First The Good News: Helio Oiticica Heirs Say Not Everything Burned After All

Note to self, the Brazilian media & world's wire services: the guy standing outside his burning house and saying he lost everything does not, in fact, know that everything is lost.

Such is the case with the Projecto Helio Oiticica, where the artists' heirs--his younger brother Cesar and his nephew Cesinha, mostly--have been able to find work that was unharmed in the fire and work that just suffered smoke damage or is otherwise restorable. As Cesinha told the Agencia Estado news service, "When you look at all black, it looks like it's over, but when we opened the boxes scorched, we thinking works. Improved enough yesterday for today (Saturday to Sunday)."

Among the works found already: many of the Metaesquemas series, up to 350 color experiments in gouache on paper or cardboard from 1957-58. At least two bolides monochrome painted objects are intact, and more only need the glass replaced. several big installations are stored downtown at the Centro Municipal Hélio Oiticica. Two of the artist's iconic Parangolés, wearable samba painting/banners, which were all thought to be lost, " were saved by being in an exhibition in Belgium."

Yeah, so those didn't burn up, obviously. So at this point, there's a bit of taking stock, trying to stay positive, a bit of walking back the early over-emotional reactions--and a bit of defensiveness and fingerpointing.

In another Agencia Estado report, Rio's Secretary of Culture Jandira Feghali criticized Cesinha Oiticica directly for the loss of the works: "In my opinion, we lost a collection by a closed attitude of the heir, in particular." She charged Cesinha with pocketing the $US20K/mo the city had been paying the PHO to maintain and conserve the collection, a contract which Rio's new mayor had not renewed.

As Brazilian culture officials deal with the loss of so many works by the country's most important contemporary artist--one whose recent critical reappraisal has mirrored Brazil's own increasing prominence on the global stage--issues of private property and cultural patrimony are coming into play:

According to the secretary, lack a regulatory framework in the country to give better conditions to the giving public access and care for works of dead artists. For current law, works are private property of the heirs of artists and their use requires the permission of them.

"My regret is profound, because we tried it any other way. I personally talked to his nephew for us to have the transfer of collection to the Center Hélio Oiticica, for lending. We do not have budget to buy $ 200 million [the estimated value of Oiticica's estate]. They could not give the entire collection, but a part. There must be a new way to deal with it and there is a law," said the secretary.

So even after the smoke clears, there'll still be a heated battle over control of Oiticica's work.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: October 20, 2009.

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