Tacita Dean presents a different side of Italian sculpture genius Mario Merz at Henry Moore

By Culture24 Reporter | 26 July 2011
A photo of a piece of sculpture made up of foam-like white pieces formed into a dome with light blue neon letters on top of them
Mario Merz, Objet Cache-Toi (1968). Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg© Mario Merz/SIAE/DACS, London 2011. Image: Helge Mundt
Exhibition: Tacita Dean: Mario Merz, Gallery 4, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, September 6 – December 4 2011

From fated ocean sailings to airports and gravel pits, former Turner Prize nominee Tacita Dean’s melancholic combinations of sight and sound have repeatedly drawn us to ponder the passing of time.

In the summer of 2002, Dean took up the offer of a residency in the Tuscan city of San Gimigano, where she made a portrait of Mario Merz during what turned out to be the final year of the revered Italian sculptor and painter’s life.

Merz made incredible installations which seem even more ahead of their time in the context of history and contemporary trends – a magician when it came to curves, he’d turn arches of wirey metal into tent-like domes, standing on slabs of stone and lit by words in neon lights, putting ordinary materials to poetic effect as part of the Arte Povera movement in his homeland.

Writing in his obituary, Dean said she had been warned not to film Merz due to his reputation for being “quite monstrous”, allied with his “totally camera phobic” wife, Marisa.

“But Mario was more knowing,” she revealed. “He had already remarked that he had heard I made ‘beautiful films’, and I think he knew what he wanted.” The pinecone he clutches during his silent contemplation under a tree symbolises his infatuation with space and light.

“The Italians who saw the film a month later were surprised by the Marioon screen,” added Dean. “They were more used to the Mario Merz who held forth at length about his opinions on art: the overbearing artist who could misbehave in a way that is lost to my generation.”

Shot on 16mm, Dean’s approach is a sculptural one, so the insights into her hugely charismatic sitter are framed within the aesthetics he devoted his creative life to (she can only go on whispers that he liked the film, as Merz and Marisa didn’t attend the opening. “They had preferred to sit as they did of an evening in the piazza, drinking baby gin and tonics and taking note of the world,” she suggested in his tribute.)

Blind Pan, five drawings made by Dean in 2004 as “monochrome landscapes” based on a found black and white photo of a mystery setting, have also been placed outside the gallery, alongside instructions narrating the journey of Oedipus and Antigone in a storyboard for an unmade film.

  • Open 10am-5.30pm (9pm Wednesday). Admission free.
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