Cildo Meireles Portrait

Cildo Meireles

Brazil 1948

Installation, Sculpture, Conceptual Art

Cildo Meireles
Cildo Meireles
April 4, 2016

Cildo Meireles is a Brazilian conceptual and installation artist who was one of the pioneers when it comes to showing resistance to political regime in Brazil. His work is quite diverse, ranging from large installations and walkable labyrinths to fake banknotes and Coca Cola bottles with subversive messages. Meireles wants his audience to experience and understand his art through direct interaction and this is one of the reasons why installation became his favorite means of self-expression. Also, his art is entirely conceptual, because the artist’s ideas take a strong precedence over common aesthetic values.

Cildo Meireles - Fontes (detail), 1992 - image via tate use terms privacy
Cildo Meireles – Fontes (detail), 1992 – image via

Brazilian Countryside

Meireles was born in the late 40s and showed a strong interest and passion when it comes to visual arts, especially drawing, sculpture and even animation. Meireles’ father, who worked for the Indian Protection Service in Brazil, was glad to support his son’s creativity. Meireles believes that growing up in the Brazilian countryside, which is quite poor and dangerous, had a strong impact on his artistic tendencies. He was often wondering about the destiny of beggars he was meeting on the streets of Brazil every day. Meireles was curious about what they eat and where they sleep and wanted to investigate their lifestyle, which was an unusual interest for a young boy. Meireles claims that this interest in poverty and social injustice and willingness to provide help to those who really need it was the most important path he decided to follow in his life. Also, while he was growing up in rural Brazil, Meireles became aware of the lifestyle and culture of the Tupi people, who are the most important indigenous peoples in Brazil, and later on included in his projects the idea of their marginalization in the Brazilian society.

Meireles started to study fine arts in 1963 at the District Federal Cultural Foundation in Brasilia. In the late 1960s he discovered the Neo-Concrete movement which was becoming popular in Brazil and felt that he has a lot in common with Neo–Concrete artists, who are typical for their strategy of blurring the line between fabricated and real life and using their style as a straightforward and bold response to the ongoing political affairs. Meireles happened to participate in the political demonstrations taking place in Brazil in the mid-60s and he considered them his own political awakening. The artist moved from the countryside to Rio de Janerio in 1967, where he continued to study at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes.

Meireles’ approach is blurring the line between fabricated and real life

Cildo Meireles - Through, 1989 - image via tate modern use contact press media support
Cildo Meireles – Through, 1989 – image via

Subversive Political Messages

Until 1968, Meireles’ primary means of self-expression was expressionistic drawing. However, in the 70s, he completely abandoned this style and became interested in constructing various things, which was the very beginning of his career in installation. Meireles was very curious about the concept of the impermanence as well as the installation objects that exist only through the interaction with the audience. For example, his earliest experimental piece called Virtual Spaces aimed to show to the audience how objects are defined by three different planes (length, height and width) in human perception. In the 60s, Meireles’ interest in politics was as strong as his interest in art and his plan was to find some clever approach and make artworks which are subversive but delicate and never aggressive. Dadaism was one of his main sources of inspiration, because of its irony and tongue-in-cheek approach.

Meireles’ work can be divided into 5 series, each of them relying on the different concept and different objects. His earliest series, Red Shift (1967-84), consists of three rooms painted in red and the concept behind them relates to the scientific term called chromatic aberration, which Meireles used as a synonym for deviations of the society and politics. His second series, called Southern Cross, is a collection of small sculptures, dedicated to the Tupi people. The sculptures are tiny cubes made of pine and oak three, which are considered sacred trees of the Tupi people. Meireles’ third and most famous series, called Insertions Into Ideological Circuits (1970-76) is the most political among the artist’s works and it’s goal, which is already explained by the title itself , is to insert counter-information or different, revolutionary thought into a huge system of information or products. Large American corporations such as Coca-Cola were Meireles’ main target. His last two series, called Through (1983-89) and Babel (2001), are featuring equally interesting concepts. Through is an elaborate labyrinth built for experiencing an awkward tension between various visual and audio inputs, while Babel relates to the mythical tower of Babel and the idea of unity in spite of the obvious language barriers.

Meireles’ Babel relates to the mythical tower of Babel and the idea of unity in spite of differences

Cildo Meireles - Babel, 2001 - image via terms privacy search exhibition
Cildo Meireles – Babel, 2001 – image via

Insertions into Ideological Circuits

Meireles created his most famous series, called Insertions Into Ideological Circuits, in the 70s, around the time when Brazil was experiencing the most oppressive political period. Insertions were Meireles’ response to the current political situation and his rebellion towards the censorship that was enforced at that time. This series consists of two parts, called Coca Cola project, and the Banknote project. The artist had very clear ideas about the principles he wanted to incorporate into these two projects – and it was to disrupt the already existing system of circulated information by inserting a piece of ideologically different or revolutionary information. This was achieved by printing messages onto various well-known goods such as Coca-Cola bottles and American banknotes.

Meireles wanted to make people aware of their role in the capitalist and consumerist society through the use of anti-imperialist propaganda. For example, Meireles made a large Zero Dollar tag for his replica banknotes and coins and he modified American bottles by printing subversive messages such as Yankees Go Home. In the 1970s in Brazil, Cola-Cola was a symbol of the US consumerism and the perfect target for Meireles’ ideas. The artist commented on his project: The Insertions into Ideological Circuits arose out of the need to create a system for the circulation and exchange of information that did not depend on any kind of centralized control. This would be a form of language, a system essentially opposed to the media of press, radio and television.

Project Insertions has the goal to disrupt the already existing system of circulated information.

Cildo Meireles - Insertions into Ideological Circuits (Coca Cola Project), 1970 - photo credit © Cildo Meireles tate modern use contact terms press privacy search exhibition
Cildo Meireles – Insertions into Ideological Circuits (Coca Cola Project), 1970 – photo credit © Cildo Meireles

International Importance

Meireles became widely renown for his controversial work which is exploring a wide array of issues which aren’t only political. He is a versatile and extremely prolific artist who had countless exhibitions worldwide and won many awards for his ingenious work. The first presentation of the artist’s entire body of work opened at Tate Modern in 2008 and he was the first Brazilian artist that was given such significant retrospective by Tate Modern. Also in 2008, he won the Velazquez Plastic Arts Award of the Ministry of Culture of Spain. The great impact and value of Meireles’ work lie in his enormous efforts to interact with his audience and deliver his messages in innovative , insightful and above all meaningful ways.

Cildo Meireles lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.

Featured image: Cildo Meireles’ portrait – image via
All images used for illustrative purpose only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Cildo Meireles Galerie Lelong, New York, New York Solo
2015Resistance Performed – Aesthetic Strategies under Repressive Systems in Latin AmericaMigros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, SwitzerlandGroup
2015Remember LidiceEdition Block, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2015Cildo Meireles & Various ArtistsGalleria Continua, San Gimignano, ItalyGroup
2015EncruzilhadaParque Lage, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilGroup
2015International PopWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2015Made in BrasilCasa Daros, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilGroup
2015From the Object to the World, Inhotim Collection, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo, BrazilGroup
2015Imagine BrazilInstituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2015Possibilities of the Object: Experiments in Modern and Contemporary Brazilian ArtThe Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, United KingdomGroup
2014Eu represento os artistasGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2014Que coisa é? uma conversa / a conversationPivô, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2014A pegada PopGaleria Carbono, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2014Pling PlingGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
2014Like a needle in a haystackKunsthal 44, Askeby, DenmarkSolo
2013Cildo MeirelesPalacio de Velázquez, Parque del Retiro, Madrid, SpainSolo
2013O abrigo e o terrenoMuseu de arte do Rio (MAR), Rio de Janeiro, BrazilGroup
2013From Death to Death and Other Small Tales Simon Lee Gallery, London, United KingdomGroup
2013Suspicious MindsVermelho, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2013Secret CodesGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2012Extra LargeGrimaldi Forum, MonacoGroup
2012Performing AbstractionLuciana Brito Galeria, Sao Paulo, BrazilGroup
2012Pop, Realisms and PoliticsFundación Proa, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaGroup
2011Cildo Meireles: Rio OIR10th Edition of Projecto Ocupação, Itaú Cultural Center, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
2011Cildo MeirelesGalería Kurimanzutto, San Miguel Chapultepec, MéxicoGroup
2011Cildo MeirelesAthena Galería de Arte, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilGroup
2011Distant Star / Estrella Distante, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2010GlovetrotterGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
2010Amazonia, A ArteMuseu Vale, Vila Velha, Espirito Santo, BrazilGroup
2010On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth CenturyMuseum of Modern Art, New York, New YorkGroup
2010Contemporary Art from the CollectionMuseum of Modern Art, New York, New YorkGroup
2009Los ImpoliticosPalazzo delle Arti Napoli, Naples, ItalyGroup
2009Grito e Escuta7th Mercosul Biennial, Porto Alegre, BrazilGroup
2008Cildo MeirelesTate Modern, London, United KingdomSolo
2008When Lives Become Form – Contemporary Brazilian ArtMuseum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2008Trazos Humanos [Human Traces]University Gallery, University of Essex, Colchester, Essex, United KingdomGroup
2007New Perspectives in Latin American ArtMuseum of Modern Art, New York, New YorkGroup
2007Face to FaceThe Daros Collections, Zurich, SwitzerlandGroup
2006Cildo MeirelesBabel, Museu Vale do Rio Doce, Vila Velha, BrazilSolo
2006The Disappeared (Los Desaparecidos)North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand ForksGroup
2006Cildo MeirelesContrabando, Galeria Luisa Strina, Sao Paulo, BrazilGroup
2005Algum Desenho [1963-2005]Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSolo
2005Collection Fundacion ‘la Caixa’Fundacion la Caixa, Barcelona, SpainGroup
2005Open Systems: Rethinking ArtTate Modern, London, EnglandGroup
2004Descala and StrictuGalerie Lelong, New York, New YorkSolo
2004OccasionPortikus im Leinwandhaus, Frankfurt, GermanySolo
2004Beyond Geometry: ExperimentsLos Angeles County Museum of ArtGroup
2004Inverted UtopiasMuseum of Fine Arts, Houston, TexasGroup
2003Cildo MeirelesMiami Art Museum, Miami, FloridaSolo
2003Cildo MeirelesMusée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, FranceSolo
2003Cildo Meireles50 Biennale di Venizia, Venice, ItalyGroup
2003A Nova GeometriaGaleria Fortes Vilaca, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2002Cildo MeirelesAquisicões essenciaisSolo
2002Arte All’ Arte 10Arte Architettura Paesaggio, Associazione Arte Continua, Siena, ItalyGroup
2002Fluxus and the FolgenStrojectburo Stadtmuseum, Wiesbaden, GermanyGroup
2001Arte Futura e CompanhiaBrasilia, BrazilSolo
2001Geografia do BrasilMuseu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães, Recife, BrazilSolo
2001Ars 01 – Unfolding PerspectivesKiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, FinlandGroup
2001The Public Garden – The Enclosure and the Disclosure of the Public GardenWitte de With, Rotterdam, HollandGroup
2000Cildo MeirelesGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
2000Cildo MeirelesItau Cultural, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
2000Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties ExperimentNational Gallery of Prague, Prague, Czech RepublicGroup
2000Mostra do RedescobrimentoSão Paulo, BrazilGroup
1999Cildo MeirelesStudio K, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
1999Circa 1968Fundacao de Serralves, Porto, PortugalGroup
1998CamelôGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
1997Cildo MeirelesAtelier Finep, Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSolo
19972nd Johannesburg Biennale – Trade RoutesJohannesburg, South AfricaGroup
1995Cildo MeirelesInstituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Centro del Carme, Valencia, SpainSolo
1995Art From Brazil in New YorkGalerie Lelong, New York, New YorkGroup
1994Volatile and EntrevendoCapp Street Project, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1993Body to Earth – Three Artists from BrazilFischer Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1992Metros IGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
1990Cildo Meireles: Missão/Missões How to Build Cathedrals & Cinza, Institute of Contemporary Solo
1990Cildo MeirelesCasino Fantasma, Casino Municipal, VeniceGroup
1986CinzaGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
198612 years of Trabalho JuntosGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
1984Desvio para o vermelhoMuseu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSolo
1984Private Symbols: Social MetaphorSydney Biennale, Art Gallery of New South WalesGroup
1982From Modern Art to Contemporary ArtGulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, PortugalGroup
1981Cildo MeirelesGaleria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
1978Cildo Meireles DrawingsPinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo, BrazilSolo
1975Blindhotland/Ghetto: Virtual Spaces: CornersGaleria Luiz Buarque de Hollanda e Paulo Bittencourt, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSolo
1975Novas TendenciasPaco das Artes, São Paulo, BrazilGroup