Gerhard Merz

Mammendorf-Fürstenfeldbruck 1947, lives and works in Berlin

Gerhard Merz has a strictly rationalistic view of art. In his opinion, art is not a form of self-expression, but a systematic process of calculation and verification, of mathematical purity and geometric precision. Merz’s pursuit of clarity and harmony, of beauty and monumentality relates to a plea that the artist has taken from T.S. Eliot, a plea for ‘classical, rational, superior, aristocratic, reactionary’ art.

The preference for concrete art took Merz in the direction of architecture. Architecture, he said, is a meaningful basis for the making of art: ‘Relating image and architecture is the first step in the truly concrete establishment of meaning.’ During the eighties Merz developed his work in the form of Raumgestaltungen (Spatial Formations), in which wall reliefs, monochrome wall paintings and clear-lettered words are carefully attuned to each other. The whole is geared to the size and proportions of the location. In subsequent works, Merz also takes control of the architecture of the exhibition space itself. His interventions in the form of brick walls or glass partitions can be seen as modulations of imperfect spatial relationships. 

In 1992 Merz designed a work geared specifically to the given space of De Pont, glass/steel/concrete. The title makes it clear that the artist has grafted onto the architectural materials of the former textile mill. Between a pair of vertical supports he placed two large, sandblasted plates of glass. The glass panels are held at the top and bottom edges in steel t-beams, so that they seem easily movable to the left or to the right despite their enormous weight. A long concrete bench has been placed on seven cubes between the two panels; here the visitor can contemplate, in peace and quiet, the balanced play of form, proportions and light reflection.

Gerhard Merz is an artist who constructs an oeuvre in a consistent and strictly orthodox manner. All of his works have come about on the basis of a classicist need to organize, in which visual art is always regarded as being inseparable from architecture. But his work is not architectonic. Even his architectural designs for pavilions are sooner an aesthetic stance within a rigidly artistic program than blueprints for pragmatic application. Whereas Van Doesburg, for instance, concentrated on the realization of his designs with the idealism of the modernist, a ‘call to order’ suffices for Merz. With a feeling for rhetoric he alludes, in his work, to the architecture of Schinkel and Boullée, to the black square of Malevich, to the Barcelona Pavilion of Mies Van Der Rohe and the color field paintings of Newman. What interests him is the realization of a work of art, in which that which the artist has discerned as being authentic is carried on and refined. His work is therefore not innovative – Merz considers it senseless to want to renew art. A wise artist, he says, continues to build on that which has been achieved by his predecessors: that is how the finest art of this century can be attained.