“MARISA MERZ: disegnare disegnare ridisegnare il pensiero immagine che cammina,” 2012. Exhibition view: Fondazione Merz, Turin
The exhibition of Marisa Merz’s work at the Fondazione Merz in Turin is a remarkable event. For this rarely seen artist, there is a lavish amount of work on display, with exquisite drawings and daring paintings sharing a hieratic Byzantine artifice. Merz’s graphic subjects are exclusively female representatives of higher beings—priestesses and seers—women who exist outside any social restraints or psychic boundaries. They are occasionally veiled with copper mesh that, rather than hiding the face, enhances its difference, its remove. If they are reminiscent of anything it is costumer Piero Tosi’s vision for Maria Callas in Pasolini’s Medea.
Copper is one of Merz’s primary elements. It is inevitably knitted into webs and serves many purposes: veils for the women, novas soaring across the walls, signal flags spread out on the floor, drapes of metallic sails, checkerboard arrangements held taut by the needles that created them. In two examples, the copper is employed to string fantasy musical instruments: a child’s chair metamorphosing into a harp and an elongated triangle on a bronze table resembling an Apollonian merger of a zither and koto. The principle component of the exhibition is arguably a bounty of clay heads. Perhaps Merz’s most emotionally laden work, no head is larger than the hands that mold it. Here there is no female or male; sex defers to humanity. Each head embodies its own tender reality held in a delicate balance between first breath and last.
Merz is an artist with a sweeping humanist vision. There is room for both modesty and grandiosity in the work. This exhibition leans toward the modest but the artist’s enormous reach is very much present. Her fascination with being a woman as well as an artist is clear and her oft-underestimated singularity is vivid.