Henry Moore Institute Opens Mario Merz What Is to Be Done?

. July 29, 2011 . 0 Comments

This is the first solo exhibition by artist Mario Merz in the UK for nearly thirty years. It is also the first major show curated at the Henry Moore Institute by Lisa Le Feuvre, its new Head of Sculpture Studies. Exhibition on view 8.07.2011-30.10.2011.

Mario Merz (1925 – 2003) was a leading figure of Arte Povera, a term referring to a loose grouping of Italian artists who turned their attention to their surrounding environment in the immediate post-war period. Merz rethought the possibilities of sculpture by observing the world around him. The title of this exhibition is a question central to Merz’s approach to art making. His work was driven by asking: what can an artist do in the face of a precarious future.

Along with other Arte Povera artists, Merz turned away from representing modernity for its own sake, instead seeking to explore the role of art in day-to-day human experience, turning to materials that were ready at hand. In Merz’s case, these include glass, metal tubing, blankets, bottles, wood shavings and neon, the focus of the selection of works in this exhibition. His sculptures also respond to systems that form our natural surroundings, such as the mathematical Fibonacci sequence.

The exhibition presents twelve works made between 1966 and 1977; many have been rarely exhibited in the last four decades. ‘Automobile pierced by neon’ (1969-82) is a Simca 1000 car impaled with arrows of light from a neon tube; ‘What is to be done?’ (1968-73) poses the question of this exhibition’s title in neon on a bed of wax; and ‘Object hide yourself'(1968) is one of Merz’s distinctive igloos, built from bags filled with wood shavings circled by his own neon-lit handwriting.*

Merz began using neon in 1966, seeking to find a contrast between natural phenomena and the logical that would complicate and energise his chosen materials. The neon passes through different forms – here at the Henry Moore Institute these include a car, bottle, blankets, glass and wax. Merz described his use of neon operating as ‘a kind of thunderbolt that would enter objects’.

Alongside the selected works, two film portraits of the artist will be displayed, one by Gerry Schum (‘Lumaca’, 1970 from the Identifications series) and the other by Tacita Dean (‘Mario Merz’, 2002), who has recently been commissioned by Tate Modern to create the next installation in the Turbine Hall. Schum’s film shows Merz in a natural setting, drawing a snail spiral following the Fibonacci sequence directly on to the screen. Dean’s ‘Mario Merz’ shows the aging Merz in Tuscany, sitting in silence with a large pinecone in his hand. Both films are a study of light in space and form in nature – core ideas in Merz’s sculptural work.

Image: Objet Cache-Toi Mario Merz, 1968, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Photo: Helge Mundt © Mario Merz/SIAE/DACS, London 2011

To complement the main gallery show, on Thursday 27 October, there will be a one-day Mario Merz conference, The Politics of Protagonism, which looks at the social and political ambitions of Merz’s 1960s and 1970s work. Speakers include Lisa Le Feuvre, Nicholas Cullinan and Martin Holman. Additionally, there will also be a series of talks and an essay in the Institute’s Essays on Sculpture series.

Henry Moore Institute
74 The Headrow, Leeds

Category: Fine Art

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