Mario Merz

Galleria Christian Stein | Milan

Mario Merz’s installation here consisted of two large pieces: on the wall, a sequence of three paintings in blue and black, connected to the floor by a series of neon Fibonacci numbers that could be seen through three pieces of glass; and across from the wall piece, a glass and iron table that described a curve around a column of the gallery. At the center stood three iron tubes gripped around a bottle and some neon filaments.

Usually Merz is affirmative—he charges his materials and exalts the place where he has composed his groupings. Not so here, where the atmosphere was quiet and not at all aggressive; instead of vivid exaltation, one sensed a slow, sliding movement from all directions. Merz seems to be working primarily in the arena of dream and reflection—not dream in the Freudian sense, but as a zone where certain thoughts become closed off, passing from the rational region to a circumscribed, hazy stage. Thus, the representation of a thing loses the certainty of its context and is no longer that which it is, but rather that which it could be.

The paintings, for instance, seem to depict igloos submerged in water; at the same time, they could also be large mouths. The glass table is in the form of a spiral, a form that Merz has used before. As it was placed here, it seemed like a rivulet of water that formed a bend around the column and continued to run beyond it—but it could also have been the track left by a snail, another spiral form favored by Merz. The artist’s own explanation is that the tower (formed by the iron tubes) is the lighthouse, and the table is a whirlpool of water. He alludes to Leonardo’s drawings of whirlpools, which are not mere representations, but studies on the nature of the phenomenon. Merz becomes doubly reflective, considering both the water and the way in which Leonardo studied it.

Merz made the paintings in this show two years ago at his studio in Switzerland, while he was confined to a wheelchair. The panels were spread out on his large studio table, and Merz wheeled back and forth on his chair, brandishing two brushes extended with sticks—one brush for the blue, one for the black. The result is these igloos (or perhaps clouds, or rocks?) In all these elements, one could see outlines of things in the process of being developed. Although the motifs seen here have been used repeatedly in Merz’s work, they are evolving in a new way—what direction that evolution will take remains unclear.

Jole de Sanna

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.