Igloo di Giap, 1968 [ricostruzione parziale 1985]
The work is a variation on the first igloo that the artist conceived in 1968 for the group exhibition at Galleria Arco d’Alibert in Rome. In that setting, Merz covered the hemispherical steel structure with blocks of clay wrapped in plastic bags and placed a white neon phrase on top of it, which said: Se il nemico si concentra perde terreno se si disperde perde forza Giap (“If the enemy masses his forces he loses ground if he scatters he loses strength Giap”), quoting the Vietcong general Võ Nguyên Giáp (1911–2013), the commander-in-chief of the Vietnam People’s Army, and symbol during those years of the struggle against Western imperialism.
The text, in the artist’s handwriting, spirals around the hemispherical surface of the work, giving it an existential, almost meditative significance. As Merz explained, «I didn’t make Igloo di Giap in 1968 because I thought that Giap represented a political solution, but because he had a sort of Buddhist perception of war and military life.»
The creation of works of this type introduced important innovations in Merz’s practice: the conquest of three-dimensionality through a close relationship with the surrounding architectural space, the use of socio-political mottoes that show the influence of the cultural climate of the period, and the unstable combination of radically different materials, such as clay and neon, to transform them via a process of abstraction. The Igloo di Giap on display at Pirelli HangarBicocca is the variation of the work made in 1970 for the “Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Land Art” exhibition held at GAM in Turin, for which Merz applied the clay directly to the metal structure, revealing its textural qualities.