This exhibition is the first major retrospective in the United States of the Italian painter, sculptor, and installation artist Marisa Merz (born Turin, Italy, 1926). Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space will bring together five decades of work to explore Merz’s prodigious talent and influence. The exhibition will feature her early experiments with nontraditional art materials and processes, her mid-career installations that balance intimacy with impressive scale, and the enigmatic portrait heads she created after 1975.
Merz gained international prominence as part of the circle of artists associated with Arte Povera in the 1960s. An avant-garde movement that rejected Italy’s postwar material wealth in favor of “poor” materials, Arte Povera was identified with the radicalism of the student movement but proclaimed no stylistic or ideological credo except the negation of existing codes and art world limitations. As the sole female protagonist of the movement and one of the few Italian women at the time to present her work in major international venues, she showed a practice that was inflected by gender and cultural differences. Merz’s challenging and evocative body of work was deeply personal and decidedly anti-careerist. Its consequence and scope also exceeded its occasionally diminutive scale. Ultimately, Merz’s work was as much a response to her own experience as it was to the art of her contemporaries, and her pioneering practice exists in the interstices between art and life that has become so central to contemporary art making.
Merz’s oeuvre, distinguished by incredible range and uncompromising consistency, often crystallizes the ephemeral and breaks down barriers between public and private space. Her early works started as an expansion of her domesticity, including the group of works in Untitled (Living Sculptures), soft yet sharp-edged tangles of sheet metal that first hung from the ceiling of her kitchen in the mid-1960s, and the group of delicate but powerful objects Merz made from nontraditional materials such as copper wire and knitting needles. In the mid-1970s, the artist began sculpting a series of small heads. Roughly modeled in unfired clay, sometimes coated with luminous pigments or gilding, and encased in wax, these Teste [Heads] have become emblematic of the artist and her more recent work. They also anticipate the return to figuration that was central to Italian art of the 1980s. Though seemingly a departure from the abstract nature of her early work, her Teste and the related, jewel-like portraits on paper demonstrate Merz’s lasting engagement with the possibilities of line as well as the indexical trace of the artist.
Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the exhibition catalog, Marisa Merz, offers the chance to appreciate the full range of works by Marisa Merz, winner of the 2013 Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at the Venice Biennale. This volume traces Merz’s artistic evolution from early experiments with non-traditional materials and processes, to intricately constructed installations of the 1970s and the enigmatic ceramic heads of the 1980s and ’90s. Authoritative essays explore the rise of international women’s art in the 1960s and ’70s and Merz’s own place in Italy’s postwar art history. As the sole female protagonist of Arte Povera she is one of the few Italian women to exhibit in major venues internationally. Merz’s challenging and evocative body of work is deeply personal and resistant to the categories of art history, including Arte Povera and international feminist art, with which she was associated. Previously unpublished texts and poetry by the artist, and an illustrated chronology, complement this comprehensive look at an enormously influential artist.