. With this work and others, Oiticica challenged bourgeois taste, while questioning the myth of Tropicalism.

Eden, 1969
Originally shown at The Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1969, this is the first time this installation has been re-created for an exhibition. Straw nests, tents, huts, muslin drapes and a pool invite the audience to meditate and experience the multi-sensory nature of the different materials brought together by the artist. From above, it is possible to see the work as an abstract composition of coloured planes.

Lygia Clark (1920 – 1988 Brazilian)
Sensorial Masks, 1967
The I and the You: Cloth-Body-Cloth series 1967
Clark shared with Oiticica a desire to fully involve the spectator and activate sensations. Tropicália includes original and recreated suits, masks, glasses and handling objects by Clark.

A selection of contemporary works:

Marepe (b. Bahia, Brazil 1970)
A Mudanca (The Move) 2005
Mobility and transience are explored in this new work by the Brazilian artist, Marepe. The work comprises a life-sized wooden truck filled with representations of a couch, table, stove, refrigerator and chairs. The artist is commenting on the forced displacement that many Brazilians must endure in order to find a means of subsistence.
The piece has been newly commissioned for this exhibition.

Ernesto Neto (b.Rio de Janeiro, 1964)
That’s the Law, 2005
Netos’s work for this exhibition comprises a large stretched muslin form, onto which has been embroidered the words ‘Don’t think’; a commentary on the political climate that affected the Tropicalists and the prevalence of this attitude within contemporary society.
The piece has been newly commissioned for this exhibition.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (b.Strasbourg 1965)
Bahia Desorientada (Disoriented Bahia), 2005
This film, which springs from Gonzalez-Foerster’s appreciation of the way in which nature and plant life impact on modernist architecture and landscape design in Brazil, depicts a beach on Ribeira, Salvador de Bahia. Housed within a simple wooden seating structure, Gonzalez-Foerster’s film features a specially created soundtrack by Arto Lindsay. The lapping of the waves is intended to evoke the ebb and flow of Tropicália.
The piece has been newly commissioned for this exhibition.

Rivane Neuenschwander
Carioca and Friends (Soccer Champion), 2005
This is an interactive wall painting, in which Neuenschwander has transformed Zé Carioca (Jo from Rio), a popular cartoon parrot created by Disney in the 1940s. Erasing both speech and images, an abstract wall of colour is created. Viewers are playfully invited to create their own cartoons.
The piece has been newly commissioned for this exhibition.