Mario Merz Prize

Edition 2

Mario Merz Prize 2nd edition

Exhibition of the winner Mario Merz Prize second edition

Petrit Halilaj Shkrepëtima | Turin

curated by Leonardo Bigazzi
Fondazione Merz, 29 October 2018 – 3 February 2019


Fondazione Merz presents Shkrepëtima, the new personal exhibition of Petrit Halilaj (Kostërrc, Skenderaj-Kosovo 1986),  the winner of the art section of the second edition of the Mario Merz Prize, the biennial international award for art and music promoted by the Fondazione Merz.

The exhibition constitutes the culminating and final point of a more complex exhibition project, curated by Leonardo Bigazzi, taking the form of three different stages in three locations significant for the life and career of the artist.

The first stage corresponds to the realisation of a performance that took place on 7 July 2018 at the ruins of the Cultural Centre of Runik (Kosovo), the city where the artist grew up and where he came in touch with the entire local community. Subsequently, from 20 July to 19 August 2018, an exhibition was presented at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne (Switzerland), underlining the profound shared aims between Switzerland and Italy as regards the mission of the Mario Merz Prize. Finally, the project arrives in Turin in the form of an important and unprecedented final exhibition the heart of which will be a site-specific intervention.

The work of Petrit Halilaj questions how the collective memory of a community is formed and aims to act as a spark. In the Albanian language the term Shkrepëtima means “flash” and, by extension, indicates a sudden and intense thought that works as an activator of consciences, but also recalls the historical legacy of the homonymous multiethnic cultural magazine published in Runik between the 1970s and ’80s.

Shkrepëtima continues the investigation into the historical roots of the town of Runik, intervening on the ground in order to change the processes of constitution of collective history and bring the community closer to its origins.

The starting point of this process in the traces of lost history is Runik, the town in which the artist grew up and where, between 1968 and 1983, an important Neolithic settlement was brought to light and, in particular, an ocarina: one of the oldest musical instruments ever found in the Balkans. Today, this important relic of the historical and cultural heritage of the area together with the complex of material sources found, is not accessible to the inhabitants as it is conserved in Belgrade.

The performance, produced by Hajde! Foundation and Fondazione Merz, which involves thirty performers, musicians and all the inhabitants of the village, will, through their common action reactivate the link between the population and its culture in the face of what remains of a symbolic place for the town’s memory. Until the outbreak of the terrible clash that led Kosovo to independence, the Cultural Centre included a large bookstore, a theatre and a cooperative and this aggregative function will find echo in the action orchestrated by Petrit Halilaj with his fellow citizens, even though the fate of the centre is extremely uncertain today.

The two exhibitions at the Zentrum Paul Klee and at the Fondazione Merz will present 40 new drawings executed by the artist after examining the documentary remains found at the Cultural Centre in Runik. The series will function as a conceptual storyboard for the performance and at the same time as a visual plot of the village’s cultural history.

The exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee is rounded off by the two-channel video installation The city roofs were so near that even a sleepwalking cat could pass over Runik without ever touching the ground (already presented as part of RU at the New Musuem in 2017), which records the anecdotal voices of a population whose history exists only in stories handed down orally.

The exhibition at the Fondazione Merz represents the real completion of the entire Shkrepëtima project: the final and total restitution of this descent down the roots of identity of a culture.

Through a new site-specific intervention that will include videos, sounds, sculptures, drawings and installations made during the performance in Runik, it will allow the public to penetrate the intricate dialogic system woven by the artist, in an attempt to reconstruct a link between the territory and its inhabitants.

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of a catalogue published by hopefulmonster containing the documentation of the entire project.

Exhibition of the winner Mario Merz Prize second edition

Petrit Halilaj Shkrepëtima | Bern

curated by Leonardo Bigazzi

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern,  20 July – 19 August 2018 


Petrit Halilaj’s exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee forms part of a series of interrelated projects and exhibitions in Runik (Kosovo), Bern and Turin, commissioned by the Fondazione Merz. In Albanian, Shkrepëtima means «spark», «lightning», or a sudden, intense feeling. Through video, drawing and sculpture, Halilaj explores national identity, questions geographic boundaries and asks how collective history is shaped. Petrit Halilaj is the winner of the 2nd edition of the Mario Merz Prize, an international award for outstanding artists established by the Merz Foundation in Turin.

The focal point of the exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee is the fact that Runik, where Halilaj resided with his family before fleeing to Albania in the wake of the Kosovo war, is situated at the location of one of the most significant Neolithic settlements in Southeast Europe. After the Kosovo war, many buildings were erected directly on top of the archaeological site, and for this reason, contemporary Runik bears no visible trace of its ancient history. However, villagers still discover pieces of pottery, ceremonial items or human figurines in the fields surrounding the village. The most significant finds however are stored at a museum in Belgrade, Serbia, where they are inaccessible to the Kosovar public. Halilaj’s recent work poses the question what cultural and social role these historical artefacts play – or what role they could potentially play in the future.

In the absence of an «official» historical record, knowledge about the region’s ancient past remains scarce among the locals of Runik. Instead, the artefacts found in the village have become objects of the popular imagination, and speculation about their origin is rife. By exploring the history of these objects and their everyday uses, Halilaj’s video installation The City Roofs Were So Near That Even A Sleepwalking Cat Could Pass Over Runik Without Ever Touching The Ground (2017) offers a portrait of contemporary Runik, and, by extension, of Kosovo as a young nation yet uncertain about its history and identity.

The sculptures from the series RU (2017) are based on official archaeological records and exhibition catalogues of artefacts discovered in Runik between 1968 and 1982. Most of these finds were loaned to the Belgrade Museum but never returned to Kosovo due to the war. Halilaj recreated this lost collection of 505 objects from clay and transformed them into bird-like sculptures – by adding feet, legs, or feathers from brass wire. In the artist’s imagination, the artefacts come to life anew as migratory birds that can travel, cross borders, populate new territories, and free themselves from the weight of recent history. The central architectural element of the exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee – a wooden structure reminiscent of a bird’s nest, built on site using a range of natural materials – accommodates the sculptures.

In parallel to the exhibition, Halilaj has staged a major cultural event in the former cultural centre of Runik, now a ruin. The event took place on July 7, 2018, and was staged with the participation of numerous partners from the village and the region. Halilaj conceived the performative event as a spark – a Shkrepëtima – that he hopes will initiate the social and cultural development of the village. The event represents Halilaj’s first major intervention in public space and testifies to his ambition to work with the community to leave a lasting impact. As part of the exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee, Halilaj is presenting a series of 40 drawings and conceptual studies that he has created on old documents found at the site of the House of Culture. The drawings function as a conceptual storyboard of the performance and as a visual narrative of the cultural history of the village.

Exhibition of the finalists Mario Merz Prize second edition

curated by Beatrice Merz

Fondazione Merz, 8 March  – 11 June 2017


The 5 finalists in the Art Section of Mario Merz Prize, second edition are  Francesco Arena, Petrit Halilaj, Gili Lavy, Shahryar Nashat and Suha Traboulsi.

The exhibition unfolds on the ground floor of the Fondazione and features one or two of the most significant works, among videos, installations, and sculptures, by each of the shortlisted artists.

The finalists in the Art Section, were selected among hundreds of nominees by jurors of the pre-selection panel Nicholas Cullinan (Director National Portrait Gallery, London), Claudia Gioia (indipendent curator) and Marisa Merz.
Members of the Final Jury for the Art Section are: Manuel Borja-Villel (director Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid), Massimiliano Gioni (Head Curator New Museum, New York – Art Director Fondazione Trussardi, Milan), Lawrence Weiner (artist), and Beatrice Merz. The public has the possibility to participate in the voting process by logging onto the website, or by filling out the voting card provided.

Music for a museum by the winner Mario Merz Prize second edition

Geoffrey Gordon La terre est bleue comme une orange

In the prestigious setting of the “Antonino Salinas” regional archaeological museum in Palermo, the concluding concert of the second edition of the Mario Merz Prize offers both an unprecedented listening opportunity and the occasion to wander freely among the archaeological collections of the institution, which is also hosting Mario Merz’s Pittore in Africa. This work is presented in the context of Punte brillanti di lance, a programme of exhibitions, concerts and events that the Fondazione is realising for Palermo in collaboration with the major cultural institutions and communities of the city.

The piece being premiered, La terre est bleue comme une orange, for double string quartet by Geoffrey Gordon, winner of the competition, constitutes the central feature of the event. It consists of a recording played back within the Museum. Around this central presence there is an itinerary of listening points that goes from the oldest examples known of Greek music to the contemporary scene.

Accompanied by a reconstruction of the Paean of Limenios, a piece from the Hellenistic period, the public can stroll freely through the rooms of the museum, where visitors will encounter live performances of music from the most varied eras. Ranging from Bach to Bartok, from English music of the twentieth century to contemporary creations, the selection underlines how these samples of music, howsoever diverse they may be, are nevertheless conceptually linked to the legacy of Hellenistic Greece.

The deployment of musicians enables each participant to construct his own “programme”, perhaps skipping some rooms and therefore some samples of music, and perhaps repeating the pleasure of listening anew to a particularly appreciated performance. This activation and “discovery” by the public aims to react to a certain rigidity of the classical form of concert evening.

The music is performed by members of the WadiEnsemble, a project supported by the Fondazione Merz in Palermo and established to offer the finest Sicilian talent a chance to grow and measure up with important figures of the European concert scene. This is an evening that combines the beauty of the venue, the blue of Eluard’s verse borrowed for Gordon’s title, and the fullness of the musical message: the orange.

Domenico Marco, violin
Marco Badami, violin
Federico Botta, viola
Riccardo Botta, viola
Paolo Pellegrino, cello
Michele Li Puma, double bass



Limenios (II sec. a.C.) Inno ad Apollo (version for violin and live-electronics)
J.S. Bach dalla II Suite for cello: Preludio, Sarabanda e Giga
W. Merz Dhil for double bass solo
B. Bartok dai Duetti for two violins nn. 8 e 17
F. Bridge Lament for two violas
G. Gordon La terre est bleue comme une orange for two string quartets 
(recording curated by Quartetto Maurice)


The event is part of the programme Punte brillanti di lance


Thanks to:

Fondazione Spinola Banna per l’Arte



Concert of the winner Mario Merz Prize second edition

Geoffrey Gordon Gotham News

Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, Palermo, 12 October 2018, 9 pm
entrance free while seats last


The second edition of the music section of the Mario Merz Prize concludes in Palermo, in the setting of the splendid church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, with the concert including the premiere of the work by winner Geoffrey Gordon.

On October 12 at 9 p.m. in a Baroque setting, rich in paintings, sculptures and frescoes, a new ensemble of performers, the WadiEnsemble – especially created and sponsored by the Fondazione for this occasion and made up of young Sicilian musicians flanked by performers already established in the international concert scene – is performing a composition from the late Renaissance and early Baroque repertoire of Palermitan Sigismondo d’India, followed by pieces by Antonio Vivaldi and Luigi Boccherini before arriving at the contemporary scene with a piece by Willy Merz and with Gotham News, the new composition by Geoffrey Gordon.

Gotham News was written as a musical response to the 1955 painting by Willem de Kooning bearing the same title. Through his work, the composer explores the contents of the painting and gives life to a sound representation that returns the energy and various facets of the pictures through engaging and vigorous plots, dynamic rhythm, harmonic structure and dexterity of the instrumentation.

The concert reinforces the synergy, begun two years ago with the will to continue it over time, between the Fondazione Merz and the City of Palermo. The latter, nominated Italian Capital City of Culture 2018, offers an extraordinary context of events, proposals and suggestions ranging from visual arts to material culture, from literature to social sciences, from political studies to music. It is precisely in this area that the activities of PUNTE BRILLANTI DI LANCE are held, a programme of events for the city and its communities organised by the Fondazione.

Finally, the musical event inaugurates the collaboration between the Fondazione Merz and the Cultural Heritage Department of the Archdiocese of Palermo. In particular, it will contribute to the launch of an ambitious project of conservative restoration of the baroque stalls of the Coro Grande delle monache, recently included in the visits offered to the public in the ancient cloister complex of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria.

In addition to Geoffrey Gordon’s Gotham News, the Fondazione Merz proposes a musical programme consisting of pieces that follow a common thread: that of migratory themes, in a place that is so symbolic for this phenomenon as is Sicily.


Sigismondo D’India, Quatuor animalia from the Saint John’s Apocalypse, version for strings

Antonio Vivaldi, Concerto in D major RV 121

Geoffrey Gordon, Gotham News (composition by the winner of the second edition of the Mario Merz Prize)

Luigi Boccherini, Concerto in G major for cello and strings, soloist Alessio Pianelli

Willy Merz, Rubayat for clarinet and strings, soloist Davide Bandieri

Antonio Vivaldi, Concerto in A major RV 158

Concert of the finalists Mario Merz Prize second edition

Biblioteca civica musicale “Andrea Della Corte”, Turin, 8 March 2017, 8.30 pm


The finalists of Mario Merz Prize | second edition are Gabriele Cosmi, Geoffrey Gordon, Pierre Mariétan and Catherine Milliken.

The concert, organized by Fondazione Merz in collaboration with Biblioteca civica musicale “Andrea Della Corte”, in the 18th-century Baroque setting of Villa La Tesoriera, is directed by Willy Merz and performed by the DE SONO Futura Ensemble in collaboration with the Association DE SONO.

The finalists in the Music Section, were selected by jurors of the pre-selection panel Giacomo Agazzini (Violinist and Professor at “Conservatorio G. Verdi” in Turin), Stefano Pierini (composer and lecturer at the Centro di Formazione Musicale in Turin) and Philip Samartzis (sound-designer and lecturer at the University of Melbourne).

Members of the final Jury for the Music Section are: Dieter Ammann  (composer), Thomas Demenga (cellist and composer), Alexander Lonquich  (pianist) and Willy Merz.  For the Music Section as well, the public will have the possibility to vote for their favorite score by logging onto the website, or by filling out the voting card provided.