New York

Mario Merz

John Weber Gallery

For several years Mario Merz has used the Fibonacci mathematical progression in his art. The work is fairly opaque without a general understanding of the progression, which involves adding a certain unit to its predecessor in order to derive its successor. Since nothing precedes the first unit, it is added to zero and the second unit is therefore equal to the first; the third is the sum of the first two, the fourth the sum of the second and third, and so on. Merz begins with 1 and so the progressions goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. This is as far as he takes it for this exhibition. (For the last Guggenheim International, he spiraled it all the way up the interior in neon numbers to 1597.) The sum of the progression up to 34 is 88 and the exhibition is announced with the statement: “It is as possible to have a space with tables for 88 people as it is possible to have space with tables for no one.” The progression occurs repeatedly and mysteriously in nature, in such things as the birth rate of rabbits, the numbers of petals on flowers, etc. This fact is, of course, basic to Merz’ choice and to the content of his work.

For this particular exhibition, Merz constructed tables in different sizes to accommodate 88 people grouped accord-ing to the Fibonacci progression. The tables are all 13” high with a neon number on one corner of each indicating the number of people it should seat. The tables don’t come in sizes tailored exactly to the progression, particularly since the measurement that matters is the outer perimeter, where people sit. Merz has decided that two feet of table edge will accommodate one person. The first four tables, for the groups of 1, 1, 2, and 3 people respectively, are all the same size, two feet square (and would actually seat 4 each). The group of 5 must settle for a table for 6, 8 for 8, 13 for 14, 21 for 22, and 34 for 34. The numbers themselves, as well as the absent people they represent remain quite exact, and, ironically, equally abstract, suggesting that numbers and people are more intrinsic to the general state of things than tables. The congruity of the numbers and people remains constant; their relationship to the perimeter (number of places) of each table is somewhat inconstant, as I have indicated. But the relationship of the numbers and people to the areas of the tables becomes increasingly distorted and finally gets completely out of hand. This can all be explained by pointing out that the amount of unused space at a 6-place table occupied by 5 people is vastly less than the amount at a 22-place table occupied by 21 people or a 34-place table occupied by 34 people (which is actually “full” in terms of people). The size of the tables spirals upward; the population density at their edges remains constant while their interiors become increasingly deserted. What began as an amusingly appropriate method of seating people becomes hilarious as the table size out-progresses the progression. The table through its geometric nature subverts the natural sequence, but also remains its most visible and obtrusive ramification. I liked the look of the piece; the tables were low which kept them somewhat hypothetical, and also made their top areas quite visible; they did not fill space as much as they raised and divided the plane of the floor.

The complexity and humor of Merz’ work is interesting. It attempts to combine human content and mathematics with a definite spatial situation, making it simultaneously abstract and anthropomorphic.

Roberta Smith