Influential Italian artist’s work still poses relevant questions
The new woman in charge of Leeds’ Henry Moore Institute has brought Mario Merz to the building. Nick Ahad reports.
ARTISTS today, says Lisa Le Feuvre, owe a debt of gratitude to Italian artist Mario Merz and many reference him in his work. The irony is that many of them have never actually seen any of his creations first hand.
The new head of sculpture studies at the institute decided to put that right with a first solo exhibition of the artist’s work at the Henry Moore Institute, and the first of the artist for almost 30 years.
“This is a show I have wanted to do for years,” says Le Feuvre, who has taken the post vacated by Penelope Curtis, now at Tate Britain.
“He is such an important artist who so many artists, especially those in their twenties and thirties, reference, but none of them will have seen his work.”
Merz, who died in 2003, was a leading figure of Arte Povera, a term referring to a loose grouping of Italian artists in the immediate post-war period. He was working in a time of social, political and artistic upheaval as Italy dealt with the consequences of the post-war ‘economic miracle’ of the 1950s that polarised economic inequalities.
Le Feuvre says: “One of our guiding principles at the institute is that we do things when they need to be done and it felt like very much the right time to have an exhibition of Merz’s work right now.
“He was creating work in a time of uncertainty, working in Turin in the late Sixties at a time of incredible uncertainty economically, which had a wider impact on the art world and on the way we thought about art and culture.
“I see that something similar is happening today, where we are questioning the role of culture in society, which makes Merz’s work incredibly relevant to today.”
The opening of the exhibition drew visitors from around Yorkshire, which delighted the Institute’s new head of sculplture studies, but it also drew visitors from London and as far away as Italy, such was its significance.
Visitors to the exhibition will see a sort of guided tour around the career highlights of the Italian artist, with a number of materials and forms he used through his career, starting with his use of neon, beginning in 1966; the igloo, starting in 1968; numerical progressions, used from 1970; and the question ‘What is to be done?’ or in Italian ‘Che fare?’, which he used from 1967.
Le Feuvre says: “I think art tends to go in cycles of 35 years and it was fascinating once we had installed the exhibition to see the staff going around the work and all of them were saying it felt like it could have been made now.
“That’s how relevant and contemporary his work remains.”
Mario Merz: What is to be Done. Henry Moore Institute, to Oct 30.
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE: Mario Merz’s Il Ponte, part of an exhibiton of his work at the Henry Moore Institute.