Mario Merz



Not on display

Mario Merz 1925–2003
Brush-wood, beeswax and steel
Unconfirmed: 2620 × 3130 × 1140 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


Lingotto consists of twenty bundles of brushwood placed together in a compact, upright arrangement against the wall of the gallery. At the centre of the bundles is a four-legged steel plinth on top of which sits a block of off-white beeswax. Each brushwood bundle consists of thin birch twigs of roughly equal length, tied together using hessian string, nylon string and wire. Some of the sticks are covered in lichen. The back two legs of the steel structure rest within the brushwood and are thus invisible to the viewer, while the other two legs jut out in front of the bundles at an angle and serve to keep the brushwood in place. The beeswax sits roughly at the same height as the top of the brushwood bundles, just above head height.

The Italian artist Mario Merz made this work in the year that he began to exhibit with a group of other artists associated with arte povera, an Italian art movement defined by the critic Germano Celant in 1967. The use of humble, everyday materials in Lingotto is typical of arte povera. The thin steel framework was welded together, while the beeswax block was formed by pouring liquid wax into a wooden box layer by layer and removing it from the box once it had solidified. This process is made manifest by the horizontal lines on the outside of the wax block and by the impression left by the wood grain on its outer edges.

Merz used twigs, individually and in bundles, in many of his artworks and remarked in 1983 that they ‘represent our everyday life’, suggesting woodlands and agricultural landscapes, while also evoking something beyond these earthly connections: ‘they become more astral in the work,’ he said, ‘they turn into sculpture, between the living and the dead, they are neither sculpture nor nonsculpture. They are both living and dead at once, they are exceedingly bizarre.’ (Quoted in Celant 1989, p.54.) Such natural forms and references contrast with the man-made metallic structure, which is somewhat architectural in shape.

The Italian word ‘lingotto’ can be translated as ‘ingot’ or ‘nugget’, suggesting that the block of beeswax might stand in for a gold bar. Lingotto is also the name of a district in Merz’s home town of Turin, the location of the Lingotto building, which, until 1982, was the headquarters of the Fiat factory where Merz’s father worked. Merz himself described the ‘ingot’ of beeswax as ‘a nest in a tree – something incomprehensible, a piece of material abandoned aloft’ (quoted in Celant 1989, p.107). These various allusions establish points of both connection and contrast between poverty and luxury, rural and urban life.

Merz created another version of the sculpture, also entitled Lingotto 1969 (reproduced Celant 1989, p.88), in which every element is freestanding: the legs of the metal structure are more splayed and there are fewer twigs arranged in less clearly defined bundles. For critic Giovanni Lista this version of Lingotto recalls ‘scenes from the Bible, at once the altar of Abraham’s sacrifice and Moses’ Burning Bush’ (Lista 2006, p.46).

Further reading
Germano Celant, Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1989, p.27, reproduced p.87.
Françoise Ducros, Mario Merz, Paris 1999, pp.39, 120 (other version reproduced p.43).
Giovanni Lista, Arte Povera, Milan 2006, pp.36, 46 (other version reproduced pl.17).

Ruth Burgon
The University of Edinburgh
June 2014

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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Online caption

Lingotto was made in the year that Merz began exhibiting with other artists associated with the Arte Povera movement. The bundles of brushwood create an imposing sculpture and are characteristic of the group’s employment of humble materials. Over the brushwood a block of beeswax rests on a steel framework, evoking a single gold bar – ‘lingotto’ means ‘ingot’ in Italian. Lingotto is also the district in the artist’s home city of Turin, famous for the Fiat factory, a modernist yellow building, where his father worked. Together these disparate references suggest the contrasts between poor and luxury and rural and modern, urban existence.

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