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)
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.