I was born in Berlin in November 1936. My father, Franz Mertz, was a well-known theater set designer and was probably my most important influence. I earned my dance and gymnastic diploma and married the assistant of the theater director, a young Romanian Swiss artist named Daniel Spoerri. He and his friend Emmet Williams were at this time very involved in creating the monthly publication Material Poesie Concrete. Not long after that we moved to Paris, where we had many friends who later became known as Nouveaux Realistes. It was a very interesting period for me, and because painters and sculptors need photographers, it was completely normal when Jean Tinguely asked me to begin with his sculptures, to take up and continue photography. It seemed also to have something to do with theater.
After the end of my marriage, my photography career progressed quite quickly. I worked with Theater Heute and various Scandinavian magazines, and did photo reportages on Beckett, Ionesco, Satyajit Ray, Andy Warhol, Norman Mailer, Marcel Duchamp and others. Later I worked for a short time as assistant of Peter Knapp , a photographer for Elle and Vogue in Paris. My continued interest in artists and sculptors has always kept me very busy.
Over the years I have made documentary photos for many artists, including Eva Aeppli, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle. In 1984, I photographed and produced a book on the works of Eva Aeppli; subsequently, I created a video of her collection in Omaha, Nebraska, that was shown in her retrospective at the Tinguely Museum in Basel in 2006.
I made my first wall-sized photo mural in the early sixties; an inside/outside experiment for the automobile manufacturer Opel. Another large photo wall, created from images taken during the last days of the famed market stalls in Paris’ Les Halles, was completed in the early seventies. It was installed in our first restaurant in Omaha’s Old Market, where I had moved with my second husband, Mark Mercer. In the end we had three other restaurants, and it seemed to me that all my photos had vaguely something to do with them.
Later I worked for John Morford, an architect and interior designer living in Hong Kong who designed many restaurants in Asia. So in 1994, I made four large photo murals for the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo, interior designed by Morford, building by Kenzo Tange. In 1996 I completed two photo series for the Joyce Cafe at Exchange Square (above the Hong Kong stock exchange), also designed by Morford, and two other photo walls with the subject of Hong Kong Markets for Joyce Cafe at Nathan Road, Kowloon, in the Landmark building designed by Gio Ponti. These were followed by the “Flower Photos” in Hyatt Seoul and, with Morford again, the 2004 “Water Series” for the Plateau Spa in the Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, and in 2008, the “Vegetable Series” for the Hyatt Seoul.
I also began exhibiting my photographs in galleries during this time. I have enjoyed frequent solo expositions throughout Mexico, beginning in 1998 at the Galeria de la Escuela Nationale de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado “La Esmeralda,” the Galeria “Rosana” in Mexico City, and the Fototeca de Veracruz. In 2007, two large exhibitions in Guanajuato and Merida featured still life photographs, followed by shows at the Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City; Centro de las Artes Centenario, San Luis Potosí; Centro de las Artes Fundidora Monterrey; Centro de las Artes de Michoacán, Zamora; Centro de las Artes Hidalgo, Pachuca; and in 2012, the Centro Cultural Clavijero, Morelia.
In 2010, Matthias Harder organized a large show of my photographs and still lifes at the Kommunale Galerie in Berlin, Germany, which was accompanied by a catalogue (Kehrer Verlag). The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha exhibited still lifes in 2011 and in 2012, I had solo shows at the Galerie Jordanow in Munich, and the Werkhallen (Obermann/Burkhard) Bonn in Germany and in 2013 at Sherry Leedy, Kansas City, Missouri. In addition, my work was featured in group exhibitions in Hamburg, Germany; Lincoln, Nebraska; Tokyo, Japan; Trieste, Italy; and other venues in Austria and China.
Europe continues to offer venues to exhibit my photographs. Two locations in Trento, Italy—the Castel Pergine and the Teatro Communale di Pergine—were home to separate photographic projects in 2014, and my work was featured at the Cologne Fine Art Fair. In 2015, I enjoyed Arte Fiera in Bologna and the Milan Art Fair, and look forward to participating in SILOS Art Inside Venezia summer show during the Biennale. This fall, I will have solo shows at the Galerie Jordanow and the Museum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserlautern, and be a featured artist at the Villa Rot near Ulm.
Finally, two publications have been recently completed and a third is being developed. Vera Mercer: Particular Portraits, published by Distanz with contributions by Matthias Harder and Uta Grosenick, outlines my activities in portraiture from the 1960s to the present. A project that takes me full circle back to culinary adventures, The Boiler Room: The Restaurant and Its People, reflects on the artistry and atmosphere of the fine dining establishment we opened in 2012. Life, to be published in Berlin, will include my color still life photographs along with new black-and-white images isolating many of the objects that often appear in my compositions.