In his first solo exhibition in the U.S. since 2004, the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles played with the physical and psychological dimensions of perception in sculptures and installations spanning more than four decades. Known for his highly sensorial large-scale installations in which viewers have been invited to tread through broken glass, talcum powder or a dense web of thick cotton threads, the artist—born in 1948 in Rio de Janeiro, where he still lives—has long explored the elastic space between the personal and the political.
Here, visitors could move around inside Amerikkka (1991/2013), consisting of two monumental rectangular fields poised in dynamic tension. On the floor, some 20,000 wooden eggs, painted white and standing on end, carpet a red base; viewers can walk on top barefoot. Overhead, a blue canopy studded with more than 31,000 golden bullets hovers at an angle. Meireles aims an implied threat at a symbol of fragility and, in the use of the three K’s in the title, evokes the Ku Klux Klan and the ongoing history of racial violence in this country. At the same time, the eggs, suggestive of potential and abundance, prove durable underfoot, while the bullets, emptied of gunpowder, are transformed into an ethereal mosaic that shifts and glints with every movement. Minimal in its overall form and maximal in its accumulation and repetition of commonplace materials, Amerikkka creates a destabilized and meditative environment embedded with dualities.
Meireles offered up other pairings on a much smaller scale for contemplation throughout the exhibition. In Aquaurum (2015), two identical drinking glasses—one filled with water, the other with gold—suggest an equivalence in value at a time of water scarcities, whether in Brazil’s most populous city of São Paulo or the golden state of California. Esfera invisível (Invisible Sphere), 2012, consists of two aluminum cubes—the smaller one flipped open to reveal a spherical hollow at the center, the larger one shut. Both ask viewers to believe in something they cannot see.
Also on view were seven works from a series called “Espaços virtuais: Cantos” (Virtual Spaces: Corners), conceived by Meireles in 1967-68, when he was first starting out, and finally realized between 2009 and 2014. Each work has two vertical wall sections, painted shades of peach, joining a small segment of wood flooring to create a domestic-looking corner. But planes do not quite meet at 90-degree angles and painted baseboards slide off walls onto floors in a series of subtle calibrations that undermine the architectural certainty of these seven nooks, which were tightly juxtaposed in one gallery at Lelong.
Emblematic of the whole show was a piece called Pares ímpares (2011/13), meaning “even odd.” Two pairs of eyeglasses rest on an acrylic shelf, the right lens of each apparently cracked. Yet from certain vantage points it becomes evident that with one pair, the crack is actually on the shelf, framed by an intact lens. In this elegant fooling of the eye, Meireles asks us to consider whether our vision is impaired and whether art can allow us to better see the fissures in the world.