New York

Mario Merz

MARIO MERZ presents in this show more “objects passed through by neon” but the objects now are canvas and burlap tacked on the wall with pictorial images (mostly of reptiles: a crocodile, a lizard) painted in metallic paint and charcoal. Immediately one is struck by the juxtapositions of fragile and raw materials, and of their connotations. Cool and hot at once, neon is the sign of packaged desire, whereas burlap and charcoal are rough and rejected stuffs. Though as cultural symbols, neon and burlap contrast sharply, neither is a “fine art” material.

Germano Celant describes Merz as a “nomad,” one who uses what is at hand, and who resists set property. We are reminded of the artifice of art and the contingency of things. The works seem to say that conceptual idealism can no longer provide the basis for art.

The neon lances cut through the rough burlap, the heavy paint, and make these materials phosphorescent, immaterial. The images, too—scaly, slimy things—are literally “enlightened.” These images resemble cave drawings, another odd juxtaposition: a crude image (an early form of art: the image as magic, a means to manipulate the natural world) with neon (a substance that, as light, is instantaneous and, as a sign, is modern). It is as if the Now (the neon) cuts through time to the Then (the prehistoric) and, as it cuts, unites. This is conjuring that makes you conscious, magic without mystery.

Merz’s art resists the conventional order of representations, the usual “order of things.” No logic can contend with its antitheses. In the past he used the Fibonacci series (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8,13, 21, 34 . . . ) as a way to control, but not restrain, form. Now Merz seems not even to need this. The works are left locked in contradictions of all sorts, and offer no key.

Hal Foster