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Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

Works of art from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean range from ancient cultures to cutting-edge artists of today. Among the highlights are the Glassell Collection of Pre-Columbian Gold and the museum’s growing collection of modern and contemporary art by Latin American and Latino artists.

© Cildo Meireles courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York
Brazilian, born 1948
Volátil (Volatile)
Wood, ash, candle, and essence

137 13/16 x 275 9/16 x 354 5/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Diane and Bruce Halle, from the Thomarie Foundation,
in honor of Peter C. Marzio

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

One of the leaders in the international development of Conceptual Art, Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles creates politically telling, aesthetically seductive, philosophically intriguing works of art. His objects and atmospheric installations from the late 1960s onward never fail to surprise, ranging in scale from tiny to vast. Composed of everyday objects, yet accumulated in forms not previously imagined—such as the all-red living room of Red Shift or the massive tower of radios of Babel—Meireles's works first amaze and then engage the viewer.

Complete with its own walls, ceiling, and entrances, Volátil is a multisensory environment that plays with the human response to danger, real or imagined. The floor is covered with talc, and a single lit candle is displayed toward the end of the room. In removing the danger factor from the installation, Meireles decidedly takes the work into the direction of allegory, impregnating the room with the scent (t-butyl-mercaptan) normally used to signal a natural-gas leak in urban areas. According to the artist, many spectators have associated Volátil with the gas chambers of the Holocaust, whereas Meireles himself describes walking on the talc substance as like walking on clouds. These vastly disparate responses underscore the complex metaphysical nature of the work and its myriad associations that lie somewhere between the sensorial, the horrific, and the sublime.