‘I like dealing with paradigmatic things’, Cildo Meireles has said, ‘material things that are recognized by the public in their everyday lives, things that are at the same time matter and symbol. Money, for example.’ From the blatant exhibition, on a pedestal, of a wad of banknotes secured with rubber bands, Money Tree 1969, to the gold thread and gold nails inserted, respectively, into a great mass of straw in Fio (Thread) 1990–5 and plain wooden crates in Ouro e Paus (Gold and Wood) 1982–95, the conundrums of value have continued to fascinate Meireles. Money Tree ‘points towards the problem of the value of the art object and the discrepancy between use-value and exchange-value’. It consists of 100 one-Cruzeiro notes and was offered for sale for twenty times that amount. One wonders what it would fetch today; in inﬂationary Brazil at the time it was made, Meireles joked, money was the cheapest material. Much later, for Occasion 2004, the artist contrived a scenario in which the public would be faced by money in the most direct way. This ensured that our attention would be drawn away from speculative thoughts about the art object, and back to ourselves. We encountered a small, elegant, open receptacle containing new banknotes in the centre of a brightly lit room lined with three big mirrors on three of the walls,producing endless recession images. One of the mirrors was two-way. Viewers reacted in various different ways to the presence of the naked cash, and then, leaving the room and looking back through the two-way mirror, saw other people where they themselves had been a moment before, becoming voyeurs. As a last clandestine ﬂing, Meireles became an ironic counterfeiter, printing a large number of bills – Zero Cruzeiro 1974 and Zero Dollar 1978– the latter with the help of the designer/engraver João Bosco Renaud. Reducing ofﬁcial value to zero, the subversive Cruzeiro notes are embellished with the portraits, not of some illustrious ﬁgure of the Brazilian pantheon, but of two individuals effectively excluded fromBrazilian society, whose civil rights are minimal: a Kraô Indian on one face and the inmate of a mental asylum on the other (Meireles knew both these men).
Cildo Meireles: On the nature of things by Guy Brett and Vicente Todolí. Click to read more