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.

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Cildo Meireles, Brazilian, born 1948
Wood, talcum powder, candle, and sulfuric aroma
Overall: 137 13/16 × 275 9/16 × 354 5/16 in. (350 × 700 × 900 cm)
Credit Line

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

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number
Installation Art

The artist; [Gallerie Lelong, New York, 2006]; Bruce Halle and Diane Halle, Scottsdale, Arizona; donated to MFAH, 2010.