Mario Merz Foundation, Turin, Italy

The Foundation, named after Mario Merz, was born as a contemporary art center in 2005, with the aim of hosting exhibitions, events, educational activities and carrying out research and study of art. The Foundation, born and developed in open contrast to the concept of art as a monument, that is, an image of memory, powerful but static, today plays its role as an energy center of art. The place of the works, which went from being an “artist’s home” to a “home for artists”, has inevitably matured its role, born from an impulse to survive, and has become an actress aware and present of new opportunities.

Chaired by Beatrice Merz, the Foundation avails itself of the collaboration of a scientific committee composed of Frances Morris (Director at Tate Modern, London), Vicente Todolí (Artistic Advisor Hangar Bicocca, Milan), Richard Flood (Former Director of Special Project & Curator at Large New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York) and Mariano Boggia (Merz’s Collection Manager) and the advice of guest curators for the exhibition programming.

Mario Merz
Mario Merz (Milan, 1 January 1925 – Turin, 9 November 2003) was an artist, painter and sculptor Italian, a member of the current ‘ poor art. He was husband of the artist Marisa Merz.

Raised in Turin, he attended the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Turin for two years. During the Second World War he joined the anti-fascist group Giustizia e Libertà and in 1945 he was arrested and imprisoned during a flyer. After the Liberation, also encouraged by the critic Luciano Pistoi, he devoted himself full time to painting, starting with oil on canvas. He began with an abstract-expressionist style, and then moved on to an informal treatment of the painting. In 1954 it was set up at the La Bussola gallery in Turin, his first solo show.

In the mid -sixties he began to abandon painting to experiment with different materials, such as neon tubes, with which he perforated the surface of the canvases to symbolize an infusion of energy, or iron, wax and stone, with which he experimented with first three-dimensional assemblages, the “volumetric paintings”. He was present from the first exhibitions of poor art, together with the artists who had participated in the collective organized by Germano Celant at the Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa (1967) and gathered at the Turin Gallery of Gian Enzo Sperone: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Giuseppe Penone,Luciano Fabro and others. He soon became a point of reference for the group.

The climate of the ’68 and the idea of a political and social change were reflected in his works: Merz reproduced with neon the slogan of the student movement in protest. From 1968 he began to create archetypal structures such as the Igloos made with the most disparate materials, which became characteristics of his production and which represented the definitive overcoming, by the artist, of the painting and the two-dimensional surface.

From 1970 he introduced the Fibonacci sequence in his worksas an emblem of the energy inherent in matter and organic growth, placing the neon figures both on his works and in the exhibition environments, as in 1971 along the spiral of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, in 1984 on the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, in 1990 on the Manica Lunga of Castello di Rivoli, in 1994 on the chimney of the Turku Energia electric company in Turku, Finland, and also on the ceiling of the Vanvitelli metro station (Naples metro)with spiral shape. In 1992, he installed “The Philosophical Egg”. Red spirals made of neon tubes and suspended animals bearing the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence in the concourse of Zurich Central Station.

In 1970 he also introduced the “table”, as a further typical and archetypal element of his work, and from the middle of the decade he carried out complex installations combining igloos, neon, tables, on whose surfaces he arranged fruits so that, left to their natural course, they introduced in the work the dimension of real time. In the late 1970s Merz returned to figurative art, outlining large images of archaic animals (such as crocodiles, rhinos and iguanas), on large, unfamiliar canvases.

Over the years, many exhibitions have been dedicated to Merz by the most prestigious museums in the world. These include the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1972, the Kunsthalle in Basel in 1981, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1983, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1989, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies of Barcelona in 1993, the Castello di Rivoli and the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art in Prato in 1990, theCivic Gallery of Contemporary Art of Trento in 1995, the Fundação de Serralves of Porto in 1999, the Carré d’Art of Nîmes in 2000, the Fundación Proa of Buenos Aires in 2002. In 2003 he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale by Emperor of Japan.

Poor art
Arte povera is an artistic movement emerged in Italy in the mid- sixties of the twentieth century which joined writers scope Turin. The movement was born in open controversy with traditional art, of which it refuses techniques and supports to make use of “poor” materials such as earth, wood, iron, rags, plastic, industrial waste, with the aim of evoking the original structures of the language of contemporary society after having corroded its habits and semantic conformisms. Another characteristic of the work of the artists of the movement is the recourse to the form of the installation, as a place of the relationship between work and environment, and to that of performative “action”.

Germano Celant, who takes the name of the movement from the theater of Jerzy Grotowski, affirms that poor art essentially manifests itself “in reducing to a minimum, in impoverishing the signs, to reduce them to their archetypes”. Most of the artists of the group show an explicit interest in the materials used while some – notably Alighiero Boetti and Giulio Paolini – have a more conceptual inclination from the beginning.

Arte povera fits into the panorama of artistic research of the time due to the significant consonances it shows not only with respect to conceptual art proper, which in those years saw the rise of the star of Joseph Beuys, but also with respect to experiences such as pop, minimal and Land Art (Richard Long).

The goal of these artists was to overcome the traditional idea that the work of art occupies a supra-temporal and transcendent level of reality. For this reason, the provocation that derives from the work of Giovanni Anselmo Sculpture that eats (1968, Sonnabend collection, New York) is important, consisting of two stone blocks that crush a head of lettuce, a vegetable whose inevitable fate is to perish.. The use of living objects is frequent, as in Kounellis, who fixed a real parrot on a painted canvas, demonstrating that nature has more colors than any pictorial work.

Another criticism carried out by the Arte Povera artists was that against the conception of the uniqueness and unrepeatability of the work of art: Mimesis, by Paolini, consists of two identical plaster casts representing a sculpture of the classical age, placed facing each other for the purpose of feigning a conversation.

During the Vietnam War, Arte Povera approached the protest movements against the intervention of the USA: Pistoletto’s work Vietnam (1965, Menil collection, Houston) depicts a group of pacifist demonstrators, represented with fixed silhouettes to a mirror, so that visitors to the gallery were reflected in it. In doing so, people became an integral part of the work itself, creating a sort of interaction between the artistic creation and the audience.

The attention to the lifestyles of the many cultures other than the Western one is present in Merz’s works: his many igloos, created with different materials (for example metal, glass, wood, etc.), highlight the adaptability of a people to their particular environment.

The identification of man – nature is one of the themes most dealt with by various artists. However, in Marotta and Gilardi (Orto, 1967) nature is revisited in an artificial way, as if to actualize matter and bring it closer to a feeling of epochal change that involves man and his perception of the world. Perception that is made uncertain in Pistoletto’s mirror paintings, which literally open up to the world by absorbing everything in front of it and changing as the environment that contains them changes.

Unlike these, the imageless “screens” with which Mauri reproduces the film and which will influence the early works of Mario Schifano. However, his creations sometimes open up to the most popular everyday reality (Casetta Objects Achetés, 1960), or to the most impressive news events (La luna, 1968), which will lead him to develop a profound reflection on art and history.

Many artists work on the idea of a stereotyped image, such as Ceroli (Si / No, 1963), which treats silhoutte taken from the history of art in a serial way, or sets of human figures multiplied or serialized with a technique reminiscent of bricolage. Also considered stereotypes are Lombardo’s “typical gestures” (Gestures-Kennedy and Fanfani, 1963), the traces of images by Mambor or the rotogravure scenes or famous paintings revisited in multicolored fabric by Tacchi (Quadro per un mito, 1965).

The foundation
The Merz Foundation, born in Turin in 2005, has been chaired by Willy Merz since 2014 while the scientific committee is made up of Vicente Todolí (director of the Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan) and Richard Flood (director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis).

An industrial building dating back to the 1930s owned by the municipality of Turin, given in concession to the foundation and restored with mixed funds, private and public (the municipality of Turin and the Piedmont region), is based in the former thermal power plant of the Officine Lancia. The building has a total area of 3,200 m 2 of which 1,400 are intended for the exhibition area.

The foundation also manages the Merz archive (1000 volumes) and a specialized library (4000 publications).

The Foundation alternates exhibitions dedicated to Mario and Marisa Merz as moments of reflection and study with large site-specific projects by national and international artists invited to confront the space in via Limone and its content, without neglecting research on the new generations. for which exhibition events are regularly organized.

It organizes events, including exhibitions of visual art, contemporary music and shows Meteorite in Giardino and Scusi. I don’t understand that every year they represent an opportunity to bring together different disciplines related to contemporary culture.

The Education Department offers a set of activities and services aimed at fostering the relationship between the territory and the museum, spreading the knowledge of the languages and practices of contemporary art; organizes activities aimed at different types of public to promote knowledge of contemporary art: guided tours and workshops for schools, training courses for teachers, workshops with artists, as well as a free reception service for the public in the hall.

The library specializes in the history and criticism of modern and contemporary art. The peculiarity of its study and consultation room, located on the first floor and once an integral part of the exhibition itinerary, is the point of view of the room below, in the name of constant dialogue with the exhibition space. The library is flanked by the Merz Archive which has the main purpose of collecting, ordering and storing any existing documentation relating to Mario and Marisa Merz. Both are aimed at an audience of specialists, researchers and students.

The Mario Merz Prize, held every two years, aims to identify personalities in the field of contemporary art and music composition, through the expertise of a dense international network of experts. The project creates a new exhibition and musical activity program between Italy and Switzerland.

The Foundation does not work only in its historical headquarters: in addition to projects and collaborations with the major international realities, it is activating a new operational network and carries out projects, not only for exhibitions, in the areas of the Mediterranean and MittelEurope, border, welcoming and confrontational places between cultures, peoples and traditions.

This area of work arises from the desire to invest in a broad design, with a trans-sectional vocation, embracing the expressions of contemporary creativity, from visual arts to music, from theater to literature. The peculiarity of some projects is an attention to social and community building aspects, to the creation of new networks of relationships between artists and territories, through the work of the Foundation, understood here as a facilitating and accelerating factor for exchanges and creations.

The building of the Foundation, a former Officine Lancia thermal power plant, is a fascinating example of industrial architecture from the 1930s owned by the City of Turin, given in concession to the Merz Foundation and located in Borgo San Paolo, a district involved in urban redevelopment and of Turin in recent years. The restructuring and restoration project, supported by both private and public funds (City of Turin and Piedmont Region), pursued the search for the original simplicity of the system and proposed an easily recognizable interpretation, but also evocative of its past function, redefining the interior spaces and taking into account the cultural purposes for which the Foundation intends to operate.

The Foundation is a private body. The Foundation’s activities are financed by its own resources and by a network of donors, with a contribution from the Piedmont Region and the Compagnia di San Paolo. Some projects are also made possible thanks to the support of the CRT Foundation.

The Foundation alternates exhibitions dedicated to Mario and Marisa Merz as moments of reflection and study with large site- specific projects by national and international artists invited to confront the space in via Limone and its content, without neglecting research on the new generations for which exhibition events are regularly organized.

Each exhibition project is a research project, it is a narrative, a coinvo the gimento. The artist is invited to be carried away by his desires and design ambitions in order to build projects with us that are often outside the identifying canons of the traditional museum.

15 years have passed since the transformation of the former Lancia thermal power plant into an exhibition space, and each exhibition organized was the result of the passage and care of the many people involved, artists , curators, staff, technicians .

The success of a cultural project can determine kings from the relationship established with the ‘ att golds’ involved. This close relationship of trust gives the opportunity to see dreams come true and to be able to transmit them.

Meteorite garden
Open in 2008, Meteorite garden is a review of art , music , dance and theater that takes place in the external space of the Foundation, more precisely in the “tubs”, an evocative space that originally contained the fuel sylos of the Lancia thermal power plant and which more than any other it brings to mind the past function of the building. The title of the event, Meteorite in the garden , is inspired by a work by Mario Merz from 1976. In the different editions, many appointments have alternated: theatrical, musical, performative events always accompanied by visual art installations.

The idea of ​​these exhibition stems from the desire to create a contact, a communicative network between the Foundation and the artistic realities articulated in the most diverse disciplines, creating an ongoing dialogue – theater, dance, literature and science. Every year, through a network of collaborations, artists and operators who work in various capacities in the fields of knowledge and art, a communication is activated on the theme chosen for the current year. Around it, the invited artists work on a specific project or choose one of their works, giving the input to a dialogue between the various disciplines and thus creating a sort of unique language, understandable to a wide audience, which responds to the precise will. to follow a privileged way of communication through a pleasant use of knowledge.

Mario Merz Prize
The project , held every two years, aims to give life to an exhibition program and musical activities in Italy and Switzerland. The choice to twin two nations arose precisely from the characteristics of the two countries: both centers of production and culture. Switzerland represents the artist’s origin and nationality and Italy his adopted country and place of creation.

With the firm certainty that art represents freedom of thought without borders and that through it self-determination and the free circulation of culture and ideas are strengthened, the award will be dedicated to those who have the right will to pursue their own research beyond the opposition deriving from political, social, geographical belonging.

After analyzing the artistic processes of the last two decades characterized by particular attention to historical, social and political changes, and having the awareness that the ‘creative world’ has among its missions that of bringing poetic reflection to the attention of humanity on belonging, the characteristics of internationality, energy and innovation, depth and generosity have been identified , to be traced in the work and in the individual path of the artists and musicians selected for the short lists within which the international juries will decide the winners.

Educational project
In addition to offering university students the opportunity to work closely with artists through the activation of workshops (university-workshop link), the Education Department supports and supports the activities that the Merz Foundation carries out on the occasion of the exhibitions promoted nationally. cultural exchange and participation are fostered and encouraged through the activation of site specific actions in collaboration above all with those educational realities and with those artists most interested in opening their practice to the themes of relationships, sharing experiences and ‘meeting.

2019 – Hangar Bicocca in Milan on the occasion of IGLOOS curated by Vicente Todolì
2018 – Runik, Kosovo on the occasion of SI OCARINA E RUNIKUT by Petriti Halilaj
2017 – Beit Beirut , Beirut, Lebanon on the occasion of HEALING LEBANON by Zena el Khalil
2016 – MACRO of Rome on the occasion of the exhibition MARISA AND MARIO MERZ curated by Claudio Crescentini, Costantino D’Orazio and Federica Pirani

Beatrice Merz was born in Switzerland in 1960. Alongside numerous curatorial experiences, in 1986 she founded the Hopefulmonster publishing house, specializing in essays and monographic catalogs of contemporary art.

From 2005 to 2009 she was President and Director of the Merz Foundation, an exhibition center in the restored former Lancia thermal power plant in Turin, a project she conceived together with her father and intended, as well as hosting the Mario Merz collection of works, to promote projects of contemporary artists. From 2010 to 2015 she was the director of the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art. From 2012 to 2015 she chairs AMACI – Association of Italian Contemporary Art Museums. You hold the position of President of the Swiss twin Merz Foundation and of the Mario Merz Prize, International Prize for Art and Music.

Frances Morris is currently the Director of Tate Modern in London. She was formerly head of the Collections (International Art) in the same institution. You oversaw the first major rearrangement of the Collection in 2006 in addition to supervising the inaugural installation in 2000, in collaboration with Iwona Blazwick. Frances curated Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective at the Tate, which was subsequently touring the Reina Sofia, the Center Pompidou and the Whitney Museum.

Past exhibitions and catalogs include: the great Louise Bourgeois retrospective which inaugurated at the Tate Modern in October 2007, ‘David Smith’, 2006, ‘Henri Rousseau: Jungle in Paris’, 2005 (co-curated with Prof. Christopher Green), ‘Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-72’ (co-curated with Richard Flood), 2001, ‘Rites of Passage’, 1995 (co-curated with Stuart Morgan) and ‘Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism’, 1993. In 1997 she was appointed Art Program Curator for Tate Modern and contributed to the realization of the two-year programming of pre-opening projects in and around Bankside. In 1987 she was appointed Curator of the Modern Collection of the Tate Gallery, specializing in post-war European art and international contemporary art. You have also curated projects with various artists from Great Britain and abroad, including Miroslaw Balka, Chris Burden, Genevieve Cadieux, Sophie Calle, Mark Dion, Luciano Fabro and Paul McCarthy.

Vicente Todolí studied art history at Yale University before graduating from Valencia. He was director of the Tate Modern in London from 2003 to 2010. From 1996 to 2002 he was director of the Fundação De Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto. From 1989 to 1996 he was artistic director of IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art) where, before the museum was opened in 1898, he had worked as chief curator. He was a councilor for Future, Past, Present (curated by Germano Celant) at the Venice Biennale in 1997 and co-commissioned the Portuguese pavilion for the 2003 Biennale. He is currently Artistic Advisor HangarBicocca, Milan Italy.

Richard Flood was the Director of Special Project & Curator at Large at the New Museum in New York until 2019. Formerly Chief Curator of the New Museum in 2005, before obtaining this position he was chief curator of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where he organized a large number of exhibitions, including: Brilliant !: New Art from London; Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972 and personal exhibitions by Robert Gober, Sigmar Polke, and Matthew Barney. Previously Flood was also curator of P.S.1, director of the Barbara Gladstone Gallery and editorial director of Artforum magazine. He also set up Jeffrey Inaba’s Donor Hall for the New Museum.

Architect, he worked for several years as a set up at the exhibition office of the Department of Culture of the city of Turin, under the direction of the architect Carlo Viano; he therefore participates in the construction site of the 1984 exhibition “coherence in coherence” dedicated to the artists of the Arte Povera group conceived and curated by Germano Celant at the Mole Antonelliana.

The beginning of the collaboration with Mario Merz dates back to this experience, which he works alongside as an assistant on the occasion of exhibitions at the main galleries and museums in Europe and the Americas (Zurich Kunsthaus 1985, New York Guggenheim Museum, 1989, Amsterdam Stedeljik, 1994, Porto Serralves Foundation, 1999, Nimes Carrè d’Art, 2000, Buenos Aires Proa, 2002, Sao Paolo Pinacoteca do Estado, 2003).

Over the years, this commitment also extends to the exhibition activity of Marisa Merz (Paris Center Pompidou 1994, Venice Querini Stampalia Foundation 2011, Turin Merz Foundation 2011, Rome Macro 2016, New York MET 2017, Los Angeles Hammer Museum 2017, Oporto Serralves Museum 2018, Salzburg Museum der Moderne 2018, Lugano Masi 2019).

During the nineties he held the position of technical manager of the Rivetti Art Foundation, in Turin, and began collaborating with the Castello di Rivoli, the GAM of Turin and with some private galleries for the preparation of exhibitions. In the same period he works with other artists, such as Carla Accardi, Gilberto Zorio, Luigi Mainolfi; in 1992 he began his relationship as an assistant with Giulio Paolini.

The long familiarity with the work of Mario and Marisa is the basis for the activity that continues now in the absence of the artists in the attention to the material and immaterial aspects of their artistic legacy. (Turin Merz Foundation 2005, Milan Hangar Bicocca 2018, Madrid Palacio Velasquez 2019). At the Merz Foundation, having concluded the artistic consultancy on the renovation project, he is responsible for the collection and installations.