Marisa Merz

Marisa Merz’s solo exhibition was marked by upheaval and courage. In a painting on three sheets of paper (all works Untitled, 2004), broad, improvised black marks alternate with red areas surrounding a central figure, painted in liquid gold, on which the drawing of a heart is visible. One spontaneously thinks of the golden tie between Mario and Marisa Merz. It takes courage to show one’s mourning. In this painting and throughout the show, Merz covers up absence with the incandescence of gold—the color that represents metaphysical transfiguration. But, in Heidegger’s words, commemorating is an occasion for thinking. The gold with which Merz’s figures are formed brings to mind alchemical transmutation and thus the need to get in touch with higher levels of consciousness.

To recognize a moment of grace means distancing oneself from habitual perception; only then can there appear the breath of light that condenses in a face. This is what happens in another painting on paper: The air that envelops this face is underscored by a pair of paper hands, clasped as in a gesture of prayer, which projects out from the surface. The composition places us at an emotional distance. There is a strong sense of disquiet in the recognition that such perfection also holds a sense of loss, because in a world overwhelmed by aggression of every kind, it is difficult to decant the gold of existence, as Merz’s figures courageously indicate.

In another painting, also on paper, where the hue is so soft it seems transparent, Merz draws a golden figure holding a violin, while to the side, dark wedge shapes seem to translate the vibration of the sound. This piece set up a dialogue with one on the opposite wall, where dense gold invades the entire surface of the paper. Here the light is strong and radiant, and the figure is veiled by copper threads that delineate a stringed musical instrument. These paintings rest on plywood slabs that, on the one hand, refer to the predellas of quattrocento paintings, and on the other, to the materials of arte povera, a movement in which the artist was a leading figure.

The violin, the copper thread, and the face are recurrent elements in Merz’s work. Many of the paintings interact with objects, such as the planks of wood that become a kind of pedestal for some of the paintings, or a tree trunk that supports, as a base, a head of colored clay whose features are highlighted in gold. Everything works together to lend cohesion to a figure that nonetheless remains suspended, as if it were on the verge of transmutation. The uneasiness of change alternates with calm, resulting in a sign of absence that refers not to privation but to the interval in which what is not yet visible intimates its presence.

Merz’s works resonate beyond the confines of the exhibition space, for they highlight a perception that precedes the determination of mental structures, that involves the formation of thought in all its dimensions: rational, poetic, religious, biological, and emotional.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.