The art of Marisa Merz is lyrical, subtle, and private. Her drawings, sculptures, and installations emanate a poetic quality, suggesting something secret and precious, hidden in their weave.
Since her first solo exhibition in Turin in 1967,at a time when Arte Povera was nascent,Merz has been exploring visionary experience in her art, incorporating a range of materials and techniques, including wax, knitted copper thread, bowls, simple gestures, and light. While her early work expanded the boundaries of installation art, since the 1980s she has created numerous small busts called Teste (Heads),as well as a large body of works on paper. These pencil drawings, sometimes incorporating pastel and other mediums, are portraits (perhaps self-portraits), in which the image emerges from an intricate web of tangled marks, and forms are continuously absorbed into one another.
Senza titolo (Untitled), 1985, is a large blue drawing on heavy paper that rests on a tall, narrow table made of metal shelving. The portrait is built up from layers of lines and marks, suggesting an exercise that is both spiritual and physical, keyed toward exploring the dimensions of open-ended systems and boundless space. The artwork does not consist only of the drawing, but also of its “home.” The drawing leans casually against the wall and sits on a piece of furniture, a placement that suggests impermanence and domesticity rather than a lofty museum display.
Merz ’s work is at once material and immaterial, just as silence can evoke music. The musical instrument is a recurring metaphor in the artist’s production. In Senza titolo (Untitled),1997,a violin molded out of white paraffin lies horizontally inside a small lead basin filled with water and placed on the floor. An electric motor pushes the water through a tube in the middle of the paraffin violin, but instead of jetting upward,like a mountain, it descends downward to create a heart-shaped volume at the center of the violin. Like lead, paraffin is malleable and can be shaped easily, but it is also fragile, and can melt. The water in the sculpture keeps the wax cool and protects it. Like a fountain, it also creates its own natural music, a gentle and solitary rippling conducive to meditation. These works aim to capture and expanding brief instants of
poetry—moments of delicate balance when all appears to be perfect.