Mario Merz review by Zainab Djavanroodi
Displaying work from 1966 to 1977 this is Mario Merz’s (1925-2003) first solo exhibition in the UK since 1983, and Lisa Le Feuvre’s first major curated show at the Henry Moore Institute since joining as Head of Sculpture Studies.
The exhibition’s title derives from the first work in the show, ‘Che fare’’ (What is to be done’ After 1967). This work consists of hand written neon lettering mounted on the wall, with the phrase appearing again in a second piece - an aluminium pot of apparently melting wax from 1968 - 73. These hand written signs contrast with the mechanical typeface of ‘Sciopero generale azione politica relativa proclamata relativamente all’arte’ (General strike political action relative proclaimed relatively to art, 1970) where ‘relativa’ and ‘relativamente all’arte’ appear in red as opposed to neutral blue neon, giving a sense of urgency or emergency. As part of the loose collective of artists in the tumultuous 1960s called ‘Arte Povera,’ Merz’s preoccupation with integrating art and life is obvious here. By using natural, industrial or domestic material such as neon tubing and wine bottles in his sculptures, Merz removed the functionality of everyday objects or materials. This is perhaps best demonstrated by ‘Objet cache-toi’ (Object hide yourself, 1968), a dome of wood-wool sacks with neon lettering snaking around the top. As the title suggests, Merz is here instructing the materials used to hide themselves, concealing their everyday use. Similarly, in ‘Cono’ (Cone, c.1967) a life size willow cone lacks any of its original functionality. Violating objects by piercing neon tubing through them, Merz further transformed the commonplace and used these materials as protagonists. Undoubtedly, the centrepiece of this exhibition is ‘Automobile trapassata dal neon’ (Automobile pierced by neon, 1969/1982), a dirty Simca 1000 punctured through the window by a long neon tube. The car is stabbed by the tubing whose mechanism is obviously revealed, trying to revive the lifeless automobile.
Other works on display reveal Merz’s preoccupation with the Fibonacci sequence. ‘Igloo Fibonacci (Fibonacci unit)’ (Fibonacci igloo (Fibonacci unit), 1970) and ‘Fibonacci spirale’ (Fibonacci spiral, 1970), show that while practical, mathematics can also be aesthetically beautiful; an idea that complements Merz’s own will to free objects, or numbers, from their more pragmatic functions.
Leaning pieces such as ‘Torciglione’ (Helicoil, 1969) that use the gallery’s structure to prop themselves up, and neon tubing that brings inert objects to life, all lend the exhibition a certain insistence, balanced by the harmony of the blue hues that permeate the exhibition space. Like the exhibition rooms themselves, all the materials were inert until used; whether pierced, propped or hidden, their productive ability is revealed. Throughout the exhibition, Merz’s insistence on the materiality of the object is sympathetically shown.