Mario Merz

Galleria Civica di Trento

Mario Merz likes to take up a lot of room. In this show the antique vaulted spaces of the museum were filled with igloos, iron-and-glass tables, representations of Fibonacci series, bundles of wood, heaps of newspapers; on the building’s facade a crocodile dragged along another numerical series made out of Merz’s signature neon tubes.

The tendency to fill up space, which is always present in Merz’s work, has been more noticeable ever since the artist began drawing from a repertoire of ideas based on the notion of transforming space. This conceptual basis of his work has been given visual form in numerous ways in recent years. Each new exhibition of his work constitutes a variation on a given theme, or rather on several themes. This practice not only presents his work as a “work in progress” but also reflects his obsession with the “spiral” as a figure for art and the creative process. Like the figure of the spiral—or the Fibonacci series, which when translated into an image makes a spiral—Merz’s work also has a beginning but no end.

If it is true that people’s destinies are hidden in their names, how can one fail to think of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, 1926–32, that monumental, conceptually endless construction made entirely of abandoned things the artist reclaimed. The Dadaist word “merz,” one with no particular meaning, becomes synonymous with a project that is always in the process of construction, spiraling but leading nowhere. In other words, the artist, whether he embodies the spirit of Schwitters’ “Merz” or simply responds to his own creative impulses, is a continuous builder. He wants every idea (in this case the word idea is closer in meaning to intuition than to concept) to become a visible form, even if this means numbers written in neon. Looking at Merz’s work it is impossible not to think of the sheer amount of labor involved in filling the metal frames of igloos, in positioning piles of newspapers, or in stacking bundles of sticks. If every idea has a form, every form can be realized through a number of materials. The igloos are the most obvious example; the concepts of inside/outside, concave/convex, and earth/sky have been expressed over the course of time with the most disparate materials. It is as if Merz were stating that he wants to express the idea through the material, and that making the idea visible establishes not so much its existence as its validity.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.