Mario Merz

Mario Merz, “Londra pub irlandese George V”, 1970. Collection Federica and Vittoriano Spalletti, Pescara. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Mario Merz (Milan, 1925-2003) developed his practice of art as a path through matter and energy. In his early paintings, notable for using the language of Art Informel, the artist explored the possibility of going beyond the two-dimensional surface of the canvas to move in space, making his artistic practice an instrument for investigating the forms and strength of natural processes.

The emergence from the picture took place in the mid-1960s, when Merz produced his first neon work: the light source was used to penetrate everyday objects, such as a bottle, umbrella or raincoat. The energy current owing through these elements becomes a metaphor for art. “Art is the only thing that takes you through things. It is a process of going through, not of arrival,” observed the artist. By the end of the decade Merz had embarked on the igloo series, which became a recognizable form of his poetic. Made from different materials, focusing on the combinations of organic and inorganic, natural and industrial, these primitive structures function as potentially inhabitable microcosms, archaic and primordial nuclei that connect interior and exterior. These were the years when Germano Celant coined the definition of Arte Povera, including Merz among the artists who experimented with a new approach to space-time and matter.

In 1970 the Fibonacci series appeared in Merz’s work: Londra pub irlandese George V (“London Irish Pub George V”) was one of the first examples of the adoption of the arithmetic sequence devised by the Italian mathematician who lived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Merz used it as the instrument of a measure of harmonics, in order to embody in his works the same sequence that regulates the development of natural phenomena. Each number is the sum of the previous two, in accordance with a cyclical logic that aspires to codify the vital drive to grow that exists in nature and makes it explicit. Black and white photographs, to which were linked the sequence of numbers made from neon tubes, depict the interior of a pub in London: the people who appear become organisms that follow the same mechanism that regulates the numerical proliferation of natural phenomena. Fibonacci’s theory is related to the measure of man. Through the sequence, the artist transforms the unsuspecting patrons of the pub into a multiplier of energy.

Mario Merz was a regular presence in Naples, thanks to his relationship with Lucio Amelio. In addition to exhibitions in 1978 and 1981 at his Naples gallery, Merz was the subject of a major exhibition at Villa Pignatelli in 1976, while in 1987 his work Onda d’urto (“Shockwave”) was added to the contemporary art collection at the Museo Nazionale of Capodimonte.

[Alessandra Troncone]

Londra pub irlandese George V, 1970

Currently not on view

Collection Federica and Vittoriano Spalletti, Pescara. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Londra pub irlandese George V, 1970 (detail)

Currently not on view

Collection Federica and Vittoriano Spalletti, Pescara. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.