Sol LeWitt and Mario Merz

Galleria Mario Pieroni

For Sol LeWitt, pictorial space is a temple, symbolic and articulated, that owes its most profound reality to the abstract or spiritual meanings for which it is a sign. Its correlation is geometry—sublime, cohesive, irrefutable. For Mario Merz, space is a refuge, the site of an archetypal sacredness that is immune to the vagaries of technique and culture. This refuge is characterized by the dissemination of signs, which coalesce into a whole only when identified by whoever finds shelter within it. Merz’s graffiti and poor materials are scattered traces that point to the incongruity and transience of experience, and of art.

The mute encounter of these opposing forces occurred in this joint installation. Each room of the gallery was divided roughly in half—two walls for LeWitt, two for Merz. They confronted each other, continually exchanging attributes, without coming to any resolution. However, this installation was not a dialectic of difference but a dialectic within difference: each of the attributes in opposition—ephemeral/eternal, concrete/abstract, human/nonhuman—changed meaning depending upon one’s point of departure into the work.

Merz’s procedure is exploratory—not a planned journey but a sequence of stops, or brief habitations, isolated within a space that is only just barely rooted in reality. The stops here included a double spiral of steel tubing that rose from the back of a rudimentary figure resting on the floor, its limbs composed of tree trunks; a section of a hut made of pieces of painted cloth and slabs of beeswax laid over a metal armature; the powerful, fragmented image of a tree sketched in graphite and beeswax, the dripped and splattered wax on the floor the residual side effects of the artist’s activity; a doorway blocked by loosely painted panels of beeswax, the late-afternoon sun rendering them a translucent yellow; and the outline of a refectory table set with pale-blue bowls, drawn on a large white sheet that was then hung on the wall above a rickety “trestle” of welded steel and logs.

In the other half of each room overlapping layers of color, mapped out by LeWitt, created expanses of geometric inlay, from which emerged the foreshortened lateral faces of eccentric pyramids, opened out and floating on the field of the gallery wall. Each face was defined by a different color, the result of layering two or more colored inks (red, yellow, blue, and gray); their bases, presumably square, remained hypothetical. The artist’s creation is the plan itself, a theory of place; nevertheless, it could only be affirmed in the open reality of the gallery’s interior. Like the frescos in the temple at Knossos, these paintings exulted in their own sublimity; although they were in fact destroyed at the exhibition’s close, they were an evocation not of transience but of continuity and permanence.

For Merz, experience is an accumulation of signs that continually refer us to something else: to the encroachment of time, to a world fraught with obstacles and irresolvable differences—a world that presupposes discontinuity. Art, then, is the practice of pausing and inhabiting.

In LeWitt’s work we witness the integration of the concrete geometry of architecture and an abstract geometric symbolism. Yet the place, the here, is held in an abstract suspension that in other times and circumstances would have been called spiritual.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Hanna Hannah.