The Sky Is a Great Space at The Met Breuer
Marisa Merz: The Sky is a Great Space is the first major retrospective in the United States for Italian artist Marisa Merz (born Turin, 1926), sole female protagonist of the Arte Povera movement. Encompassing five decades of work—from early experiments with nontraditional art materials to mid-career installations that balance intimacy with impressive scale, to enigmatic sculpted heads created after 1975—the exhibition explores Merz’s prodigious talent and influence.
GuideForTheArts.com: 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 anticareerist. 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.
Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space is curated by Connie Butler, Chief Curator, Hammer Museum, and Ian Alteveer, Associate Curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. The exhibition and publication were developed in close collaboration with Fondazione Merz, Turin.
Wikipedia: Marisa Merz was the only female to be accepted into the Arte Povera family. In 1967, for her first solo exhibition, Marisa made a folded aluminium foil installation. This exhibition was in June at the Gian Enzo Sperone gallery in Turin. She was also one of the people involved in the Arte Povera + Azione Povera exhibition the following year at the Amalfi event. This show is the only Arte Povera exhibition that she participated in. Then in 1969 she had another solo show at the Attico Gallery in Rome. Mario was supportive, evidently when he carried big rolled up blankets, created by Marisa in the Attico show. They had separate artistic lives, but were equally supportive of each other’s work. Although in the 1970s she didn’t have exhibitions often, in 1970 she had a solo exhibition in Rome. This exhibition featured installations made by using knitted copper, under the title of Ad occhi chiusi gli occhi sono straordinariamente aperti (‘To closed eyes, the eyes are extraordinarily open’).
She was not an extensively recognized artist at the time, despite her huge contribution to the scene. The growth of feminism played a big role in her career, where society began to give her more consideration. Her work displays many of the fundamental issues with which Arte Povera artists are preoccupied, such as organic forms, focus on subjectivity, the use of lower forms of art, such as the crafts, and the relationship between art and life. Marisa’s work has been described as lyrical, subtle, visionary and private. She often includes aspects of crafts and practices traditionally associated with women (e.g. knitting), and she often uses materials such as copper, aluminium, waxed paper and paraffin wax, which reflects her home environment, and “call[s] into question—if not subvert—the high-gloss finish of fine art and its deadness as an institutional commodity.” Her installations feature the idea of the home as a place intimate, private and feminine. An example is her 1966 installation, Untitled (Living Sculpture), which was intended both her home and to be presented in a gallery (she once said ‘There has never been any division between my life and my work’). The installation consisted of thin strips of aluminium, clipped and suspended from the ceiling, forming coils and spirals. The work was acquired by Tate Modern in 2009.
In her 1975 artist statement she talks about the absent divide between her life and her work that she created. By this time she had extracted herself from the art scene and practically locked herself in her studio to work. She reflects about life with her daughter, Bea, while she was constructing her aluminum sculptures, and how her daughter taught her so much in that time. At the Venice Biennale of 1988 she had site-specific installations involving amorphous and coloured wax heads.
Monday, January 23, 10 a.m.–noon
Remarks at 11 a.m.
The Met Breuer, Floor 2
945 Madison Avenue, at 75th Street