Marisa Merz

Marisa Merz, Untitled / Senza titolo, 1984. Collezione privata, New York. In comodato a Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. In esposizione fino a gennaio 2016. | Marisa Merz, Senza titolo / Untitled, 1984. Private collection, New York. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante. On view until January 2016.

In the mid 60s, Marisa Merz (Turin, 1926) began to explore techniques and materials, combining ceaseless experimentation with a distinctively feminine sensibility. The only woman among the leading representatives of Arte Povera, she participated with the group in various exhibitions, including Arte povera più azioni povere in Amalfi (1968), when she presented on the beach some blankets rolled up and fastened with copper wire or adhesive tape (Untitled, 1966), and works related to the childhood of her daughter Beatrice made of nylon, wool or copper, including Scarpette: (“Little Shoes”, 1966) and Bea (1968). In these works it was already evident that the use of “poor” materials was functional to tracing a personal history, allowing space for the poetic development of episodes of her own biography, where the search for new means of expression in art encountered the happenings of everyday life.

Celebrated in a major exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2015, in the same year the artist was awarded the Leone d’Oro for lifetime achievement at the 55th Venice Biennale. Never restricting herself to a single medium of expression, her research draws on a wide variety of formal solutions, ranging from drawing to sculpture, painting and installation. In particular, she recovers techniques characteristic of female crafts, such as sewing and weaving, insisting on the importance of manual skills and artistic qualities.
Since the 80s, parallel with the production of a series of small heads modeled in unbaked clay already begun in the previous decade, Marisa Merz has devoted herself to the creation of drawings and paintings in which the face, particularly the female face, is central, rendered with a rapid handling that recalls the strength and toughness of copper wire and at the same time suggests the intensity of the gaze. “Marisa Merz’s paintings and sculptures express a great disturbance of identity”, writes Tommaso Trini, emphasizing their “prefigural” or anticipatory nature, as compared to a complete and definite figuration, of a figure that has not attained stability yet.

Untitled, 1984, comes from a series of paintings, mostly self-portraits, in which the pictorial image is associated with plain, everyday objects that are synthetically symbolic (in this case a geometric form in bronze). The contamination of the painting surface with elements alien to it tells of the encroachment of the two-dimensional image on the real world, with the intention of creating a dialogue between art and life, painting and sculpture, art and the materiality of objects and the essentiality of symbols. Her archaic and stylized face rendering makes the female figure an icon that yet loses the solemnity of the sacred to acquire its own vitality, as suggested by the vitality of the eyes which, with an almost dreamy air, are turned towards the world outside the painting.
Everything that happens within the limited area of the canvas communicates with what is happening outside, in the real space of the viewer and the imaginary space evoked by the artist. The dreamlike dimension, intimacy and delicacy of gesture, the search for a convergence between the private sphere – made up of personal memories – and the public, which characterizes Marisa Merz’s whole output, were at the center of the exhibition that Madre museum devoted to the artist in 2007, retracing the full range of her research and her artistic career.