Marisa Merz

Untitled (Living Sculpture)

1966

Medium
Aluminium
Dimensions
Overall displayed dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by an anonymous donor 2009
Reference
T12950

Summary

Untitled (Living Sculpture) is a large suspended sculpture composed of hollow twisted tubes made from strips of shiny aluminium. Twenty-six of these flattened tubular lengths, which are open at their ends, hang vertically in the gallery space. These lengths are attached to thirty-two compressed, knotted elements, and the entire clustered structure is suspended from the ceiling by steel wire to create a giant coiled and spiralling form.

Untitled (Living Sculpture) was made in Turin in 1966 by the Italian artist Marisa Merz, in the home she shared with her partner, the artist Mario Merz. Created by stapling commercially available aluminium pieces together, the work was initially installed in Merz’s kitchen before being shown at her first public exhibition in Turin in 1967. The components of the work hang irregularly and at different heights, with some elements hanging inside each other and some within reach of the floor. The work engulfs, yet also gives definition to, the space it inhabits. As the sculpture is subtly reconfigured for each new space in which it is hung, it develops a relationship with the proportions of the room, whether that be a gallery or a domestic setting. This bears out Merz’s assertion that ‘there has never been any division between my life and my work’ (quoted in ‘Marisa Merz’, Zero to Infinity: Atre Povera 1962–1972, exhibition guide, Tate Modern, London 2001, http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/zero-infinity-arte-povera-1962-1972/zero-infinity-atre-povera-1962-6, accessed 9 June 2016). The work’s renewal with each installation gives it a mutability welcomed by the artist, according to the writer Ester Coen:

In the Living Sculptures of 1966, re-assembled and seen several times over the years, it is the mobility of the work, the absolute impossibility of crystallising in a precise time to set the mark of what is and what shall be. It is a work that is constantly evolving.
(Ester Coen, ‘Moon Threads’, in Fondazione Merz 2012, pp.21–2.)

Merz was a central figure in the arte povera movement in Italy in the late 1960s to 1970s, alongside Mario Merz, Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounnelis and Giuseppe Penone. The term was coined by Italian critic and curator Germano Celant in 1967 and translates as ‘poor art’. This references the group’s shared concern with using inexpensive and readily available materials to subvert the elite status of the art object. They would work with soil, rags and twigs rather than more traditional materials such as oil paint on canvas, bronze or carved marble. Marisa Merz was the most prominent woman in the group and the exploration of the domestic through her sculpture is evident in her choice of materials, which included commonplace items such as apples, knitting needles and wool. Untitled (Living Sculpture) was included in the 2001 survey of the arte povera movement Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972 at Tate Modern, London. It was subsequently acquired for the Tate collection in 2009 alongside the nylon sculpture Untitled (Little shoe) 1968 (Tate T13029) and the two knitting needle works Untitled 1969 (Tate T13030) and Untitled 1969 (Tate T13031).

Further reading
Catherine Grenier (ed.), Marisa Merz, exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1994.
Francis Morris and Richard Flood (eds.), Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2001.
Marisa Merz, exhibition catalogue, Fondazione Merz, Turin 2012.

Phoebe James
June 2016

Display caption

Merz stapled strips of aluminium together to create this suspended sculpture, which originally hung in her home before being exhibited in a gallery. Like other artists of the Arte Povera group, Merz used inexpensive, ordinary materials to challenge the elite status of art. She is also concerned with domesticity and has used techniques with feminine associations, such as knitting. ‘There has never been any division between my life and my work,’ she has said.

Gallery label, January 2016