Mario Merz


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Italian painter and sculptor, born in Milan. His father was an engineer and inventor. In 1945 he was imprisoned for political activities on behalf of the anti-Fascist group Giustizi e Libertà. In spite of his political leanings towards the Communist party, he did not follow the Socialist Realist line and during the 1950s he worked as an abstract painter. In the 1960s he became associated with the Arte Povera movement sponsored by the critic Germano Celant. In an obituary of the artist Celant recalled his first visit to his studio in 1966, seeing the triangular structures made of fabric and woven bamboo. At the same time, Merz began incorporating neon light into his work. This was bent into the form of handwritten lettering, creating an indeterminate effect quite unlike the Pop art brashness usually associated with it. The tubes tend to destroy the solidity of the objects they pass through or alternatively pierce through an atmosphere, as in Città Irreale (1968, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), which quotes T. S. Eliot in its invocation of a smog-bound metropolis. Che Fare? (1968, Musée Départmental d'Art Ancien et Contemporain, Épinal) echoes the revolutionary mood of its time by citing Lenin in blue neon in a metal bowl. Like other Arte Povera artists, Merz was concerned with the linking of natural and cultural processes as a critique of contemporary industrialism and capitalism. Some sculptures took the form of the igloo. These were constructed out of glass plates or packed with sand bags. The Igloo di Giap (1968, Pompidou Centre, Paris) refers to the guerrilla tactics of the Vietnamese general who had humiliated the French in 1954. Merz also made use of the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. This is both an open-ended series and one which suggests an underlying order behind natural forms, especially the spiral.

Further Reading

G. Celant, ‘Spheres of Influence’, Artforum International (January 2004)R. Smith, obituary, New York Times (13 November 2003)

Subjects: Art.

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