Fondazione Merz

Mario Merz: Numbers are prehistoric

22 October 2015 – 31 January 2016


Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens


A project by NEON in collaboration with Fondazione Merz 


curated by Paolo Colombo

NEON in collaboration with the Fondazione Merz are proud to present the first museum exhibition in Greece of Mario Merz (b. 1925), a major figure of the Arte Povera movement. This survey exhibition, Mario Merz: Numbers are prehistoric, will shed light on the late Italian artist’s multi-faceted practice, treading the thin line between visual and written expression. The exhibition features previously unseen material, and will be displayed in the Stathatos Mansion at the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens.

Numbers are prehistoric takes its title from a phrase in Mario Merz’s seminal book, I Want to Make a Book Right Now (1989): “I numeri sono preistorici.” The statement reflects the urgency that animated the artist and his total dedication to, and engagement with art, politics, and life. With this phrase, Merz maintained that numbers existed before history and have progressed infinitely along with the evolution of the earth and the universe. Merz’s work explores the notion of nature as a powerful, generous, and ever-expanding force that grows in the rational succession conceived by Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci (c.1175−c.1240). Born in Pisa, he studied the patterns of growth in nature and solved a rabbit population growth problem with what has become known in the Western world as the Fibonacci sequence—1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233—in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers.

The artist’s work centers on his belief that nature is an overriding presence and that its laws, at once brutal and sublime, regulate human activity all the way from issues of survival (as in the igloo) to social interaction and political action. Numbers Are Prehistoric addresses various key aspects of Merz’s oeuvre. A large section of the show is dedicated to his writings, which are introduced as a fully-fledged artistic proposition. Part poetry and part manifesto, Merz’s texts—in which he elaborated his theories about art, nature, and politics in a free-flowing stream of consciousness—are a significant part of his work. Always encompassing different levels of consciousness with a powerful accent, Merz addresses the issues central to his art in his own way, employing lines, numbers, and the power of words.

The exhibition comes at a crucial moment in Greece when notions of necessity and primary needs are being re-evaluated, giving the opportunity to re-examine ones’ ideas through varied examples of his oeuvre. With seminal works spanning from his famous igloos, to neon writings, painting and drawing, each highlights the artist’s preoccupation with the concept of basic human needs, the beauty and magic of natural growth, and at the same time acting as a powerful reminder of how politics are interwoven into the very cycles of existence and nature.