This work is registered in the Archivio Merz, Turin under no. 20140/1988/CT.
A definitive example of Marisa Merz’s graphite practice, Untitled, 1988, perfectly encapsulates the enduring poetic, visionary and profoundly personal sensibility of the artist’s mesmerising oeuvre. It is as though Merz endlessly and intuitively moves her pencil across the monumental drawing surface in a state of graphic trance, skillfully shading and playing with perspective as she delicately sculpts an all-consuming, impenetrable dark field. The abstract shape of a female head (‘teste’), one of the key recurring visual motifs and themes in Merz’s many sculptures, paintings, drawings and multi-media installations, powerfully emerges from the intricate network of pencil strokes until it meets our inquiring gaze with piercing, entrancing eyes. Formally reminiscent to the modernist sculptural work of Amedeo Modigliani or Constantin Brancusi, the oval, elongated face glows in pristine white and shimmering gold akin to a sacred Byzantine icon. ‘The face’, as Merz explained, ‘is a void, an emotion’ (M. Merz, quoted in H.U. Obrist, ‘When we say ‘beautiful’ we are alive’, Mousse Magazine, no. 20, September 2009, unpaged). Paralleling Merz’ lasting sculptural engagement with the human head that she first began in the mid-1970s, the face here is marked with the intimacy of gesture as it elusively oscillates between self-portrait and angelic asexual creature and aptly demonstrates the artist’s preoccupation with issues of subjectivity, interiority and the visionary.
The only female representative of Arte Povera, the works of Marisa Merz demonstrate many of the movement’s fundamental themes and preoccupations – such as the use of ‘impoverished’, commonplace materials and organic forms, a process-driven methodology, and preoccupation on subjectivity and the visionary. Critically distancing herself to the art world and the pressures of the art market, Merz limited the production of artworks to a decidedly small number and resisted the very notion of art as a ‘career’ by working on her art in the private sphere of her home. Domestic labour, contrary to the capitalist production in the public sphere, provided Merz with a catalyst to turn the domestic space into art and as such effectively demonstrates Arte Povera’s concern with the relationship between art and life. While her male counterparts built art from the detritus of Italy’s industrial age, Merz embraced humble domestic items and traditional craft techniques. Indeed, Merz’ drawings recall in technique the artist’s brilliant practice of knitting with nylon or copper to create fantastical geometric shapes and silhouettes since the late 1960s. Rather than follow a prior determined preparatory sketch, the pencil strokes flow intuitively from the artist’s hand – quickly sculpting the face while perpetually drawing and re-drawing the space around it like an intricate woven textile. This inter-weaving of disparate threads as well as pencil lines into a complex, non-hierarchal network implies an obsessive energy, notions of interconnection and potentiality. In keeping with the Arte Povera ethos, Merz with Untitled present a work that is humble and antiheroic, providing a consciously humanist antidote to the preoccupations of our industrialised world.