Marisa Merz began her career in 1966 when she exhibited in her Turin studio sculptures made from aluminium sheets: spiral structures that were mobile and irregular and that opposed a metaphoric, enigmatic, and airy image to the rigours of Minimalism.
These installations, made from various elements that dialogued between each other, were conceived to interact with the specific venue which hosted them and were seen later in various installations. Based on the qualities of the materials and on a minimal plan, these first works paved the way to the artist’s official participation in the Arte Povera movement.
In 1968, on the occasion of the Arte Povera + Azioni Povere group show curated by Germano Celant in the arsenal of the Antica Repubblica di Amalfi, Marisa Merz exhibited on the beach rolled blankets packaged with copper wire and adhesive tape (Senza titolo, 1966) as well as works made from nylon thread, copper or nylon relating to the birth of her daughter Beatrice. The artist introduced into the language of contemporary sculpture techniques that were traditionally considered part of the area of crafts or of “women’s” work; however, she subverted such ideas and gave the materials and working processes she variously employed all the dignity of art.
Inspired by the ideas about assemblages of Pablo Picasso (1881- 1973) and by the mobiles of Alexander Calder (1898-1976), her work introduced into sculpture the notion of play and pleasure, something that further marked the artist’s distance from the primary, rational, and self-referential structures of Minimalism.
But even with respect to the Arte Povera group, Marisa Merz showed straight away an eccentric sensibility. The inherently intimate temporal component already to be seen in her knitted works had a decisive importance in the following installations in which she gathered together, combined, and redefined her preceding works. This can be seen in Tavole: two rectangular boards on which she placed the 1966 rolled blankets and a wooden desk full of objects that she had collected over time; this work was first presented in the L’Attico Gallery, Rome, in 1969 and then exhibited in 1970 in the Museo Civico, Bologna, on the occasion of the III international biennale for young painters. A further example could be seen in 1972 at the XXXVI Venice Biennale where the artist presented Ad occhi chiusi gli occhi sono straordinariamente aperti (1975) which reunited the copper wire sculptures Scodella di sale (1967), Bea, and Scarpette (1968).
Created in order to compose increasingly new ideas, these works tightly interact among themselves; they build up a field of forces articulated by the presence of various temporalities: the objective ones of the present and the affective ones of voluntary memories (when they include pieces of the artist’s private life) and of involuntary ones (when she shows archetypes linked to the female world).
After participating in the 1973 group show Ricerca estetica dal 1960-1970 installed in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, as part of the X national art quadrennial, Marisa Merz’s interventions took on an openly environmental character in a series of “rooms”that the artist specifically undertook in complementary spaces: those of galleries open to the public and the underground and private ones of basements (1977) or of her own studio (1979). These were spaces that the artist transformed into a huge mosaic in which she herself was the central figure and animator.
This continual shift from a personal dimension to a public one, according to the oscillation of forms and works which periodically found their specific yet continually different way of being exhibited, is an important key to an understanding of Marisa Merz’s work.
Since then the artist has only exhibited in important group shows such as the XXXIX Venice Biennale, 1980, where Harald Szeemann invited to take part in a show called L’arte degli anni settanta; L’art en Italie depuis 1959, curated by Germano Celant for the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1981; Avanguardia. Transavanguardia curated by Achille Bonito Oliva for the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, in 1982. For Documenta 7 in Kassel in 1982, Marisa Merz organized a small room next to one by Meret Oppenheim and thus began a dialogical type of showing to which she was to return in later years.
Recently her work has been seen in numerous solo shows in museums, among which mention should be made of the MADRE museum in Naples; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Kunstmuseum, Winterthur (Switzerland); and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
In 2001 Marisa Merz received the special prize “Venice Biennale”.
Recently the Centre Internationale d’Art et du Paysage, Ile de Vassivière mounted a solo show of her work.