Mario Merz, one of Italy’s leading contemporary artists, died on Nov. 9. Cause of death was not released. He was 78.
Raised in Turin, Merz studied medicine for two years at the Università degli Studi di Torino. During World War II, he joined the anti-Fascist group, Giustizia e Libertà. His political activities led authorities to imprison him in 1945; it was in jail that Merz began drawing on whatever materials he could find.
When he was released, Merz began painting oils on canvas. Over the next decade, he would create art out of bottles, umbrellas and newspapers. His work was later associated with the Arte Povera (“Poor Art”) movement for its usage of ordinary materials. Merz was best known for his igloo, an image he constructed with metal, clay, wax, mud, glass, burlap, branches and neon tubing. It appeared in several of his artistic creations.
Merz’s art has been featured in half a dozen books and numerous exhibitions in the United States, Germany and Italy. The Guggenheim Museum in New York dedicated its entire space to a Merz retrospective in 1989.