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Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space

Marisa Merz: The Sky is a Great Space

Exhibition Dates: January 24–May 7, 2017
Exhibition Location:   The Met Breuer, Floor 2
Press Preview: Monday, January 23, 10 am–noon

In January 2017, The Met Breuer will present 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.

The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

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, 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.

Related programs include exhibition tours, family tours, a Drop-in Drawing course, and a MetSpeaks panel discussion.

The exhibition will be featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Updated November 28, 2016


Image: Marisa Merz (Italian, b. 1926). Untitled, 1993. Copper wire, unfired clay, steel structure. Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Merz

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