Above a floor carpeted with 20,000 wooden eggs hangs a ceiling made up of 50,000 bullets. Amerikkka is Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles' condemnation of the justifications of violence made by the National Rifle Association in the US. Never before exhibited in Spain, it is one of 100 pieces included in a retrospective of his work at the Reina Sofía museum's Palacio de Velázquez venue in Madrid's Retiro park.
Amerikkka is a good example of Meireles' ethical and esthetic aspirations. Mixing investigation, philosophy, poetry and dazzling beauty, his drawings, paintings and installations have turned him into a leading figure in contemporary conceptual art. "They are works that have accompanied me all my life and I am really enjoying seeing how they are reborn in this beautiful space," he explains.
Other works in the exhibition, which will move on to Porto's Fundação de Serralves in October before continuing to Milan, include Abajur (2010) and Olvido (1987). The first consists of a giant lamp surrounded by marine imagery that visitors turn on themselves via a dynamo -- further proof of Meireles' interest in active forms of contemplating art. The second comprises a teepee made out of 6,000 banknotes from American countries set around thousands of ox femurs and set within a perimeter of 70,000 candles. His penchant for the concept and political critique converges in each piece, but it wasn't always like that. "At the start I was more worried about the spaces and the investigation," he remembers. "I was always committed of course. But in 1969, three hours before my first big exhibition at the Rio Museum of Modern Art, the museum was surrounded by the political police and they ordered everything to be dismantled. The internal and external reaction was immediate and my radicalization was definitive."
From then on the dictatorships that devastated Latin America in the 1970s and American imperialism remained in his sightlines. One of his most famous pieces, included in the exhibition, is devoted to the idea of colonization symbolized by Coca-Cola. Carried out in the 1970s, his Coca-Cola Project involved putting political messages such as "Yankees go home" on soda bottles, which he then returned to circulation.
Cildo Meireles. Until September 29 at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Palacio de Velázquez, Parque del Retiro s/n, Madrid. www.museoreinasofia.es