Red Shift: Cildo Meireles and the Definition of the Political-Conceptual

This article examines Cildo Meireles’s refusal to describe Red Shift, his 1984 installation, as conceptual, political art. I use his rejection of these terms to reconsider conventional categories of the political in Latin American conceptualism as these have been historicized in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I argue that the artist builds his notions of conceptual and political art based on socio-artistic theories propagated in the short-lived but highly influential publication, Malasartes. This groundbreaking magazine, founded by Meireles and eight others in 1975, published texts crucial to Brazilian art history and translated international articles. These shaped the theoretical ideas that would inform the Brazilian art scene in the 1970s. Revisiting theses debates permits a deeper understanding of Meireles’s view of art and politics. Revealing, in particular, the manner in which this generation of artists criticized the incipient art market in Brazil, then seen as synonymous with the larger art system. Proposing a differentiated art history, offering an autochthonous point of view, Malasartes’s editors challenged the traditional view of the artwork as an isolated, commodified object, inserted in larger art movements through the stultifying imposition of stylistic categories on the artist. This critique of the art market helps to explain Meireles’s stance on rejecting identification as a conceptual and political artist, despite the fact that his opus can be seen as both political and conceptual.

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