Mario Merz



Mario Merz 1925–2003
Original title
Object: 2210 × 1295 × 1295 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

At the X Tokyo Biennale, Merz showed a wallbased work based on the Fibonacci sequence. This is a mathematical series where each number is the addition of the previous two numbers. This series can be represented visually as a spiral or a cone. Merz used these forms often in his works. He originally installed Cone with a pot of boiling beans hidden inside. Steam rising from its hollow suggested the presence of a source of energy. With its size and proportions, Cone could also suggest a hiding place for a single person.

Gallery label, December 2020

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Catalogue entry

T03674 Cone c.1967

Willow basket work 87 × 51 × 51 (2210 × 1295 × 1295)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Mario Merz, Important works 1966–83, Anthony d'Offay, February–March 1983 (no catalogue, dated 1966 on hand list)
Lit: M. Sonnabend, ‘Mario Merz’, Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Sonnabend, Paris, April 1969, another version repr. as ‘Cestone di Vimini 1966’; Germano Celant, in Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Museum Folkwang, Essen, January–March 1979, and travelling, p.15; Identité Italienne, L'art en Italie depuis 1959, exhibition catalogue, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, June 1981, pp.267, 269, another version repr. as ‘Cestone’ 1968; Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Congressi ed Esposizioni, San Marino, November 1983, pp.43–4, 50, 209–16; Germano Celant, Arte Povera, Milan, 1985, p.95, another version repr. as ‘Untitled, 1968 (wicker cone containing a pot of boiling beans)’; Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Zürich, April 1985, p.31

In a telephone conversation with Helen van der Meij (July 1986), Mario Merz dated this work c.1967. According to him, there are now two wicker cones in existence (an earlier cone was destroyed). The other surviving cone is in the collection of the Stadtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach (see Staditsches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Bestandskatalog 11, Mönchengladbach, 1980, p.140, ‘Cono’ 1965, 200 × 100 × 20cm, repr.). Merz himself cannot remember which of the two (and originally three) cones has been the one most exhibited but the catalogue for his exhibition in San Marino in 1984 (cited above) lists the following exhibitions as having included wicker cones: Prospect 68, Stadtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, September 1968, ‘Cono’ 1966 (not listed in exhibition publication); Arte Povera+azioni povera, Arsenali dell' Antica Repubblica, Amalfi, October 1968, ‘Cono’ 1966. The San Marino catalogue describes this as a structure in wicker in the shape of a cone, inside which boils a pot of beans. The same work is reproduced by Germano Celant in Arte Povera (see above) as ‘Untitled 1968 (Wicker cone containing pot of boiling beans)’; The catalogue for the Paris exhibition, Identité Italienne, also cited above, reproduces the same work as ‘Cestone’ or hamper and again dates it 1968 (see p.269). What could be the same cone (the same height but appearing thinner than T03674) is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Mario Merz, Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris, April 1969 as ‘“Cestone di Vimini” 1966 h.220cm (Con acqua all'interno in ebollizione)’ although it does not appear to have been included in the exhibition itself.

Merz himself has suggested that a cone might have been included in his exhibition held at the Sperone Gallery in Turin in January–February 1968 and the San Merino catalogue lists a ‘Cestone’ (or hamper) 1966. However, an installation photograph of the exhibition, in the same catalogue (29), shows another wicker work, shaped like a hamper or basket, fastened to the wall. (To further confuse matters, the work in the photograph is listed as ‘Cestone’ 1967). What appears to be the same wall work is reproduced in the catalogue for Merz's Essen exhibition (cited above) as ‘Cestone/Korb’ 1964 (pp.32–3). However in an essay in this catalogue, Germano Celant describes a cone like that exhibited in Amalfi and described in the Sonnabend catalogue, in the context of what he refers to as the ‘illogical and functionless assemblies’ exhibited at Sperone in 1968:

Freedom to perceive ‘things’ prompts one to ‘reconstruct’ or ‘construct’ ideas, like the idea of that light-spear, which turns into one spear or two spears in wood and perspex struck into a vacuum, which is represented by a transparent rectangle, or remaking the ‘projecting structure’ as an object in the ‘hamper’ which perfectly reproduces the structure's volume, or the cone made of a vast wicker which refers back to the cone in bits pierced by a neon strip, the wicker chest being further transformed by placing inside it a saucepan of boiling water.

This boiling of the material due to the coming together of two energies leads on to sit-in and solitaio solidale where wax and light acting as heat work together, and to the igloos where writing/structure/ material are uplifted osmotically. [Germano Celant 1971 (translated by Anthony Melville)].

In an excerpt from an interview with Germano Celant, reproduced in the catalogue for his Zürich exhibition in 1985 (cited above) Merz referred to a ‘Cone’ and ‘Basket’ made in 1966/67, describing how he decided to have ‘a giant basket hanging on the wall’ (presumably ‘Cestone’, already referred to) and a ‘giant cone’ made by craftsmen in basket-work. Merz refers to making one cone himself but this could be the cone in pieces, pierced by neon, referred to by Celant (above) and exhibited by Sperone in 1968. (Installation photographs of the Sperone exhibition do show an earlier two-part plaster cone, pierced by neon.)

The San Marino catalogue also lists the following exhibitions as having included cones: Palermo, Mario Merz, Gerhard Richter, Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf, 1979, ‘Cone 1966’; Mario Merz, Museum Folkwang Essen, January–March 1979, Whitechapel Art Gallery, January–March 1980, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, April–May 1980 ‘Cono’ 1966 (‘Stuttura in Vimini a forma di Cono'). (This cone, installed at the Van Abbemuseum and surrounded by other objects, is reproduced in Kunstforum International, 39, March 1980, p.41.). A cone dated 1969 is reproduced in colour in Mario Merz, the catalogue for his exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (May–September 1981 (n.p.).

The cone, because of its everyday materials, is an archetypal ‘arte povera’ object. Merz's work concerns archetypes: igloos (as shelters but also metaphors for a democratic architecture), spirals, echoing nature and suggesting infinity, tables (see T03673), social groupings and so on. ‘Cone’ is man sized and suggests a shelter or hiding place.

Despite the fact that Merz began consciously to apply a mathematically based system after he made the conerelated works, Celant suggests (in the article already cited) that the idea of proliferation developed in later Fibonacci works (see entry for T03673) was already present in the earlier work. A drawing in the Essen catalogue of 1979 (cited above) and titled ‘Igloo Fibonacci’ 1970 (pl.3), resembles a tall cone constructed of numbers built up on the Fibonacci system from 1 (suggesting the apex) to 139583861555, suggesting the broad base of the cone.

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

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