Mario Merz

Fibonacci Tables


Charcoal, acrylic paint, metallic paint and neon on canvas
Support: 2667 x 3822 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

Merz was fascinated by the number series named after the medieval Italian mathematician Fibonacci. This system (originally applied to the understanding of reproduction in rabbits) extends infinitely so can be seen to correspond to proliferation in nature. The numbers increase by the addition of each preceding pair, for example, 1+1=2+1=3+2=5. Here images of increasingly large tables are linked in a spiral, neon numbers on each following the Fibonacci system, with glasses drawn on each table corresponding to these numbers, suggesting an infinitely increasing number of diners.

Gallery label, January 2016

Catalogue entry

T03673 Fibonacci Tables c.1974–76

Charcoal, acrylic and metallic paint with neon on cotton canvas 105 × 150 1/2 (2667 × 3822)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Mario Merz, Important Works 1966–83, Anthony d'Offay Ltd, February–March 1983 (no catalogue);
Lit: ‘Mario Merz, An interview with Caroline Tisdall’, Studio International, clxxxxi, January/February 1976, pp.11–17; Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Congressi ed Esposizioni, San Marino, November 1983

This work was originally dated c.1970 but appears to relate closely to a group of drawings made by Merz between 1974–6 (repr. Mario Merz Arbeiten auf Papier, exhibition catalogue, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, July–September 1983, figs.18, 25–39, 45–6).

The painting combines three images or elements which have recurred in Merz's work since the late 1960s/early 1970s, neon, numbers and tables.

From 1965 he has used neon tubing (first on three dimensional objects and later on paintings) to denote a state of flux or transformation and, after 1970, to record in numerals a process of proliferation of objects.

Since 1970, Merz's work has been based on the number series known as the Fibonacci System (Fibonacci was the nickname of the medieval Italian mathematician, Leonardo da Pisa, who wrote the Liber Abaci in 1202). The number series (originally applied to the understanding of reproduction in rabbits) can extend infinitely and was seen by da Pisa to correspond to proliferation in nature. The numbers increase by the addition of each preceding pair, for example, 1+1=2+1=3+2=5; thus 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 etc.

Here, as in many of Merz's works, images of tables are linked to the number system by neon numbers which spiral out from the centre in the following sequence. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. Glasses drawn on each table correspond to these numbers, suggesting an increasing number of diners, and the sizes of the tables increase as the spiral widens, implying an openended development.

Merz has investigated different forms (all either linked closely to man's use or to nature, which illustrates the principle of dynamic growth (see also the entry for T03674). The image of a table, suggesting social grouping and interaction and the breakdown of hierarchies, is one which Merz has used from the early seventies. Germano Celant writes (Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Museum Folkwang, Essen, January 1979, pp.56–7, translated for the later Whitechapel showing):

As the igloo represents Merz's idea of territory and materials, the table comes to stand for the social interaction of the local community. Thus the table, through the rites of reunion and eating, transcends the boundaries between people and objects. Merz is no longer in the centre, but seated next to the others. Everyone in the ceremony has a sense of rapport with the others, a defined place in the entire space. A group or an individual can draw back into a private zone or can reunite with the others under the roof of branches or panes of broken glass. In this moment, the nomad, in the centre of a system of relations, becomes sedentary. He begins to occupy precise confines, placing himself near the other nomads and living with them, organising the space according to the presence of others. In this way tables are formed for one person, for two, for three, for five, for eight, for 13, for 21, for 34, for 55, for 89. As they proliferate they arrange themselves in spirals, in relation to the increase in people.

The artist discussed his table works, both paintings and drawings, with Caroline Tisdall in an interview in 1976 (cited above).

In 1973, Merz wrote:

I reject linear, one by one, or assembly-line fabrication of spaces. I reject the idea that there can be a fixed number of people in a space.

Tables which belong to the reality of daily life have to be made either for a full space or for an empty space...

For one person.
For another person.
For two people then.
For three people.
For five people.
For eight people.
For thirteen people.
For twenty-one people.
For thirty-four people.

[From exhibition catalogue, it is possible to have a space with tables for 88 people ..., John Weber Gallery, New York, November–December 1973, n.p.].

This painting may have been one of those exhibited in Merz's one-man exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (September–October 1975). According to the catalogue for his exhibition in San Marino in 1984 (see entry for T03674) two ‘Table paintings’ from 1975, and one from 1974, were included.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986