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Instant Puzzles . Cildo Meireles

Cildo Meireles 


Cildo Meireles is an internationally-renowned Brazilian sculptor and painter who creates objects and installations that immerse the observer directly into a complete sensorial experience. Much of his work plumbs such themes as the military dictatorship in Brazil and the country’s dependence on the global economy. 

The Exhibition

Instant enigmas, produced in 2018 by Escritório de Arte Paulo Kuczynski, exhibited previously unseen work by Cildo Meireles, an icon of contemporary Brazilian art, alongside other pieces from the 1970s and 80s, all true to his characteristic blend of the political and the jocular. The catalogue text  was by the critic Paulo Venâncio Filho and the exhibition design by the architect Pedro Mendes da Rocha.

Instantaneous Enigmas

Paulo Venâncio Filho


In the work of Cildo Meireles, objects, like his installations, consti- tute a special typology. They were always part of his artistic prac- tice, though very often eclipsed by the large-scale installations. Even so, the objects have their own dimension, on a par with the installations, of which they are generally summaries, soft cores, compact reductions. Historically, the object has been negatively construed—neither sculpture nor painting. However, this initial and sidelining characterization does not take the trouble to define the object for what it is, only for what it is not. With the object there arises a new and specific entity, heteroclitic, polymorphic, hetero- geneous. It has become a category in its own right, albeit one that admits of only brittle definition, constantly changing across time and space, from artist to artist, from whom it demands no special skill or training. It can easily be mistaken for any old thing—having no place of its own, just about anywhere will do. This is the territory in which Cildo’s objects operate.  Objects are not fussy about materiality. No manner of material is scorned; all are welcome, possible and plausible. In general, ob- jects are small in size, though they act upon and modify the space they occupy. Left on the floor, stuck to the wall, placed on a table or a pedestal, hung from the ceiling, they don’t really care. They are also products, and so frequently merge into the universe of prod- ucts, even if they are not readymades. In their origin, they are ob- jects of desire: in principle, an object is something to be had, like any other product. As such, they aim to infiltrate the private, sub- jective sphere of the viewer through the closest possible proximity, both visual and tactile. Unitary or composed of parts, the object is an entity in and of itself. Belonging as it does to the ambit of things familiar, useful, ready to hand, the dimension the object acquires is more than just concrete and spatial, as the space it constructs is physical and imaginary, strange and indefinite. It signals a new form of consumption, a still utopian appropriation of things, possibly extendable to all objects, under the auspices of a gratuitous and general belonging. The object opens up to all possibilities, including self-annulment and opposi- tion— Anulação por adição ou oposição (Annulment by Addition or Oppo- sition) is the title of one of Cildo’s objects. It may, indeed, annul itself comically through deformation, as in Rodos (Squeegees).

If the spatiality of Cildo’s large installations envelopes us in its sensorial impact, his objects require extreme concentration, as if stuck before an enigma that, if left unresolved, will bar our prog- ress. More than that: we are imprisoned by their latent will to free up some novel, unknown, surprising possibility. It is then that we see that Cildo’s thinking unfolds through and with these objects. He wants to reason with things, with the concrete, everyday, close-to- hand world. He wants to observe it, balk at it, contemplate it into uncanniness. In so doing, bland objects become remarkable, odd, misshapen and displaced. Mutable, deformable, shapeshifting, they wrap themselves in situations, known and unknown relations, all at once. Drawings, for example, can metabolize into object by an ironic stutter of homonyms—Pastel de pastéis (Pastel Pastel).  In Value impaired—bills gathered on the ceiling, coins pooled on the floor—a constant leitmotif carries over from countless oth- er works. Nothing is more recurrent in Cildo’s art than bank notes. It’s a sort of type-object in his work, ever-present throughout, as in the now-classic Zero cruzeiro. If the artwork is an asset, then every artwork is, allegorically, currency, potential legal tender. Conflating the work and the bill is to place one inside the other, make art “dis- appear” into cash.  The object is, therefore, a sort of instantaneous enigma, a quick-fire schema built out of humdrum things, as in Razão e loucu- ra (Reason and Madness)—a bamboo bow, chain, lock and key—an epigrammatical, economical formulation. While the object certainly contains a dose of insanity, it is wrought of the most precise ratio- nality. In other words, make no mistake: it’s Reason and Madness, not Reason or Madness.  Having this infinite variety of objects at his disposal is like hav- ing the world as a set of categories to which the object submits: hu- mor, irony, allegory, critique. The object is the site of innumerable combinatory operations. It comes from a long and illustrious tra- dition that began with Duchamp, among others, and morphed its way through surrealism, constructivism, the non-object, the spe- cial-object, among others. Cildo’s object is a possible combination of exlusionary elements. And yet that is all it is, an object, simple as that, with no trace of any other reality, idea or concept. It is founded in the here and now, and radically so.

What these objects reveal is an intense imaginative charge and a precise conceptual limit. We might call them “parascientific”, imaginatively laden and precise in their formulation. They never go beyond the strictly necessary, the poetic of the work is rigorously

“controlled”. Cildo’s attention roams about, anti-Duchampsianly; encountering here and there something that catches its attention, but the object never disconnects from, or dissolves in, an idea.  And, out of the existing objects, others will be proposed, beyond those that are already there, in the world. It’s the object that does the “proposing”: the wand-like rods in Desaparecimentos (Disap- pearances) suggest an act of magic—which, symbolically, has the power to make things appear and disappear. Naturally, the handker- chief could “vanish” from the cane and reveal the “secret” of the trick. The sequence of disappearance (and reappearance) is cine- matographic, exposed in each of its frames-per-second: beginning, middle, end and back again; the awakening of the object from its inert condition.


Cildo’s objects, generally commonplace, workaday things of no apparent value, approach the readymade and threaten tangency, only to veer away, leaving it behind, caught up in their slipstream. One might say they propose to “disappear with” the readymade. When the end of the age of the object, the usual broker between subject and world, finally draws near, these works will remain as testaments to the imaginative potential—increasingly muted in our day—of the things that lie in our midst, near to hand.



Texto Cildo
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