Milan

Mario Merz, Chiaro oscuro/oscuro chiaro, 1983, metal structure, clamps, glass, bundles of sticks, neon, clay, cement. Installation view. Photo: Renato Ghiazza.

Mario Merz, Chiaro oscuro/oscuro chiaro, 1983, metal structure, clamps, glass, bundles of sticks, neon, clay, cement. Installation view. Photo: Renato Ghiazza.

Mario Merz

Pirelli HangarBicocca

Mario Merz, Chiaro oscuro/oscuro chiaro, 1983, metal structure, clamps, glass, bundles of sticks, neon, clay, cement. Installation view. Photo: Renato Ghiazza.

HOW DO WE RECONCILE our own desires with those of others? Mario Merz (1925–2003) persistently used his art to probe the counterpoint between individuals and society that is at the heart of modern democracy. The Italian artist’s decades-long engagement with constructions that simultaneously recall shelters and the globe is the clearest manifestation of this concern. Since last fall, more than thirty of what Merz called his “igloos” have been assembled in the cavernous industrial space of Milan’s Pirelli Hangar Bicocca. On a scale never achieved in his lifetime, this installation maps his vision of a città irreale (unreal city)—a concept he invoked in titling at least two works and one exhibition—and offers viewers a rare opportunity to grasp the delicate sociality of these impromptu structures.

Merz’s earliest igloos, dating from 1968, might accommodate a single seated

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