Hélio is the son of entomologist, photographer, and painter Jose Oiticica Filho and the grandson of the intellectual anarchist Jose Oiticica. He completed his studies in 1954 at the Escola do Museu do Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro.
He was aligned with Brazilian Constructivism and participated in the Grupo Frente and, later, the Neo-concrete group. He thought that for artistic production to be ethical, it had to be activated by its audience, and his artworks operate as “open propositions” designed to liberate the viewer. He participated in the Biennial of Sao Paulo in 1957 and 1959, and in 1969 had an important solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1971, Oiticica moved to New York and began a series of projects under the umbrella title Quasi-Cinemas. Oiticica defined Quasi-Cinemas as collections of “instamoments” that never add up to any kind of product but are, instead, a kind of tracking of the always-already disappearing present, the “NOWandNOWandNOWand?” Oiticica’s method of radical experimentation explains why these works have been, until recently, relatively unknown despite their significance in the history of contemporary art.