The exhibition on Mario and Marisa Merz under way at the MACRO in Rome (until June 12, 2016) has a title that splendidly encapsulates a partnership which was first of all intellectual, but sustained too by a strong emotional affinity: “I am with that curve of that mountain which I see reflected in this lake of glass. At Mario’s table.” Already in this sentence—“stolen” from Marisa’s personal notes and poetically associated with the names of the protagonists by Claudio Crescentini, Costantino D’Orazio and Federica Pirani, curators of the exhibition—we can find all the elements that the visitor will encounter in the show; glass, mountains, sinuous curves and, of course, Mario: elements that hold their respective works together, acting as the glue not just for Marisa delicate creations, but also for the aesthetic vigor of her husband’s.
Thus the words lend themselves to introducing the career of two of the most representative and influential Italian artists of the 20th century, making clear the premises of a dialogue that continued without a break for at least forty years.
DIALOGUE AND COMPARISON. HEADS AND SPIRALS
The exhibition opens with one of the large iron-and-glass tables designed by Mario Merz (1940-2003) from the 1970s onward and, over time, presented in interaction with his igloos and unfailing neon lights; in this new version, however, the glass seems to have been shaped to hold Marisa’s numerous small terracotta heads. And to serve as a physical counterpoint to the volatility of the installations made of copper wire that act as their backdrop.
For Mario, in effect, the table was just a way of giving form to the energy that pervades his installations. On close examination the spiral that determines its shape is the real protagonist of his work: an ideal form that almost always seems to attain completeness through the superimposition of other elements. In this case, it is Marisa’s little sculptures that unleash its energy, through a molding of the terracotta in such a way as to create profiles and convey intense expressions filled with meaning.
VOLATILE AND UNFINISHED. THE ART OF MARISA MERZ
Notwithstanding the intrusive presence of her husband’s most celebrated works—notably the large neon spiral A Mark in Caesar’s Forum (Un segno nel foro di Cesare, 2003)—the exhibition seems to spin out a delicate tale, much more in keeping with the style of Marisa’s creations and oriented toward giving her back the place she deserves in the history of Italian art. The terracotta heads, the drawings and paintings of her maturity, the geometric constructions in copper and the laborious structures knitted out of the same material reflect an attempt to approach total art, but strictly on tiptoe. It seems that each work, in fact, spurns any conclusion in order to seek refuge in a zone that leaves it open to all kinds of interpretation. Even the choice to present her creations in relation to those of her husband appears to offer new insights, new critical connections that help us go on seeing them as so many “open works.”
WITH EYES CLOSED THE EYES ARE EXTRAORDINARILY
Naturally her choice of media also reflects this attitude: wax, terracotta and very fine copper wire allowed her to postpone the final form. They are materials that it is hard to regard as finished, remaining fairly unstable and flimsy. With Eyes Closed the Eyes are Extraordinarily Open (Ad occhi chiusi gli occhi sono straordinariamente aperti) was in fact the title that Marisa chose for her solo exhibition at the Galleria dell’Attico in 1975, in confirmation of the fact that in her personal aesthetic universe it was always the inner eye that acted as the driving force of her creativity, almost indifferent to the final appearance of her works. The same can be said of the paintings, in which faces and lineaments do not trace a predefined design but, like the waxes, prefer to remain on hold.
The beautiful photographs by Claudio Abate that conclude the exhibition speak of all this and more, bringing into focus the collaboration and complicity between Mario and Marisa and their respective works and the calm poetry that characterized their long career.
Rome // until June 12, 2016
Mario and Marisa Merz
Sto in quella curva di quella montagna che vedo riflessa in questo lago di vetro. Al tavolo di Mario
curated by Claudio Crescentini, Costantino D’Orazio and Federica Pirani
MACRO (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea), Rome
Via Nizza 138 - 00198 Roma
1. Mario and Marisa Merz
Iron, glass, terracotta
750 x 780 x 100 cm
Courtesy Fondazione Merz, Turin
2. Mario Merz
A Mark in Caesar’s Forum (Un segno nel foro di Cesare), 2003
1400 x 1800 cm
Courtesy Fondazione Merz, Turin
3. Marisa Merz
30 x 22 x 22 cm
Marilena Bonomo collection
Courtesy Galleria Alessandra Bonomo, Rome
4. Claudio Abate
Mario and Marisa Merz at the Galleria Mara Coccia, Rome, 1968
60 x 50 cm
Courtesy of the artist