Arte Povera: A Wealth of Work from Marisa Merz

Image from the Met Breuer

The major retrospective of Marisa Merz: The Sky is a Great Space, on view at the Met Breuer, shines a spotlight on a prominent female artist in modernist art history at a time when it is especially vital. Merz was known for being the only female member of the Arte Povera movement in Italy during the 1960s and 70s. She was also married to another successful artist participating in the same movement, Mario Merz. Arte Povera translates to “Poor Art.” Its focus was to reject the affluence of upper-class Italian society and focus on “poor,” industrial materials such as metals, fibers, and natural materials.

Merz’s works play on the idea of “feminine” materials versus hard, industrial materials, often associated with “man’s work.” For example, she uses the process of knitting, primarily assumed as a female domestic hobby, but works with copper wire, a material associated with a stereotypical male occupation. In her piece, Living Sculpture (1966), the massive, hanging sculpture made of aluminum is draped from the ceiling in billowy puffs and trailing tails, as if it were made of bundles of cotton and strands of fabric. This is an excellent example of her mastery between soft versus hard, domestic versus industrial, and feminine versus masculine.

Through her application of the principles of Arte Povera, Merz reclaims the hard, industrial materials for the feminine perspective. She demonstrates that domestic practices aren’t inherently feminine, and concepts of skills and labor are not to be solely associated with the masculine. She asserts that all materials and approaches are genderless. At a time when women’s rights hang once again in palpable precarity, Marisa Merz is a timely exhibition to bring to the public, reminding us of how strong female role models of the past persevered through their own male-dominated worlds.

Marisa Merz: The Sky is a Great Space
Met Breuer
January 24–May 7, 2017

I felt compelled to see this show, not only because it’s fascinating, but also because I wrote a preview for it a couple months ago before I even had the chance to view it. So now, I wrote a retrospective review. To see how the two compare visit the article in Artspeak:


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