“My work aspires to a condition of density, great simplicity, directness, openness of language, and interaction.” (1999, in conversation with Gerardo Mosquera)
Straightforward and resting within himself
Cildo Meireles is one of those artists who have become rare nowadays: he is not always available. He has deliberately placed a number of «filters» between himself and the external (art) world in order to create a tranquil space for his thoughts and his art. So whenever one does happen to meet him at his studio, he usually appears deeply relaxed and absolutely chilled out. Much like Mario Cravo and Antonio Dias, Cildo only speaks if absolutely necessary, but when he does, he is very lively, spontaneous, open, and warm.
Cildo Meireles is also one of the very few Brazilian artists who protest against blatant injustice and take a clear, ethical stand. He is straightforward and speaks his mind, even in difficult situations when all other colleagues have already long ago and opportunely shut up. Cildo is aware of his artistic quality and uniqueness, and he seems to draw strength and wisdom from this knowledge.
Concepts full of play and poetry
Cildo Meireles virtually incubates his artistic projects; he seems to dream them up. His installations are full of graceful poetry, sensuous and seductive. They exactly correspond to what I termed «conceptualismo ludico»: they are committed to a playful conceptualism (see my post no. 62 from September 26, 2020).
This grand old man of Brazilian contemporary art has created a vast number of works that have become downright iconic and effectively form part of the world cultural heritage. There are his early works, such as «Cruzeiro do Sul», «Zero Dollar», and his legendary «Projeto Coca Cola»: multiple return coke bottles with the subversive inscription «Yankees go home», which were by far more useful in the time of the military dictatorship in Brazil than the coke bottles of his North American colleague Warhol. Cildo’s expansive installations, such as «Volátil» (1980) or «Glovetrotter» (1991), are of an equally captivating and enigmatic, but never quite definable, poetic quality. As always in Meireles’s works, they draw their tension and fascination from the oscillating interaction between the reality of the used materials and their potential symbolism.
The expansive walk-ins
«Através» (1983-1989) is one of his masterpieces: A large-sized, walk-in, labyrinthine structure of transparent wall elements, grilled windows, metal bars, barbed wire and wire mesh, which illustrate limited freedom (of movement) and structural, anonymous violence. The visitor strays around as if lost in this aesthetically fascinating and at the same time coolly dismissive labyrinth, thereby walking on myriads of glass shards precariously littering the floor and crushing with a loud noise under each step.
Then there is «Fontes» (1992), an installation made up of hosts of yardsticks hanging from the ceiling. However, these are not standard yardsticks; they have arbitrary, «false» measuring units. The sticks are accompanied by the ear-splitting and nerve-wracking ticktock from innumerable wall clocks with faulty faces.
And then there is «Babel» (2001): A gigantic tower touching the ceiling and made from old and new radio receivers, all running at the same time, each with a different channel playing, and flickering coloured light in the darkness—all of that merging to a perfect metaphor not only of Babylonian confusion, but also of the sense and nonsense of consumerism and communication per se.
Cattle bone cathedral
One of my favorite works is «Missões (How to build cathedrals)» (1987), which we were able to purchase for the collection. Some 2,000 cattle bones are suspended from an illuminated ceiling. They are linked to the ground by an apparently wispy column made from approximately 500 communion wafers. About 600,000 identical coins of the local currency are scattered on the floor. The connection of heaven and earth, of the divine and the material is manifested in the cattle bones (symbolizing death) dangling menacingly from the ceiling, taking the appearance, however, of a splendidly lit ciborium on a baroque Catholic altar. Their outflow is pure and radiant, and filters through the wafers (symbolizing the eucharist) down onto the cold sparkling coins, the filthy lucre that is the foundation of our life; and yet it remains connected to the firmament, which is at one menacing and fascinating, by the immaculate white and flawless wafers, which promisingly point upward as the ethereal link with the supposed spirituality…
Art & beauty
When I asked Cildo in a conversation for our «Seduções» catalog 2006 about his idea of beauty in art, this is the answer he gave:
«The purpose is not always to seek beauty. Maybe the path is more closely linked to the question of truth than of beauty. What I find interesting in the art object is when it hi-jacks the viewer, at a certain place and at a certain moment. Even if it’s only for a glance, you have a unique experience, as brief as it may be. It’s when the object makes the subjects forget themselves. For me, this is very close to what beauty is in art.»