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Prototype for Viagem ao centro do céu e da terra

Prototype for Viagem ao centro do céu e da terra
Corten steel
118 1⁄8 in. (300 cm.) height
19 3⁄8 in. (49.2 cm.) width
1 7⁄8 in. (4.8 cm.) depth
Executed in 2002.
Galleria Continua, San Gimignano.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
São Paulo, Galeria Luisa Strina, Cildo Meireles: Descalas, 7 October- 14 November 2003.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 23 May-29 September 2013; Porto, Portugal, Museu de Arte Contemporâneo de Serralves, 2 November 2013-26 January 2014; Milan, Italy, HangarBicocca, 26 March-8 July 2014, Cildo Meireles, p. 180 (illustrated in color).
Further details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

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Lot Essay

“Much of my work is concerned with a discussion of the space of human life, which is so broad and vague,” Meireles once observed. “Space in its various manifestations covers psychological, social, political, physical and historical arenas. . . . I don’t think it really matters if an interaction between a utopian space and a real space is achieved or not. I think that there is an almost alchemical aspect: you are also being transformed by what you are doing” (C. Meireles, quoted in G. Mosquera, “In Conversation with Cildo Meireles,” Cildo Meireles, London, 1999, pp. 19-20). Meireles has long been preoccupied by the mapping and measuring of space, seen as early as his series Virtual Spaces: Cantos (1966-68), an exploration of Euclidean geometry. In his iconic Insertions into Ideological Circuits (1970), in which he printed banknotes and Coca-Cola bottles with dissident messages and returned them to general circulation, he probed the recursive logic of networks and the power of the (multi-)national institutions behind them. Among the generation that came of age in the early years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Meireles pioneered Conceptual art with works that explored systems feedback and phenomenological experience, often with trenchant political overtones.

For the seventh edition of Arte all’Arte in 2002, Meireles installed Viagem au centro do céu e da terra in the vegetable gardens of Siena’s Orto de’ Pecci, built in the Middle Ages. Supported by steel wires, the site-specific sculpture rises to a height of forty meters from a cistern at its base; its laddered structure is mirrored underground. A striking addition to the skyline of the medieval town, the iron sculpture visually bridges the city center—today, a tourist mecca in the heart of Tuscany—with the surrounding countryside and the local community. Managed by the social cooperative La Proposta since 1983, Orto de’ Pecci serves those who struggle with disabilities and dependence, a marginalized population that the ladder suggestively elevates and makes visible.

The Siena work is physically grounded in nature, affixed to earth and water, and yet its sheer verticality evokes an ascension above the clouds, a plausible stairway to heaven. As a ladder that seemingly disappears in the air, Viagem au centro do céu e da terra recalls the English fairy tale, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” in which magic beans, procured from the sale of a cow, sprout a gigantic beanstalk that the boy climbs, finding gold—and a villainous giant—high in the sky. Meireles has long reflected on questions of capital and moral philosophy, seen in works such as Insertions into Ideological Circuits and Mission/Missions (1987), a rebuke of Brazil’s colonial economy. The Siena ladder, which cannot be climbed, meditates as well on the nature of intellectual or spiritual development. In a way like the Old Testament story of Jacob’s Ladder, on which angels moved between human and heavenly realms, Meireles’s model may also intimate passageways of progress, grace, and revelation.

Viagem au centro do céu e da terra was originally accompanied by an exhibition at Siena’s Palazzo delle Papesse of twelve ladders made at a smaller scale. These prototypes for the Orto de’ Pecci installation were incorporated in the subsequent installation Descala (2002-03), which includes the present work: a ladder with ten, evenly spaced rungs that project horizontally outward from two central beams. A series of sixteen variations of a ladder, deconstructed and mounted, grid-like, on a wall, Descala probed the nature of movement and freedom as well as their converse, entrapment and displacement. This paradox is captured in the work’s title: “descala” is a neologism that implies “un-ladder.”

Viagem au centro do céu e da terra posits a similarly delimited un-ladder that, despite its utopian projection, is materially circumscribed by the reductive geometry of iron. The work acknowledges Donald Judd’s Minimalist stacks of identical boxes, installed at predetermined intervals equal to their height and, like Meireles’s ladder, suggestive of a series infinitely extensible in space. Although Judd resisted the symbolism and political critique that inform Meireles’s practice, the artists share a phenomenological interest in the relationship between the artwork, its viewer, and its environment. For Meireles, the situational and embodied space of Viagem au centro do ceu e da terra further encompass what he considers “a characteristic of Brazilian art,” namely “this location of an ethics in the relationship that the artist constructs between him- or herself and the audience through the work of art.” This social imperative is distilled here in the form and metaphor of the ladder, the philosophical fulcrum between heaven and earth. “By giving people a space to interact with, you also give them freedom,” Meireles once reflected. “When we give someone freedom, we get freedom ourselves” (C. Meireles, quoted in J. A. Farmer, “Through the Labyrinth: An Interview with Cildo Meireles,” Art Journal, vol. 59, no. 3, Autumn 2000, pp. 41 and 43).

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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