Cildo Meireles Thread 1990-95

  • Not on view

Speaking of his artistic process, Meireles has said that he seeks “formal elegance even more in the concept of a work than in its physical manifestation.” For his sculpture Thread, he has produced a literal and material expression of the popular idiom, “Like finding a needle in a haystack,” a phrase that describes a task that is almost impossible to achieve.

Hidden somewhere in this monumental cube of hay is an eighteen-karat gold needle attached to a long golden thread. The contrast in size and visibility between haystack and needle resonates with (and reverses) the disparity in value between the raw material and the refined metal. It is “a discrepancy between use and exchange value, symbolic and real value,” Meireles has said. “My works that use money all refer to this dichotomy between work and the artwork, between hay and gold.”

This mysterious sculpture is an extraordinary example of the artist’s ability to combine the sensorial aspect of art—in this case, the overwhelming smell of the hay—with a social or political critique, a concern that became central for him in the 1970s in response to the military dictatorship that then ruled Brazil.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Meireles creates sculptures and installations that tie everyday materials to larger political and philosophical concerns. Thread is a modular cube, a form evocative of the geometric rationality of Minimalist art, but it is constructed of a material generally associated with agriculture. A gold wire encircles the mass of hay. At one end of the wire, a single 18-carat gold needle is inserted into the cube, recalling the common expression, "Like finding a needle in a haystack." The pairing of substances with vastly different monetary values but that here are nearly indistinguishable visually suggests the precariousness of economic relationships, and the minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.

Gallery label from Contemporary Art from the Collection, June 30, 2010 - September 12, 2011.

No ordinary needle in a haystack, the 18–karat gold needle in Thread has laced 190 feet of gold thread through forty–eight bales of hay. The needle is the same width as the flaxen strands of hay and is easily lost among them. The physical boundaries and economic limits of value are at the heart of this work, in which a precious material is used to package something relatively worthless. Meireles has identified this relationship as "a discrepancy between use and exchange value, symbolic and real value. My works that use money all refer to this dichotomy between work and the artwork, between hay and gold."

Thread addresses the abstract concept of value, but as with much of Meireles's work it also engages several of the viewer's senses. Entering the installation space, visitors smell the hay—an unexpected odor in the gallery environment—and perceive the weight and volume of the bales, even as the gold needle and thread remain imperceptible. Meireles, who was born in Brazil, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. His artwork covers a broad spectrum of mediums, distinct in form yet unified by the strength, simplicity, and poignancy of his vision, wonderfully illustrated in this incisive work.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 118.
48 bales of hay, 1 18-carat gold needle, 100 meters of gold thread
Dimensions variable, approximately 7' 1" x 6' 1 1/16" x 72" (215.9 x 185.5 x 182.9 cm)
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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The artist
1997, Galerie Lelong, New York
1997, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, New York, and Caracas
2001, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

Exhibition history

São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, "Tradição e Ruptura: Síntese de Arte e Cultura Brasileiras", November 19, 1984 - January 31, 1985

São Paulo, Paço das Arte,“O Clássico no Contemporáneo”, October 27 - November 17, 1991

Valencia, IVAM Centre del Carme, “Cildo Meireles”, February 2 - April 23, 1995 and tour:
Porto, Fundaçao Serra Alves, 1996
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1996 - 1997

Mexico City, Centro Cultural/Arte Contemporáneo, “Así está la cosa: Arte Objeto e Instalaciones de América Latina”, June 2 - November 19, 1997 and tour:
Castilnovo, Fundación Cultural Hispano-Mexicana, November, 1997 - Feburary 9, 1998

Caracas, Consejo Nacional de la Cultura CONAC, “Bienal Barro de América Roberto Guevara”, May 21 - June 21, 1998 and tour:
Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo “Sofía Imber,” May 21, 1998
Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas, May 24, 1998
Caracas, Museo Alejandro Otero, May 31, 1998
Caracas, Centro de Arte de Maracaibo Lía Bermúdez June 7, 1998
São Paulo, Museo Brasileño de Escultura, June 21, 1998
São Paulo, Paço das Artes, June 21, 1998 *Note: same date as above

New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art, “Cildo Meireles”, November 18, 1999-March 5, 2000 and tour:
São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, July 13 - August 20, 2000
Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Arte Moderna de Rio de Janeiro, October 5 - December 2, 2000

São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, "Paralelos. Arte brasileira da segunda metade do século XX em contexto", March 21 - June 16, 2002 and tour:
Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, July 11 - September 22, 2002

New York, El Museo del Barrio, "MoMA at El Museo: Latin American and Caribbean Art from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art", March 4 - July 25, 2004

Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, "Cruce de Miradas Tradiciones Plásticas de América Latina en la colección CPPC", August 2 through October 22, 2006

MoMA Exh. #2123: "Contemporary Art from the Collection", 2nd Floor, Contemporary Galleries, June 30, 2010 - September 19, 2011

Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, "La invención concreta. Collección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros", January 22 - September 16, 2013


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