Cildo Meireles. INSERTIONS INTO IDEOLOGICAL CIRCUITS: 1. COCA-COLA PROJECT (INSERÇÕES EM CIRCUITOS IDEOLÓGICOS: 1. PROJETO COCA-COLA). 1970. Printed pressure-sensitive labels on three commercial glass bottles. Gift of Lilian Tone

“Art must insist on projecting a world where there are no dictators.”

Cildo Meireles

Any person walking the streets of Rio de Janeiro in 1970 could have been a participant in a work of art by the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles. A banknote in their wallet may have borne the message “YANKEES GO HOME,” which Meireles stamped on hundreds of bills to protest the growing North American domination of South American markets. A bottle of Coca-Cola from a corner store or café could have sported a small diagram of a Molotov cocktail, another of the artist’s subversive modifications. Though subtle enough to be missed by most, Meireles’s interventions ensured that critical opinions continued to circulate in public despite the strict censorship imposed by Brazil’s military dictatorship at the time. “Art,” Meireles declared in 1975, “must insist on projecting a world where there are no dictators.”1

Besides cash and consumer goods, Meireles has used other unlikely matter in his sculptures, installations, and conceptual projects, including hay and gold thread—materials chosen for their ambiguous nature, their capacity to be simultaneously “symbolic and raw substances.”2 Experimentation with nontraditional artistic materials, and especially everyday items, is a key way in which Meireles insists on the entwinement of art and life. For him, art is never an object of pure, distant contemplation because of the simple fact that we share space with it. “Space, as I understand it,” he has explained, “excludes the possibility of the existence of a detached observer, who dominates the world with their gaze. It implies participation. My entire artistic practice is oriented by this idea: that there is no observer, but rather a subject who is in the middle of a thought process, and who should remain with that thought process, live it, manipulate it, and not just observe it.”3

In addition to his preoccupation with space, concepts shared by art and science—like scale, value, and volume—have oriented much of Meireles’s research into perception and participation. Growing up in Brasília, Brazil’s modern capital, founded in 1960, Meireles thought he would become an architect. He dropped out of architecture school to pursue an artistic career after a decisive encounter at the I National Biennial of Visual Arts in Salvador, Bahia, with the Afro-Brazilian artist Rubem Valentim, who offered encouragement.4

Yet Meireles’s early interests in physics and mathematics continued to inform his creative practice. In The Difference between the Circle and the Sphere Is the Weight (1976), the artist turned two dimensions into three by balling up works on paper. Meshes of Freedom (1976/77), a volumetric iron grid supporting a pane of glass, models a principle of infinite growth known as cascading bifurcations. Unbeknown to the artist, this principle was first theorized by a US mathematician in 1977; Meireles found inspiration for this work while observing a fisherman’s handmade rope net. In Portuguese, the work’s title plays on a term for legal loopholes, evoking maneuvers that are possible within seemingly unyielding structures.

Elise Chagas, Mellon-Marron Research Consortium Fellow, Department of Drawings and Prints and the Cisneros Institute, 2022

“El arte debe insistir en proyectar un mundo en el que no existen los dictadores.”

Cildo Meireles

Cualquiera que pasease por las calles de Río de Janeiro en 1970 podía formar parte de alguna de las obras de arte del artista brasileño Cildo Meireles. Un billete en su cartera podía lucir el mensaje “YANKEES GO HOME”, que Meireles estampó en cientos de cruzeiros a modo de protesta contra la expansión del dominio norteamericano en los mercados sudamericanos. En cualquier botella de Coca-Cola de la tienda de la esquina o de la cafetería podía figurar el pequeño diagrama de un cóctel molotov, otra de las subversivas modificaciones del artista. Si bien sus intervenciones eran lo bastante sutiles como para pasar desapercibidas para la mayoría, permitieron que las opiniones críticas siguieran circulando públicamente a pesar de la estricta censura impuesta por la dictadura militar brasileña de la época. “El arte— declaró Meireles en 1975— debe insistir en proyectar un mundo en el que no existen los dictadores”.5

Además de efectivo y bienes de consumo, Meireles ha utilizado otros materiales insólitos en sus esculturas, instalaciones y proyectos conceptuales, como la paja y el hilo de oro —materiales escogidos por su naturaleza ambigua, su capacidad para ser al mismo tiempo “simbólicas y materias primas”.6 La experimentación con materiales artísticos no convencionales, sobre todo con objetos de la vida cotidiana, es el mecanismo clave a través del cual Meireles insiste en la profunda relación entre el arte y la vida. Para él, la obra de arte jamás es un objeto para la pura y distante contemplación por el simple hecho de que compartimos con ella el espacio. “Tal y como yo lo entiendo, el espacio —ha declarado— excluye la posibilidad de que exista un observador distante, que domina el mundo con su mirada. Implica la participación. Toda mi actividad artística se rige por esta idea: no existe un observador, sino un sujeto que se encuentra en pleno proceso de pensamiento, y que debe acompañar ese proceso de pensamiento, vivirlo, manipularlo y no sólo observarlo”.7

Además de su preocupación por el espacio, otros conceptos que comparten el arte y la ciencia —como la escala, el valor y el volumen— han inspirado gran parte de las investigaciones de Meireles en torno a la percepción y la participación. Meireles creció en Brasilia, la moderna capital de Brasil, fundada en 1960, con la idea de convertirse en arquitecto. Tras un decisivo encuentro en la I Bienal Nacional de Artes Visuales de Salvador de Bahía con el artista afrobrasileño Rubem Valentim, quien le infundió ánimos,8 decidió abandonar los estudios de arquitectura y seguir una carrera artística.

Sin embargo, los antiguos intereses de Meireles por la física y las matemáticas siguieron influyendo su actividad creativa. En The Difference between the Circle and the Sphere Is the Weight [El peso es lo que diferencia al círculo de la esfera, 1976], el artista pasó de las dos a las tres dimensiones, utilizando obras hechas en papel para construir bolas. Meshes of Freedom [Redes de libertad, 1976/77], una rejilla metálica volumétrica que sostiene un cristal, es un modelo del principio de crecimiento infinito, conocido como cascadas de bifurcación. El artista no lo sabía, pero un matemático estadounidense fue el primero en teorizar por primera vez este principio en 1977. Meireles se había inspirado para la obra observando una red de soga hecha a mano por un pescador. El título juega en portugués con un término que designa vacíos legales, lo que nos recuerda las maniobras que son posibles en el interior de estructuras aparentemente inflexibles.

Elise Chagas, becaria del Consorcio de Investigación Mellon-Marron, Departamento de Dibujos y Grabados, y del Instituto de Investigación Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, 2022.

  1. “...a arte deve insistir em projetar um mundo onde não existam ditadores.” Ronaldo Brito and Cildo Meireles, "Um sutil ato de malabarismo," Opinião (Rio de Janeiro), Oct. 24, 1975, 25.

  2. Gerardo Mosquera in conversation with Cildo Meireles, Cildo Meireles, ed. Paulo Herkenhoff, Gerardo Mosquera, and Dan Cameron (London: Phaidon, 1999), 17.

  3. “O espaço, como imagino, exclui a possibilidade da existência de um observador isento, que domina o mundo com o seu olhar. Ele implica a participação. Toda a minha atuação como trabalhador de arte está orientada por essa ideia: a de que não existe um observador, mas um sujeito que está no meio de um processo de pensamento, que deve acompanhar esse processo, vivê-lo, manipulá-lo, e não somente observá-lo.” Brito and Meireles, “Um sutil ato de malabarismo,” 25.

  4. “Hugo Auler and Cildo Meireles, “A arte nos caminhos da morte?” Correio Braziliense (Brasília), January 28, 1976, reprinted in Cildo Meireles, ed. Felipe Scovino, exh. cat (Rio de Janeiro: Beco do Azogue Editorial, 2009), 33.

  5. “...a arte deve insistir em projetar um mundo onde não existam ditadores”. Ronaldo Brito y Cildo Meireles, “Um sutil ato de malabarismo”, Opinião (Río de Janeiro), 24 de octubre de 1975, p. 25.

  6. Gerardo Mosquera en conversación con Cildo Meireles, Cildo Meireles, eds. Paulo Herkenhoff, Gerardo Mosquera y Dan Cameron (Phaidon, Londres, 1999), p. 17.

  7. “O espaço, como imagino, exclui a possibilidade da existência de um observador isento, que domina o mundo com o seu olhar. Ele implica a participação. Toda a minha atuação como trabalhador de arte está orientada por essa ideia: a de que não existe um observador, mas um sujeito que está no meio de um processo de pensamento, que deve acompanhar esse processo, vivê-lo, manipulá-lo, e não somente observá-lo”. Brito y Meireles, "Um sutil ato de malabarismo”, p. 25.

  8. Hugo Auler y Cildo Meireles, “A arte nos caminhos da morte?”, Correio Braziliense (Brasília), 28 de enero de 1976, reimpreso en Cildo Meireles, ed. Felipe Scovino, catálogo de la exhibición (Beco do Azogue Editorial, Río de Janeiro, 2009), p. 33.

Works

13 works online

Exhibitions

Publications

  • Chosen Memories: Contemporary Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift and Beyond Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 128 pages
  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Information: 50th Anniversary Edition Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, 208 pages
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