Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium

Reflection by Gabrielle Chen ’18

Photograph by Gabrielle Chen ’18

I pitched this trip essentially on impulse—I’d never heard of Hélio Oiticica before, but interactive, large-scale installations have been on my mind lately and I thought To Organize Delirium might provide both insight and inspiration. The exhibition itself turned out to be wonderful, a sprawling, wild, smart collection of work—paintings, sculptures, photographs, films, interactive installations, manuscripts—that I could have easily spent another handful of hours exploring, but I found my pleasure butting up against the museum itself.

Due to the fragility of his remaining works, many once-interactive pieces were pushed behind barriers and glass. While I understand the necessity of caution, it left me with a cold feeling, like sterile captions and white walls had usurped the artwork. The layout of the museum led to what an odd system of sequestering—some rooms seemed to be the wrong size for their hosted pieces, lacking the sense of fullness and energy that (at least to me) the work should demand. To this end, I felt the most successful works were the ones that hid the museum away behind some kind of veil, often with the complementary accomplishment of altering the senses.

To Organize Delirium was remarkable, but to my regret I felt that its title too thoroughly fulfilled its promise: instead of being absorbed in Oiticica’s work itself, I was more preoccupied with reacting to what felt like a technical exercise in museum environmental design.