Los Angeles

Mario Merz

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

In Mario Merz’s show here, the art looked like it had been brought to the laboratory for examination under controlled conditions. The setting was so clean, so sanitized of all sense of signifying context, that it left Merz’s work looking theatrical and self-important. Arte povera’s arbitrariness reads as material poetics only in situations that exhale some—any—air of cultural history. But MOCA, once you’re inside it, seems as rootless as a space station, and Merz’s work only heightened that impression.

What this commissioned installation revealed was the tacit psychological program of the building’s interior design: to encourage the most literal reading of everything seen in it. Since there is no literal meaning to Merz’s work, since it depends on a play of associative response to materials, structures, and atmospheres, the pieces looked philosophically beached. What a difference it might

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