Kurt Schwitters: Merz (2016) – Norman Rosenthal interviews Damien Hirst

Fully illustrated catalog published by Galerie Gmurzynska in collaboration with Cabaret Voltaire Zurich on the occasion of Kurt Schwitters: MERZ, a major retrospective exhibition celebrating 100 years of Dada. The exhibition builds and expands on the gallery’s five decade long exhibition history with the artist, featuring exhibition architecture by Zaha Hadid. Edited by Krystyna Gmurzynska and Mathias Rastorfer. First of three planned volumes containing original writings by Kurt Schwitters, historical essays by Ernst Schwitters, Ad Reinhardt and Werner Schmalenbach as well as text contributions by Siegfried Gohr, Adrian Notz, Jonathan Fineberg, Karin Orchard, and Flavin Judd. Foreword by Krystyna Gmurzynska and Mathias Rastorfer. Interview with Damien Hirst conducted by Norman Rosenthal. Includes full color plates and archival photographs. 174 pages, color and b/w illustrations. English. ISBN: 978-3-905792-33-1 The publication includes an Interview with Damien Hirst by Sir Norman Rosenthal about the importance of Kurt Schwitters's practice for Hirst's work.

Fully illustrated catalog published by Galerie Gmurzynska in collaboration with Cabaret Voltaire Zurich on the occasion of Kurt Schwitters: MERZ, a major retrospective exhibition celebrating 100 years of Dada. The exhibition builds and expands on the gallery’s five decade long exhibition history with the artist, featuring exhibition architecture by Zaha Hadid.

Edited by Krystyna Gmurzynska and Mathias Rastorfer.

First of three planned volumes containing original writings by Kurt Schwitters, historical essays by Ernst Schwitters, Ad Reinhardt and Werner Schmalenbach as well as text contributions by Siegfried Gohr, Adrian Notz, Jonathan Fineberg, Karin Orchard, and Flavin Judd.

Foreword by Krystyna Gmurzynska and Mathias Rastorfer.

Interview with Damien Hirst conducted by Norman Rosenthal.

Includes full color plates and archival photographs.

174 pages, color and b/w illustrations.




The publication includes an Interview with Damien Hirst by Sir Norman Rosenthal about the importance of Kurt Schwitters's practice for Hirst's work.


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KURT<br />

SCHWIT<br />

TERS<br />






ZURICH<br />


KURT<br />


Volume I

KURT<br />

SCHWIT<br />

TERS<br />

galerie gmurzynska<br />

20th century masters since 1965<br />

w w w · g m u r z y n s k a · c o m

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. MERZ<br />

June 12th to September 30th <strong>2016</strong><br />

Exhibition architecture by<br />

Zaha Hadid<br />

In collaboration with<br />

Cabaret Voltaire,<br />

Adrian Notz<br />

Celebrating 100 years of<br />

Dada Zurich<br />

Presented at the original location<br />

of the first DADA exhibition

“In part spurred by Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm, [Jasper] Johns<br />

made a point of studying <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work in the collection of<br />

the Museum of Modern Art. In many ways, Johns suggested,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> was the first Dada figure to have significant impact<br />

on his thinking, preceding even Duchamp.”<br />

Leah Dickerman, the MoMA Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture, („<strong>Schwitters</strong> Fec.,” in<br />

Isabel Schulz (ed.), <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Color and Collage, The Menil Collection, Yale University Press, New<br />

Haven and London 2010, p. 88.<br />

We can safely assume that no artist living today was not, one way or another, influenced<br />

by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Galerie Gmurzynska’s continued fascination with <strong>Schwitters</strong> dates<br />

back 45 years, when in 1971 Antonina Gmurzynska organized her first in depth survey of<br />

the German Avant-Garde, featuring an impressive selection of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ works. Over<br />

the years the relationship with <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ son, Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, became a close<br />

friendship and large-scale one-man exhibitions of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ oeuvre would follow<br />

throughout the history of the gallery up to this date. A particular highlight was the 1980<br />

solo-show of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work in Paris at the FIAC, which was the first time that a<br />

substantial retrospective by the artist had been shown in France.<br />

With <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> MERZ we sought to expand this history and transport it to the<br />

21 st century. This major retrospective exhibition brings together a unique selection of<br />

seventy works across all media; including key works of each period, many of which have<br />

been especially loaned from significant collections.<br />

Presented in a fully transformed gallery space designed by the late Pritzker Price winning<br />

architect Zaha Hadid, this collaboration resulted from the idea of an architectural homage<br />

by Zaha Hadid to the famous ‘<strong>Merz</strong>bau’ of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

With Galerie Gmurzynska’s unique Zurich location in the same building complex where<br />

100 years ago the first DADA exhibition took place, celebrating this centennial, the<br />

retrospective is realized in curatorial collaboration with the Cabaret Voltaire, where the<br />

DADA movement originated in 1916.<br />

An exhibition of this scale owes its existence to many individuals and institutions. We<br />

are most fortunate for all the support we have received working on this once in a lifetime<br />


The project was only made possible by an extraordinary partnership with late Zaha Hadid<br />

and Zaha Hadid Architects, who have allowed us to reimagine the legendary ‘<strong>Merz</strong>bau’<br />

Gesamtkunstwerk as part of this retrospective timely presented for the Dada centennial<br />

in Zurich. We are therefore deeply thankful to Patrik Schumacher, the visionary torch<br />

bearer of Zaha Hadid Architects, Maha Kutay, Woody Yao, Melodie Leung and Filipa<br />

Gomes to name but a few.<br />

Our utmost gratitude must go to all authors for this important book, many of whom<br />

created texts exclusively for this publication, acting as true collaborators in delineating new<br />

approaches to see <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ multifaceted oeuvre and revealing his great importance<br />

spanning an inexhaustible array of genres and media. We extend special thanks to<br />

Norman <strong>Rosenthal</strong>, Flavin Judd, Adrian Notz of Cabaret Voltaire, Prof. Dr. Sigfried Gohr,<br />

Dr. Jonathan Fineberg and Dr. Karin Orchard.<br />

We are extremely grateful to <strong>Damien</strong> <strong>Hirst</strong> for his exclusively insightful interview<br />

underlining the absolute importance of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> as a game changer of 20 th century<br />

art and his enduring influence on all contemporary art today.<br />

For her relentless help and all the supportive information about the connections of<br />

Malevich and <strong>Schwitters</strong> we are very grateful to Jewgenija Petrova, Deputy Director of<br />

the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. We extend our particular gratitude to Dr. Karin<br />

Orchard and Dr. Isabel Schulz, Sprengel Museum Hannover, for their continuous help<br />

with all the comprehensive and extremely important research facilitating the overarching<br />

number of image requests.<br />

In their essential assistance for the catalog providing saliently scarce documents and<br />

images our greatest debt must be to <strong>Kurt</strong> und Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> Stiftung, Hanover;<br />

Bauhaus-Archiv Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin; Graphische Sammlung der ETH Zürich;<br />

Tate, London; Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript<br />

Library, New Haven; RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis, Den Haag;<br />

Historic England Archive, Swinden; National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh; Hammer<br />

Museum, Los Angeles and the Menil Foundation, Houston.<br />

We are also extremely grateful to all the private and institutional lenders, without their<br />

support this exhibition would not have been possible.<br />

Krystyna Gmurzynska & Mathias Rastorfer


10 MERZ (Extract from “ARARAT” December 19, 1920)<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

14 i (A Manifesto), Sturm, Vol. 13, No. 5, 1922<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

16 Anna Blossom has Wheels<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1942)<br />

18 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> photo album<br />

32 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, as writer, poet and lecturer<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1958)<br />

40 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

Werner Schmalenbach (1980)<br />

46 Introduction to the life and work of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

Siegfried Gohr (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

56 The consequence of Dada: MERZ<br />

Adrian Notz (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

76 <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Tending the Enchanted Garden<br />

Jonathan Fineberg (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

88 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A genius in friendship<br />

Siegfried Gohr (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

100 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

110 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> & Kazimir Malevich<br />

120 The Eloquence of Waste<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work and its reception in America<br />

Karin Orchard (2000)<br />

138 How to look on Modern Art in America<br />

Ad Reinhardt (1961)<br />

140 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: I urgently recommend that everybody<br />

buy their Christmas presents now<br />

Norman <strong>Rosenthal</strong> (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

148 Norman <strong>Rosenthal</strong> in conversation with <strong>Damien</strong> <strong>Hirst</strong> (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

154 Double Bladed Axe<br />

Flavin Judd (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

159 Chronology<br />

167 Selected Bibliography<br />

173 Solo Exhibitions

MERZ<br />


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />


One could make up a catechism of means of expression, were it not pointless, as pointless as<br />

the intention of expressing a meaning through a work of art. Every line, colour, shape has its<br />

distinct meaning. Every combination of lines, colours and shapes expresses a distinct meaning.<br />

The meaning can only be expressed by this special combination, it cannot be translated. One<br />

cannot render the meaning of a picture in words, just as one cannot paint the meaning of a word,<br />

the word ‘and’, for example.<br />

What a picture expresses is, however, so important that it is worth consistently striving for.<br />

Every attempt to depict natural forms detracts from the power of consistency in working out the<br />

expression. I rejected any reproduction of natural forms and painted only using pictorial forms.<br />

These are my abstractions. I harmonised the components of a picture with one another, just as I<br />

had done at art school, only not in the cause of reproducing nature, but in the cause of expression.<br />

Now even the striving for expression in a work of art seems to me harmful to art. Art is a basic<br />

concept, exalted as the deity, inexplicable as life, indefinable and purposeless. The work of art is<br />

created by the artist’s devaluing of its components. I only know how I do it, I only know my material<br />

on which I draw, I do not know for what purpose.<br />

The material is as unimportant as I am. What matters is the shaping of it. Because the material<br />

does not matter, I use anything to hand, if the picture requires it. As I can arrange different kinds<br />

of material to go together, I have a distinct advantage over pure painting in oils: in addition to<br />

juxtaposing colour with colour, line with line, form against form etc. I can also match material<br />

against material, say wood against sacking. I call the philosophy that gave rise to this kind of<br />

artistic creation “<strong>Merz</strong>”.<br />

The word “<strong>Merz</strong>” had no meaning when I invented it. Now it has the meaning I have given it. The<br />

meaning of the term “<strong>Merz</strong>” changes with the changing consciousness of those who continue to<br />

work within the meaning of the term.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> demands freedom from any restriction for the process of artistic creation. Freedom is not<br />

unbridled licence, but the outcome of a strict artistic discipline. <strong>Merz</strong> also implies tolerance<br />

regarding any limitation on artistic grounds. An artist must be permitted to compose a picture<br />

entirely out of pieces of blotting paper, as long as he has the power to create. To reproduce<br />

natural elements is not important to a work of art. But representation of actual objects, inartistic<br />

in themselves, can make part of a picture, when integrated with the other parts of it.<br />

I have previously also gone in for other art forms, poetry, for instance. The basic ingredients of poetry<br />

are letters, syllables, words, sentences. Evaluation of these ingredients against one another creates<br />

poetry. The sense is only important where it is evaluated as one more factor.<br />

I evaluate sense against nonsense. I prefer nonsense, but that is just a personal affair. I feel sorry for<br />

nonsense, because hitherto it has hardly ever been artistically shaped, that is why I love nonsense.<br />


Here I must mention Dadaism, which like me cultivates nonsense. There are two groups of Dadaists,<br />

the Core- and the Shell-Dadas, of which the latter reside mainly in Germany. Originally there were<br />

only Core Dadaists, the Shell-Dadaists under their leader Huelsenbeck shelled themselves off<br />

from this core, and in the splitting tore away parts of the core. The shelling took place to the<br />

accompaniment of loud howling, singing of the Marseillaise, and the dispensing of kicks by the<br />

elbows, a tactic Huelsenbeck employs to this day. Dadaism under Huelsenbeck became a political<br />

affair. The well-known Manifesto of the Dadaist Revolutionary Central Committee of Germany<br />

demands the introduction of extreme Communism as a Dadaist requirement. Huelsenbeck in his<br />

History of Dadaism of 1920, published by Steegemann, writes: “Dada is a German bolshevik affair”.<br />

The Central Manifesto mentioned above also calls for “the most brutal war against Expressionism.”<br />

Further, in the History of Dadaism Huelsenbeck writes: “Art should really be punishable by<br />

flogging.” In the introduction to the recently published Dada Almanac Huelsenbeck writes: “Dada<br />

carries on a sort of anticulture propaganda.” It follows that Shell-Dadaism is politically orientated,<br />

against art and against culture. I am tolerant and every man is welcome to his own opinions, but<br />

I must just mention that such views are foreign to <strong>Merz</strong>. On principle <strong>Merz</strong> works for art alone,<br />

because no man can serve two masters. However, “the Dadaists’ conception of Dadaism is very<br />

varied”, as Huelsenbeck himself admits. Thus Tzara, the leader of the Core Dadaists, writes in the<br />

Manifesto Dada 1918: “Every artist produces his own work in his own way,” and further: “Dada is<br />

the trade mark of Abstract Art.” I should mention that <strong>Merz</strong> is linked by close ties of friendship to<br />

this form of Core-Dadaism and to the art of the Core-Dadaists Hans Arp – whom I particularly love<br />

– Picabia, Ribémont-Dessaignes and Archipenko. Shell-Dada, in Huelsenbeck’s own words, “has<br />

made into God’s buffoon.” Whereas Core-Dadaism clings to the good old traditions of abstract<br />

art. Shell-Dada “foresees its own end and laughs at it”, while Core-Dadaism will live as long<br />

as art itself. <strong>Merz</strong>, too, aspires to art and is against kitsch, even deliberate kitsch on principle,<br />

even where under Huelsenbeck’s leadership it calls itself Dadaism. Not just anybody, lacking any<br />

discrimination in Art, may write about art: “quod licet jovi non licet bovi”. <strong>Merz</strong> fundamentally and<br />

vigorously rejects the inconsequential and dilettantish views on art of Herr Richard Huelsenbeck,<br />

while giving official recognition to the above-mentioned views of Tristan Tzara.<br />

At this point I must clear up a misunderstanding, which could arise through my friendship with<br />

certain Core Dadaists. One might think that I consider myself a Dadaist, especially as the jacket<br />

of my book of poems Anna Blume, published by Paul Steegemann, mentions the word “dada”.<br />

Drawings on the same cover show a windmill, a head, a locomotive going backwards, and a man<br />

suspended in the air. All that means is that in the world inhabited by Anna Blume, where people<br />

stand on their heads, windmills turn and steam engines go backwards, that also exists. To avoid<br />

being misunderstood, I have put the word “Antidada” on the cover of my Cathedral. That does not<br />

mean that I am against Dadaism, but that in the world there is also a counter current to Dadaism.<br />

Engines may drive from the front or the rear. Why should an engine not go backwards for once?<br />

I have sculpted as long as I have painted. At present l am doing <strong>Merz</strong> sculptures: a fun gallows<br />

and a cult pump. <strong>Merz</strong> sculptures, like <strong>Merz</strong> pictures, are assembled out of a variety of materials.<br />

They are intended as all-round sculptures and be viewed from any angle.<br />


<strong>Merz</strong> House was my first piece of <strong>Merz</strong> architecture. Spengemann writes about it in Zweeman<br />

8—10: “I see <strong>Merz</strong> House as a Cathedral: the Cathedral. Not church architecture - no, a building<br />

as the expression of a truly intellectual view of what elevates us to the eternal: absolute art. This<br />

Cathedral cannot be used. Its interior is so filled with wheels that human beings can find no room<br />

in it... that is pure architecture, whose only purpose is as a work of art.”<br />

Trying out various art forms was an artistic necessity. The reason was not an urge to extend the<br />

range of my activities, but the desire to be, not a specialist in one art form, but an artist. My aim is<br />

the <strong>Merz</strong> total work of art, uniting all forms of art in one artistic unity. As a start I have assembled<br />

poems out of words and sentences such that the rhythmic–order produces a drawing. Conversely,<br />

I have stuck together paintings and drawings from which sentences can be read. I have nailed<br />

pictures in such a way that in addition to the painted effect there is a three-dimensional effect.<br />

This was done in order to blur the boundaries of the art forms.<br />

MERZ by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />


i<br />


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1922)<br />

Any child todays knows what <strong>Merz</strong> is. But what is? i is the middle vowel<br />

of the alphabet and the sign for <strong>Merz</strong>’ grasping of artistic form, taken to<br />

its highest degree. <strong>Merz</strong> makes use of large ready-made complexes to<br />

form a work of art. These materials shorten the distance from intuition to<br />

the realisation of an artistic idea, reducing loss by friction. i reduces this<br />

distance = zero. Idea, material and work of art are one and the same. i<br />

comprehends the work of art in nature. The act of creation means here the<br />

recognition of rhythm and expression in a part of nature. Thus there is no<br />

loss through friction; no distractions can occur during the creative act.<br />

I postulate i, not as the sole art-form, but as a special form. In my exposition<br />

in May 1922 in “Der Sturm” the first i-drawings were shown. For Messieurs<br />

art-critics, I must add that naturally much more skill is required to extract a<br />

work of art from unformed natural material than to put together according<br />

to one’s own artistic principles a work of art from just any material; it needs<br />

only to be formed into a work of art. The material for i is however, not so<br />

easily found, since not every piece of nature is artistically formed. Thus i is<br />

a special form. For once it is necessary to be consistent. Can an art-critic<br />

grasp that?<br />

Der Sturm Volume 13, number 5, 1922<br />


15<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (ed.), <strong>Merz</strong> 2. Nummer /i/, <strong>Merz</strong>verlag, Hanover April 1923


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1942)<br />

O Thou, beloved of my twenty seven senses, I love thine!<br />

Thou thee thee thine, I thine, thou mine. – we?<br />

That belongs (by the side) not here!<br />

Who art Thou, uncounted woman? Thou art – art Thou –<br />

People say, Thou werst, -<br />

Let them say, they don’t know, how the churchtower stands.<br />

You wearest your head on your feet and wanderst on your hands,<br />

On thy hands wanderst Thou.<br />

Hallo thy red dress, clashed in white folds,<br />

Red I love Anna Blossom, red I love Thine!<br />

Thou Thee Thee Thine, I Thine, Thou mine, – we?<br />

That belongs (by the side) in the cold glow.<br />

Red Blossom, red Anna Blossom, how say the people?<br />

Price question:<br />

1. Anna Blossom has wheels.<br />

2. Anna Blossom is red.<br />

3. What colours are the wheels?<br />

Blue is the colour of thy yellow hair.<br />

Red is the whirl of thy green wheels.<br />

Thou simple maiden in everyday-dress,<br />

Thou dear green animal, I love Thine!<br />

Thou Thee Thee Thine, I Thine, Thou mine – we?<br />

That belongs (by the side) in the glow box.<br />

Anna Blossom, Anna, A—N—N—A<br />

I trickle your name.<br />

Thy name drops like soft tallow.<br />

Does thou know it, Anna, does thou already know it?<br />

One can also read thee from behind,<br />

And thou, thou most glorious of all,<br />

Thou art from the back, as from the front:<br />

A—N—N—A<br />

Tallow trickles to strike over my back.<br />

Anna Blossom,<br />

Thou drippes animal,<br />

I – Love – Thine!<br />


17<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Anna Blume. Dichtungen (Silbergäule), Paul Steegemann Verlag, Hanover 1919

t<br />


P H O T O A L B U M<br />

Some pages from <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ family<br />

photo album, photographed and pasted<br />

by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

t<br />


t<br />

Page from <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ family album: <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> reciting the Ursonate,<br />

photographed by Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

19<br />


t<br />

20<br />


t<br />

21<br />


t<br />

22<br />


t<br />

23<br />


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26<br />


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27<br />


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29<br />


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31<br />


KURT<br />



Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1958)<br />

32<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Lysaker, 1937.<br />

© bpk / Sprengel Museum Hannover /<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>

Almost all the pioneers of modern art of the<br />

late, nineteen tens, the ‘Great Twenties’, and<br />

the early thirties tried to achieve ‘Universal<br />

Art’. Few only reached such a degree of<br />

versatility as did <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

Born June 20th, 1887 in Hannover,<br />

Germany, in the ‘Golden Age’ of business<br />

and bourgeoisie, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> had a<br />

conventional background and upbringing.<br />

At high school he was a brilliant pupil,<br />

particularly in mathematics! In drawing —<br />

art appreciation did not, as yet, exist in school<br />

terminology — he was not above normal but<br />

he had already made up his mind.<br />

After his matriculation in 1908 he attended<br />

the Arts and Craft School at Hannover for<br />

a year, then studied at the Academy of Art<br />

in Dresden from 1909—1914, with one<br />

intermediate guest-year at the Academy of<br />

Berlin.<br />

His studies were interrupted by World<br />

War One, and — in his own words —<br />

he “gallantly fought on all fronts of the<br />

Waterloo Place”, Hannover’s exercising<br />

ground. He succeeded in making so much<br />

of a fool of himself and everybody else, that,<br />

to the “military mind”, he seemed mildly<br />

“touched”, and was, henceforth, released<br />

from military duty. Instead he was drafted to<br />

draw machines till the end of the war.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> hated the war and the false<br />

ideals it fought for. When peace, at last,<br />

came, the revolutionary search for a better<br />

future, for truer ideals, for a strong, functional<br />

culture inspired him immensely, and from the<br />

very start he was in the forefront of cultural<br />

development.<br />

In 1918 he rounded off his interrupted<br />

studies in painting and drawing by a year<br />

of architectural studies at the Technical High<br />

School at Hannover. “How”, he said, “I will<br />

have to ‘unlearn’ and start working!”<br />

Already in 1917 his first abstract pictures<br />

had been painted. 1918 saw the birth of his<br />

later so famous technique of collage, which<br />

he called “MERZ” (and, incidentally, of my<br />

own self.—)<br />

MERZ-collages were stuck, nailed, in<br />

fact built of a large variety of hitherto —<br />

for purposes of creating art — unlikely<br />

bits of refuse, used as splotches of colours,<br />

movement, form, in completely abstract<br />

compositions. “Nothing is too Iowly to be<br />

used as factors in a composition, in fact, age<br />

and signs of wear induce their own patina<br />

of beauty.”<br />

I believe, it is true to say, that my father<br />

saw the great beauty of weariness, tiredness,<br />

ruin, which surrounded him everywhere<br />

after the war, and of the inherent qualities<br />

of these characteristics, to rebuild a better,<br />

sounder more honest culture. Beyond this, no<br />

“symbolism” should be read into his work as<br />

a painter. He created for the sake of beauty.<br />

He made pure compositions.<br />

However, a parallel developed in his<br />

writing, and, particularly during the first,<br />

dadaistic period, there was a great similarity,<br />

as far as concerns the use of apparently and<br />

conventionally useless bits of ‘rubbish’: bits<br />

of advertising, proverbs etc., sentences, cut<br />

into nonsense, all recombined into a new<br />

composition. But — in this dadaistic writing,<br />

there definitely was a deeper meaning,<br />

however ‘nonsensical’ it appeares at first<br />

sight.<br />

As much of it is bound to geographical<br />

localities and to its particular time, it is<br />


KURT SCHWITTERS AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER · by Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

34<br />

sometimes difficult for ‘outsiders’ to read<br />

sense into the apparent nonsense. But the<br />

general aim of my father’s early dadaistic<br />

writing is, to utterly destruct, by ridiculing<br />

and by subtle sarcasm, the false and hollow<br />

sentiment of decadent bourgeois culture,<br />

thus ‘plowing the ground’, as it were, for the<br />

seeds of a sounder culture. To achieve this,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> often used the very same false<br />

sentiments of bourgeoisie, but so interspersed<br />

with hilarious nonsense, that the hollowness<br />

was clearly exposed. Yet, the average<br />

bourgeois was so foxed by this method, that<br />

he simply declared <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> “mad”!<br />

— A wealth of this writing exists. It was<br />

published as books by the Hannovarian<br />

publisher Paul Stegemann, and appeared<br />

in the avantgardistic magazine Der Sturm,<br />

Berlin, as well as in a great variety of similar<br />

cultural magazines throughout Europe, and,<br />

finally, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ own magazine<br />

MERZ, all in those ‘revolutionary’ years<br />

1918 to approximately 1923.<br />

The poem An Anna Blume (To Eve<br />

Blossom) can safely be said to having<br />

been the most successful and, to date, most<br />

well-known work of this period of <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ literary work. It was the highlight<br />

of my father’s traditional ‘MERZ-evenings’<br />

— lecture- and recital-evenings — at his<br />

home in Hannover, regularly attended by<br />

Hannover’s ‘intelligencia’, and by artists<br />

and art-interested people from all over the<br />

world. Eventually, in 1927, the Süddeutscher<br />

Rundfunk (the southern German Broadcasting<br />

Co.) had my father recite this poem and<br />

his equally famous Sonate in Urlauten in<br />

Frankfurt a/M, and recordings were made<br />

simultaneously. 1<br />

The original recording by my<br />

father, recorded here, starts off the present<br />

l/p record.<br />

An Anna Blume is a conventional<br />

bourgeois love declaration, of course, so<br />

subtly is this done, that it simply exposes<br />

the hollowness, and forces us smile at<br />

our own futility.<br />

During these turbulent years of cultural<br />

development <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> came into<br />

contact with, and eventually collaborated<br />

closely with many of the leading Dadaists as<br />

Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, Theo van Doesburg,<br />

Raoul Hausmann and others. When a section<br />

of the Dadaists, with Richard Huelsenbeck<br />

in the lead, took a pro-communist political<br />

turn, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> called a definite stop. In<br />

the famous Manifest Proletkunst (Manifesto<br />

Proletarian Art), signed by Arp, my father,<br />

Cristoph Spengemann and Tzara, these<br />

leading Dadaists clearly state, that art<br />

cannot, by definition, be political.<br />

“If a politician creates art, he is not a<br />

politician any more, but an artist, without<br />

relation to any particular ‘class’. Art is not<br />

created for or by any particular ‘class’. It is<br />

above such matters of moment.” Conversely:<br />

if art has a political tendency, it is not art<br />

any more, but political propaganda! How<br />

the lurid, clear logic of this manifest must<br />

have shocked all those good people, who felt<br />

so secure in their belief, that the Dadaists,<br />

and with them <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, simply were<br />

“madmen”! And how it shocked into violent<br />

aggressiveness those Dadaists of the time,<br />

who were unable to separate Socialism from<br />

the honest search for a new culture and<br />

cutural expression! —<br />

But the time had come, to end subtle<br />

destruction, and to rebuild instead. In a more

‘constructivist’ period, which, also in <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ collages, painting and sculptures,<br />

extends from about 1923 to about 1928,<br />

he slowly, but with great consequence and<br />

concentration, builds up a totally abstract<br />

‘sound-poem’, the famous Sonate in Urlauten<br />

(Sonate in Primeval Sounds), the second<br />

part of this I/p. The creative spark came in<br />

1921, when, during a lecture tour to Prague,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, for the first time, heard<br />

Raoul Hausmann’s sound-poem fmsbw. He<br />

immediately recognized the potentialities of<br />

this new form of expression, and he recited it<br />

constantly, during his lectures, as “A portrait<br />

of Raoul Hausmann”.<br />

Over the years the Sonata grew, both in<br />

volume and variation, until it had little or no<br />

resemblance to Raoul Hausmann’s original<br />

poem. It was no more a poem, in fact, but<br />

music — spoken by mouth! The original<br />

fmsbw had long since become “fümms<br />

böwötää zääuu — rögiff — kwiiee!”, and<br />

was merely part of one of the many themes<br />

of the Sonata, now. My father’s lively interest<br />

in music helped him a lot, here.<br />

I shall never forget those many ‘MERZevenings’,<br />

where, as a four-, five-, six-yearold,<br />

I used to have my regular place in the<br />

centre of the front-row of seats, directly<br />

opposite my father, marvelling openmouthed<br />

at him. —<br />

It was during these evenings, that the<br />

Sonata grew. It never was read off a<br />

manuscript, although, in its various stages of<br />

development, it had been published in artmagazines<br />

everywhere. But my father knew<br />

it by heart, and preferred to improvise the<br />

recital, as this gave him the chance to develop<br />

it continuously. Thus a great many people<br />

became witnesses of the slow development<br />

of this unique piece of — shall we say —<br />

‘music’ and/ or abstract poetry.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> had realised all along,<br />

that a phonetic way of noting down the<br />

Sonata was essential, if it should not die<br />

with him. Ordinary notes, as used for music,<br />

would not do here. With each successive<br />

publication he improved on the form of<br />

notation, and finally, in 1932, the Sonate in<br />

Urlauten was published as his last number of<br />

the MERZ magazine, no. 24. But, although<br />

this is undoubtedly the most phonetic way<br />

of notation to date, it is virtually impossible<br />

to recite it correctly, simply by reading it. A<br />

prime necessity is, that one has heard <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> recite it as often as possible.<br />

This is the reason why, ‘under pressure<br />

from all sides’, I have finally agreed to try<br />

to recite it as best I can. I am fully aware,<br />

that my recital can, in no way, be compared<br />

with my father’s. But then, I am only reciting,<br />

not creating. I must not improvise! Moreover,<br />

I have a different voice, particularly in<br />

volume! Even though, as a lecturer, l am<br />

quite used to speak concise, and to ‘cover’ a<br />

large audience.<br />

But you try to do it better! — There is, at<br />

least, one point I have in favour of all others:<br />

I have got the Sonate in Urlauten — so to<br />

say — with my ‘mother’s milk’. I have heard<br />

it at least 200—300 times! I have closely<br />

followed it’s development. I have immensely<br />

admired it, as I have admired my father. I<br />

believe, I shall never forget the intonation<br />

and pronunciation of it, as I also would never<br />

be able to forget, how to walk! Anyhow, it is<br />

the best I can do. —<br />

Concurrent with the development of the<br />


KURT SCHWITTERS AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER · by Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />


Sonata and after the Dadaists period, <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> wrote numerous poems of a style,<br />

slightly reminiscent of Morgenstern: rhythmic,<br />

humorous, and sometimes ironical, but always<br />

understanding, positive, friendly. Also his<br />

well-known ‘Grotesques’ developed in these<br />

years: 1923—1933. Some were humorous,<br />

some outright sarcastic, particularly when<br />

they criticised certain unhealthy aspects of<br />

contemporary life and thinking, like militarism,<br />

hero-worship, etc.<br />

A very typical side of his literary work during<br />

this time were his dialectic grotesques. They<br />

usually developed out of some mild irritation<br />

over a very talkative person. The most wellknown<br />

ones are undoubtedly Der Schirm (The<br />

umbrella), Schacko (The name of a pet parrot),<br />

Main näiääs Hutt (My new hat, Hungarian-<br />

German accent. The ‘original’ is Prof. Breuer<br />

of the Bauhaus, a friend of my father’s), Die<br />

Amerikanerin (The American Lady) and the<br />

hilarious Kleines Gedicht für große Stotterer<br />

(A little poem for great stutterers).There is<br />

one thing in common with all these works,<br />

as also with the poems and the Sonata: they<br />

developed slowly, improvised, as they were,<br />

during <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ MERZ lectures, and are<br />

very dependant on a correct, but very specific<br />

intonation and pronounciation. Usually,<br />

they were first written down after years of<br />

improvised recitation, when my father felt sure<br />

of the final form. Some were, unfortunately<br />

never written down at all, and only an all too<br />

vague memory of them remains in my ears.<br />

The problem of a phonetic way of noting<br />

down the intonation and pronunciation of<br />

my father’s literary work has baffled him<br />

throughout his life, and, finding no solution,<br />

many later works have, unfortunately, never<br />

appeared in print at all. Fortunately, they exist<br />

as manuscripts in his hand, and, I believe,<br />

l am still able to recite them as close to the<br />

original as is humanly possible. Eventually,<br />

they have to be recorded, at least on tape.<br />

1933 and the advent of Hitler almost<br />

brought the end of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ litterary<br />

work. He could, of course, not any more<br />

publicize anything in Germany. In 1934 his<br />

many earlier, published works were amongst<br />

those, destroyed during the Autodafee. In<br />

January 1937 he finally fled from Germany<br />

and lived and worked in his home in Lysaker,<br />

near Oslo, Norway. But, although he had<br />

lived in Norway for longer and longer<br />

periods every year, since he first visited that<br />

beautiful country in 1929, he never learned<br />

Norwegian so fluently as to be able to write<br />

in Norwegian. Only very few Norwegian<br />

poems exist in manuscript, one of them —<br />

Vamos — (the name of a dog) a wonderful<br />

sound-poem, even for those who do not<br />

understand Norwegian, although the content<br />

of the poem, too, is very touching.<br />

Then the Nazis invaded Norway, too, on<br />

April 9th 1940, and we both left the country<br />

for England. My father spoke English since<br />

his high school days, but, to write poetry or<br />

even prose in a ‘learned’ language is quite a<br />

different thing to speaking it, even relatively<br />

fluently. However, he did write a number of<br />

English poems, which appear concurrently in<br />

a little booklet: published by my authority by<br />

the Gaber Bochus Press.<br />

37<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Photograph of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in a boat at the foot of a glacier, 1935<br />

© Tate, London 2015

KURT SCHWITTERS AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER · by Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />


Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Photograph of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

painting near Djupvassjytta,<br />

Norway, 1933<br />

© Tate, London 2015<br />



KURT<br />

S C H W I T T E R S<br />

(1980)<br />

!<br />

40<br />

When <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> died in exile in England early in1948, there were few in<br />

Europe who noted the fact. His name was not prominent in the annals of recent art<br />

history. True, he was not totally forgotten in his home town of Hanover, which at that<br />

time lay in ruins. There were many still alive who had known him, to whom he had been<br />

an experience. But there was little question of mourning ‘a famous son of this town’.<br />

People mainly recalled the former enfant terrible, the many turbulent scenes and highspirited<br />

escapades with which this man had alarmed good citizens of his birthplace.<br />

Only a few were aware that a great artist had died, and no commemorative exhibition –<br />

in Hanover or anywhere else in the world –honoured his memory, which was kept alive<br />

solely in the United States, and even there was restricted to a few small circles.

All this changed at a stroke with the first great <strong>Schwitters</strong> Exhibition held in the spring<br />

of 1956 by the famous Kestner-Gesellschaft art society in Hanover, once a favourite of<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> himself, and thereafter shown in the public galleries of Amsterdam, Brussels<br />

and Berne. The work of the artist’s whole lifetime, a large part of which had been hidden<br />

away in unopened cases somewhere near Oslo ever since <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ emigration, for the<br />

first time saw the light of day. The exhibition moved like a triumphal procession through<br />

Europe: the startling revelation of an artist who had been noticed with amusement in his<br />

time, but never regarded as an outstanding figure of modern art. Now <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ name<br />

was on the map, no longer merely as an artistic clown and scourge of the bourgeoisie<br />

who had presided over his one-man- Dadaism more than 30 years ago in Hanover<br />

(albeit with some reverberations in the rest of Europe), but the name of one of the most<br />

considerable artists of his time.<br />

The time was ripe for him now: otherwise he would hardly have had such a sudden<br />

incendiary effect. In the late Fifties a strong neo-Dadaist element was emerging – a<br />

reaction against Abstract Expressionism – with such artists as Robert Rauschenberg<br />

and Jasper Johns. In France at the same time there was a parallel movement which<br />

called itself “Nouveau Réalisme” and also harked back to Dada. Everywhere collage<br />

and montage were making a comeback, scrap materials were invading the art scene; it<br />

was no longer the ‘law of chance’ that governed the movement of the brush, as with the<br />

Abstract Expressonists, but the choice and juxtaposition of all possible and impossible<br />

everyday objects and waste materials; and new – old – names were appearing in the<br />

artists’ precursors’ gallery: beside the Surrealists, with their cult of the ‘objet trouvé’<br />

and their ideology based on the principle of free association, there were two above all<br />

who are venerated to this day as the fathers – or grandfathers – of recent art: Marcel<br />

Duchamp and <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

Duchamp and <strong>Schwitters</strong>: without those two, both of whom had stopped working<br />

by 1950 – one by a conscious decision, the other through death – no history of art after<br />

1950 could be written.<br />

It was mainly the early, Dada-orientated <strong>Schwitters</strong> who influenced and entranced the<br />

public and, above all, other artists in that historic atmosphere around 1960: the large-scale<br />

collages of the Twenties – MERZ pictures, as <strong>Schwitters</strong> called them – with their decayed<br />

ingredients, their flaunted disorder and their secret order, and their expressive intensity,<br />

which was decidedly left over from the Expressionism which <strong>Schwitters</strong> had briefly breezed<br />

through just before; and also the hundreds of small-sized collages of all kinds of waste paper,<br />

their brilliant play between wilfulness and will, accident and law, form and its dissolution.<br />

With all this <strong>Schwitters</strong> entered deeply into the consciousness of contemporary artists. Any<br />

mention of <strong>Schwitters</strong> usually referred to this early ‘classical’ phase of his work.<br />


KURT S C H W I T T E R S · by Werner Schmalenbach<br />

!<br />

42<br />

El Lissitzky, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 1924<br />

Gelatin silver printphotograph, 11.43 x 10.16cm<br />

© <strong>2016</strong>. Christie’s Images, London/Scala, Florence

As the world changed, as the way of looking changed, so did the view of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

work – or rather, it expanded. Increasingly <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ contribution to the Constructivist<br />

Movement of the Twenties began to be appreciated. At the same time it was clear that this<br />

contribution was only valid where it was not a question of pure Constructivism or strictly<br />

geometric art, in other words, where <strong>Schwitters</strong> could remain himself. To this scintillating,<br />

vividly alive, essentially unorthodox and above all humorous spirit the dogma of the<br />

right angle must have seemed a starvation diet. <strong>Schwitters</strong> did enter into the Geometric<br />

Abstractions and Constructivism of his Friends – van Doesburg, Lissitzky, Moholy-<br />

Nagy – and adopted the principles of de Stijl and the Bauhaus; but in his best work he<br />

transmuted these into something completely different: montages rather than constructions,<br />

assemblages of raw materials rather than artefacts; a few pieces of driftwood found on the<br />

North Sea shore rather than clean units of construction. The constructive had to embrace<br />

the elements of destruction, decay and accident, nor did <strong>Schwitters</strong> think it sacrilege to<br />

deviate from the right angle. Thus there were controversial elements, where others clung<br />

to dogma: intuition instead of planned construction, invention rather than gospel. Yet<br />

that too was a contribution to the Constructivist avant-garde of that time. And as neo-<br />

Constructivist trends were surfacing everywhere during the Sixties, naturally enough in<br />

this context, too, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ name was retrospectively established.<br />

But what about the later<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>? The one who<br />

gradually grew away from his<br />

homeland, who ultimately,<br />

after spending several months<br />

of every year in Norway, never<br />

returned to Hitler’s Germany<br />

again, but lived out the last few<br />

years of his life - 1940—1948 –<br />

as best he could in England,<br />

cut off both in space and<br />

time from that international<br />

avant-garde with which he<br />

had once felt so completely<br />

at home. This late work, like<br />

the late works of many artists,<br />

tended to be dismissed with a<br />

shrug. The collages might be<br />

accepted, but hardly the larger<br />

works, of which he did many<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Unsere Insel (Island of Hjertøya where<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> and Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> lived), undated<br />


KURT S C H W I T T E R S · by Werner Schmalenbach<br />

in England. People deplored that the collages were colourful, less witty, less pointed,<br />

and less appealing to the eye. As for the large assemblages and object-reliefs, they were<br />

felt to lack everything that had given beauty to the early MERZ works. The writer of this<br />

article felt very much the same when arranging the <strong>Schwitters</strong> Retrospective in Hanover<br />

in 1956, and when writing the long monograph on the artist which was published in<br />

1967. But soon afterwards I had to revise my opinion and realise that the late work was<br />

of equal importance to the earlier.<br />

!<br />

44<br />

Once again this change of opinion coincided with a general change in visual focus,<br />

presumably influenced by new developments in the field of contemporary art. A new<br />

movement was emerging, which, whatever view one might take of it, imperceptibly<br />

modified and transformed vision. Heralded by artistic events of the Fifties – in that<br />

sector of ‘informal art’ where one might place a painter like, say, Antoni Tàpies – a<br />

movement developed which has been termed ‘Arte povera’. <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work, with its<br />

preference for ‘moyens pauvres’, fell into this category from the start; but the term<br />

applies more specifically to the late works. There the poverty-stricken materials are<br />

left to their own devices, no longer, as in the early works, aesthetically refined and<br />

transmuted. No enchanting magic of colour is allowed to make its effect now; no assets,<br />

however modest, of colours, tones, harmonies, are brought into play. It no longer seems<br />

the purpose of these works to give the spectator aesthetic pleasure. The works have lost<br />

their musical quality, certainly, but they seem to have gained in humanity. Casualness,<br />

shabbiness, insignificance: all these mark the late works even more than the earlier,<br />

since the qualities are no longer displayed as an amusing stylistic invention, but as the<br />

true expression of the artist’s own life, long devoid of happiness. Where the early collages<br />

mainly have the air of light-hearted studies in a style, the later ones seem an extension<br />

of life itself, without any thought of ‘style’: a life that has lost its glitter and its carefree<br />

attitude. This foreshortening of the distance between art and life, which became so<br />

prevalent in the Sixties and Seventies, probably contributed as much as the rise of ‘Arte<br />

povera’ to the rediscovery and revaluation of the later <strong>Schwitters</strong>. The early works, with<br />

their great artistic confidence and their seductive charm, were now confronted by the<br />

late work, with its decrepitude, its melancholy, a self-confidence no longer unshaken.<br />

There might still be outrageous new departures and daring innovations, but they were<br />

not supported by the general trend of the time or the former fruitful companionship of<br />

like-minded peers. The whole must be seen against the background of a lonely artist<br />

in exile and a world shaken to its basic foundations. Only in a much later, posthumous<br />

climate of opinion could this work make its full effect: today!<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, when he first made his mark immediately after the First World War,<br />

had declared that the important thing was to build a new world out of the ruins. That

45!<br />

was exactly what he had done, in the most literal sense: he had picked up the pieces –<br />

discarded objects, litter, rubbish – and had ‘built’ his pictures out of these. Yet he always<br />

maintained that, for all the apparent lack of rules, what mattered to him was form, and<br />

form alone.<br />

‘Form’ was the vital concept for him; and of course that was why, a few years later,<br />

he was able to ally himself to Geometrism and Constructivism. But then, when his world<br />

was shattered for the second time, he could no longer react with gaiety and confidence.<br />

The tenor of his art became one of resignation, the drive of inspiration more laboured.<br />

The pictures, the assemblages, the collages grew more sombre, and, perhaps because of<br />

his own suffering, more humanly touching. Even the large MERZ pictures of the early<br />

Twenties had already been essentially serious: there was a lifelong constant of seriousness<br />

in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art. Conversely, the constant element of playfulness persisted, in spite of<br />

everything, to the very end of his life. He himself said it, after all, with resignation: “We<br />

play until Death comes for us.”<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art until around 1930 was<br />

in the highest degree a contemporary, and<br />

contemporarily aware, art. It was supremely<br />

up-to-date, both in its Dadaist and then in<br />

its (more or less) Constructivist phase. Such<br />

contemporary relevance in youth may be<br />

essential to, but can never be a guarantee<br />

of, survival. In this appreciation, written<br />

more than 30 years after <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ death,<br />

the survival, the posthumous influence<br />

of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work, has been linked<br />

with ‘contemporary’ trends: with Neo-<br />

Dadaism, Neo-Constructivism and Arte<br />

povera. Beyond its works in its own time,<br />

it has once more been linked with an era.<br />

However, it is important to recognise that<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> was one of those artists<br />

who transcend historical interest and<br />

survive beyond their own time through<br />

sheer intrinsic quality.<br />

Dr Elmer Belt,<br />

Photograph of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Norway, 1939<br />

© Tate, London 2015

t<br />

46<br />



KURT<br />


SIEGFRIED GOHR (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Photograph of <strong>Kurt</strong> und Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, ca. 1919<br />

© bpk / Sprengel Museum Hannover / Michael Herling / Aline Gwose

47<br />



t<br />

48<br />

•<br />

When the Dada movement arose in Zurich, Berlin and Cologne in 1916,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> was still a member of the avant-garde. After a traditional training<br />

in painting in Dresden he had returned to his hometown of Hanover. Within this<br />

context his work enjoyed a certain recognition, but the First World War broke out<br />

and, despite his epilepsy, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was conscripted in 1917 as a draughtsman.<br />

Already during his Dresden period he had a relationship with Helma Fischer, whom<br />

he married in 1915. In 1918 their son, Ernst, was born.<br />

•<br />

After his initial experience with modern art in Hanover, it was only through<br />

Herwarth Walden’s gallery, Der Sturm, in Berlin that he made the decisive contact<br />

with the avant-garde. There, after the war, <strong>Schwitters</strong> saw works by Marc Chagall,<br />

Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger and Paul Klee. Walden had a feel for the talents<br />

of the young man from Hanover who painted in an idiom of expressionism, futurism<br />

and cubism. <strong>Schwitters</strong> remained in Hanover at Waldhausenstr. 5, where his family<br />

lived under the same roof with his parents. In the years 1918/19, <strong>Schwitters</strong> broke<br />

with his previous styles and began to glue and assemble collages and material<br />

images. The first <strong>Merz</strong>bild came about, which contained the meaningless fragment<br />

of a word, MERZ, that was cut out from the company name, COMMERZBANK. The<br />

world war had resulted in Germany as the loser which, however, also opened up<br />

new opportunities, because the Kaiser had fled to the Netherlands. However, the<br />

post-war period also brought with it upheaval, revolution, violence and insecurity<br />

in every respect. <strong>Schwitters</strong> felt the situation for himself as liberating. The war’s end<br />

coincided with the discovery of his own path. He flung himself into activities of all<br />

kinds: artist, advertising graphic artist, lecturer, poet, writer, organizer, publisher.<br />

•<br />

Whereas after the First World War, Dada artists moved toward Surrealism,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> remained true to his own <strong>Merz</strong> cosmos. “<strong>Merz</strong> and Dada are related<br />

to each other through opposition,” he wrote. Nevertheless he was constantly put<br />

into a relation with Dada, although he did not want to belong to either this or any<br />

other group of artists. He had a particular dislike for the politically oriented Berlin<br />

Dadaism under the self-proclaimed leadership of Richard Huelsenbeck. Despite the<br />

differences, it nevertheless remains sensible to locate <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art in a proximity<br />

to Dada. His personality had a structure suiting Dada before he was able to get to<br />

know Dada at all; he was a Dadaist by nature.<br />

•<br />

To establish his artistic cosmos, <strong>Schwitters</strong> employed two innovations that had<br />

become significant in the cubism of Picasso and Georges Braque: the collage and

49<br />

t<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Hanover 1927<br />

the material image. What came about through his hands, however, was far removed<br />

from Parisian works because <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ preferred material was waste consisting<br />

of scraps of paper that he collected somewhere or other, and bits of objects he<br />

found. He carefully cleaned both, preserving the material in his sheer inexhaustible<br />

store until the right opportunity came along. Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, among<br />

many others, used much more ‘noble’ materials for their collages. Mostly they<br />

came from the world of the café. Newspaper headlines, names of drinks, concert<br />

announcements and similar crop up, that is, fragments from the close milieu of Parisian<br />

bohemian life. Particularly Picasso found many a witty constellation, e.g. allusions<br />

to the fairer sex with double entendre, but political, social or historical elements are<br />

lacking. The cubists remained strongly committed to their abstract, stylistic research.<br />

By comparison, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ collages possess a downright realistic character. The<br />

natural Dadaist element resided in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ method of combining everything with<br />

everything, of admitting and balancing opposites. Something banal could become<br />

the most significant element, and conversely. <strong>Merz</strong> took in each and every thing,<br />

ultimately, perhaps the entire world. What found its way into his compositions was<br />

‘revalued’ by <strong>Schwitters</strong>, i.e. it partially lost its identity and became part of an artistic<br />

composition. <strong>Merz</strong> was a ferment that could permeate anything at all: advertising,<br />

the theatrical stage, a fantastic architecture such as the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, or literature.<br />

•<br />

In 1919 the publishing house of Paul Steegemann in Hanover published Anna<br />

Blume, in which the most famous poem by <strong>Schwitters</strong> appeared for the first time. Next


t<br />

50<br />

to the artist, the poet and man of letters, <strong>Schwitters</strong>, stepped onto the public stage.<br />

The echo was mixed, as was to be expected at the time. Despite the lifelong negative,<br />

hostile and deprecatory reactions to his art, <strong>Schwitters</strong> did not allow himself to be<br />

deterred, insisting on his <strong>Merz</strong> method, apparently unshaken. During the 1920s,<br />

despite all resistance, he became well-known and admired, but was also ridiculed and<br />

insulted. The acme of his activities was the ‘Dada campaign’ through the Netherlands<br />

in 1922/23. His restless activity led <strong>Schwitters</strong> to found the <strong>Merz</strong> publishing house.<br />

He published literary works such as Auguste Bolte elsewhere. A total of 21 <strong>Merz</strong><br />

periodicals appeared in his publishing house between 1923 and 1932, when the<br />

Ursonate appeared in Jan Tschichold’s typography. <strong>Schwitters</strong> earned his living also as<br />

an advertising graphic artist, e.g. for the Pelikan works in Hanover and the Dammerstock<br />

settlement in Karlsruhe. These works show the temporary influence of Dutch<br />

and Russian constructivism. In the Netherlands in 1917, the association of artists,<br />

De Stijl, had been founded under the theoretical leadership of Theo van Doesburg.<br />

During the 1920s, <strong>Schwitters</strong> sought contact. <strong>Schwitters</strong> approached the austere,<br />

sparing art of the Dutch, which comprised also architecture and everyday design. Of<br />

course, he was not at all inclined to bend to any kind of aesthetic dogma; therefore<br />

his ‘constructivism’ remains individual, and he always holds in store surprising turns<br />

and details. Apart from that, <strong>Schwitters</strong> combined colours very idiosyncratically, far<br />

removed from colleagues such as Piet Mondrian or Bart van der Leck. Apart from<br />

trips, lectures, correspondence, contacts, there remained in the background as a<br />

constant his work on the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, whose initial traces lead back to the year 1923;<br />

a ‘column’ had arisen. Ultimately, the architecture, the grottoes, the concentrations<br />

of material proliferated throughout the house at Waldhausenstr. 5 so that in the end,<br />

eight rooms and even a platform for sunbathing on the roof had come about. In<br />

1943, the building, including the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb.<br />

Three further <strong>Merz</strong>bau which <strong>Schwitters</strong> erected during exile in Norway and Britain<br />

were destroyed or have decayed. Of the centre of what he viewed as his life’s work,<br />

tragically, apart from a few fragments, nothing has remained.<br />

•<br />

Although <strong>Schwitters</strong> had had several stays in Norway starting in 1929, he did<br />

not consider emigrating. However, when he received news in 1939 that the Gestapo<br />

was looking for him, it became inconceivable for him to return to Hanover. After Hitler’s<br />

takeover of power in 1933, the avant-garde in Germany had a difficult time. All<br />

the compulsory measures taken against modern artists and their works reached<br />

their crescendo with the project, Degenerate Art, which resulted in the defamatory<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Merz</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Auguste Bolte, Verlag Der Sturm, Berlin 1923

51<br />



t<br />

52<br />

exhibition in 1937 at the Haus der deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich<br />

that subsequently toured throughout Germany. <strong>Schwitters</strong> soon became aware that<br />

his career in Germany was at an end. Already before he finally went into exile in<br />

Norway in 1937, he had frequently spent time there. Germany and the other countries<br />

of his earlier activities, such as the Netherlands and Switzerland, offered scarcely any<br />

opportunities for having any resonance for his work. Helma <strong>Schwitters</strong> remained in<br />

Hanover, looking after the house. What had caused consternation among visitors to<br />

his exhibition in Hildesheim already in 1922 — namely, that <strong>Schwitters</strong> was working<br />

simultaneously both realistically and on <strong>Merz</strong> — became a vital necessity for him in<br />

order to earn some income. He did some portrait-painting, and offered his landscapes<br />

to tourists in Norway, however, with only moderate success. Realistic work represents<br />

a significant portion of his entire oeuvre which raises it above the status of mere<br />

bread-and-butter work. Orientation in Norway, of course, was difficult, and even<br />

a continuation of his artistic path was unclear. Collages came about continually; in<br />

1938/39 <strong>Schwitters</strong> attempted an abstract style, a mixture of ‘impressionist’ dabs<br />

of colour and flowing forms, but also nourished by recollections of his constructivist<br />

works after 1923. However, he returned to the material image into which organic<br />

found pieces such as algae, mussels, bark, etc. increasingly found their way.<br />

•<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> incorporated everything into his work that defined his life-world.<br />

Although he had nothing to do with traditional historical painting, the history of his<br />

own period was in his work, whether it be in the form of paper snippets, bus tickets,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Norway 1933<br />

advertising, place names, wood, plaster, metal, wheels, bits of nature, and a lot more<br />

besides. His <strong>Merz</strong> periodicals as well were a mirror of the artistic strivings during the<br />

Weimar Republic. Therefore it amounts to a crude misappraisal to contemptuously

53<br />

look down upon the apparent nonsense in his works and poems; it reflects the errings<br />

and confusions of an entire period. The collision of work and reality, however, does<br />

not end negatively, but in a very idiosyncratic, new interpretation of what art could<br />

still be at all under the given historical conditions.<br />

t<br />

•<br />

For three years he lived with constant worries about a work permit and<br />

livelihood. After the German army invaded, he had to flee, which he succeeded in<br />

doing in dramatic circumstances, to Scotland. He boarded the last ship to depart<br />

Norway, the ice-breaker Fritjof Nansen. After various stages he was interred in a<br />

camp on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea from which he was released only in 1941,<br />

once again in exile in a foreign country. Just as little as in Norway were there<br />

any prospects of artistic success and recognition. Initially <strong>Schwitters</strong> remained in<br />

London where, as previously, he continued to collect the discarded remainders of<br />

civilization, ‘deformulating’ them and transforming them into <strong>Merz</strong> art. His works no<br />

longer had the constructivist background as in the 1920s, or the affinity to nature as<br />

in Norway. He increasingly selected a large urban iconography. Over everything,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

(looking at a<br />

daisy?), undated<br />

© Tate, London<br />



t<br />

54<br />

however, hung anxiety about the war and the aerial attacks. <strong>Schwitters</strong> therefore<br />

moved to the Lake District where nature received him hospitably. Landscapes and<br />

floral pieces came about besides portraits, collages and material images. Here his<br />

almost romantic inclination toward nature became apparent which hitherto had not<br />

played any decisive role in his oeuvre.<br />

•<br />

The only exhibition that took place in Britain during his lifetime was in 1944.<br />

It included more than 30 new works and, despite an essay by Herbert Read, an<br />

important art historian and critic, there was no sustained resonance. <strong>Schwitters</strong> the<br />

artist practically had ceased to exist in the public arena since the 1930s. In the<br />

United States there were individual attempts to arouse interest which, however, only<br />

bore fruit after the war. Although his health worsened progressively due to cardiac<br />

asthma, a stroke and eyesight problems that severely impaired his life, <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

created new works. Particularly touching are those works in which autobiographical<br />

motifs are legible. A collage from 1947 bears the title, A Finished Poet. Although the<br />

English romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is to be seen in a portrait from 1819, the<br />

parallel to <strong>Schwitters</strong> is obvious. Shelley, too, was forced by English society to leave<br />

the country. He died in Italy. Despite all the demonstrative persistence, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was<br />

all too aware of his tragic situation. There were phases of despair and depression;<br />

only contacts with the outer world were able to tear him out of the lethargic mood that<br />

continually recurred. Happily, with Edith Thomas, whom he called Wantee, in 1941<br />

he had found a person who lovingly took care of him. He experienced Wantee’s<br />

care as that of an angel whom his wife, Helma, had sent him. When he received<br />

the telegram in 1944 with news that Helma had died of cancer, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ past in<br />

Hanover disappeared once and for all.<br />

•<br />

The generation of artists who were reorienting<br />

themselves since the late 1950s took up very<br />

different impulses from <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ oeuvre, for<br />

post-war abstraction had exhausted itself, and the<br />

gesture of the artist who captured psychic and<br />

physical energies on the canvas had rigidified. The<br />

rediscovery of Dada gained stimuli mainly from New<br />

York where the artist, Robert Motherwell, edited an<br />

anthology in 1951, The Dada Painters and Poets.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 1940s

55<br />

t<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Norway 1933<br />

•<br />

The book’s fourth chapter is devoted to <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong> art. On the one hand,<br />

the collage was re-established as an art form during the 1950s; on the other, the<br />

relationship between the art work and reality changed not only via this path. The art<br />

was to be short-circuited with the world, an aim which <strong>Schwitters</strong> had anticipated<br />

with his comprehensive <strong>Merz</strong> concept. In contrast to Marcel Duchamp, <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

remained a realist throughout his life if by this concept is meant an open, inquisitive<br />

stance toward historical reality. Realism understood primarily as a stance and not<br />

as a style — that was <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ cause. Duchamp’s search for the spirit of<br />

art, his irony, his periods of ‘silence’ and his dandyism were on another planet of<br />

modern art that orbited about itself. What the young American artists were able to<br />

take up from <strong>Schwitters</strong> was not limited to collage technique, for it had been used by<br />

many predecessors. What counted was the relation to the present itself in works that<br />

were apparently eccentric. <strong>Schwitters</strong> had employed advertising and public-domain<br />

images; he had wandered through his life-world with an open eye and had collected<br />

what seemed suitable to him. Even then he was a realist when he was not painting<br />

realistically, for which reason the apparent contradiction in the blocks of works is<br />

ameliorated. Not the technique, but the attitude was the message.<br />

•<br />

Much too late in life did his artistic work begin to be regarded for what it was:<br />

an epoch-making contribution to modern art, albeit a highly individual one by a loner.

t<br />

56<br />

The consequence of DADA:<br />

To Anna Blume<br />

MERZ<br />

Adrian Notz (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> theory:<br />

t t t<br />

Use of all kind of material for artistic work<br />

Playing off these materials against each other<br />

Imperative claim to autonomy for art (pure art) 1<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Die Blume Anna. Die neue Anna Blume. Eine Gedichtsammlung aus den Jahren 1918-1922,<br />

Der Sturm Verlag, Berlin 1923

t<br />

57<br />

t<br />

The beginning of <strong>Merz</strong> theory can be traced back to the origin of the so-called <strong>Merz</strong>bild<br />

of 1919, a collage on which <strong>Schwitters</strong> glued, between abstract shapes, the word MERZ that<br />

he had cut out of an advertisement of the KOMMERZ and PRIVATBANK 2 . This is where<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> came upon the word <strong>Merz</strong>. At the beginning of the evolution of <strong>Merz</strong> as a theory,<br />

though, there is a woman: Anna Blume. It<br />

is her who stimulates <strong>Merz</strong> and in the first<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>gedicht (<strong>Merz</strong>poem), she stands at<br />

the beginning of an evolution. The great<br />

yearning and wonderfully playful, tender<br />

declaration of love, that the “I” in An<br />

Anna Blume (To Anna Blume) professes,<br />

is already dissolved a few pages later in<br />

the 8 th <strong>Merz</strong>gedicht, in an execution of<br />

oneself. One realizes that Anna Blume<br />

will never be reached, as she merely is<br />

an illusion, a creation that stems from<br />

the longing imagination of the “I”. This<br />

realization, that a fictitious entity is able to<br />

create a real yearning, triggers an equally<br />

real self-dissolution, which finds its poetic<br />

expression in the 8 th <strong>Merz</strong>gedicht with<br />

its trivial title Die Zwiebel (The Onion):<br />

“It was a very momentous day, the day<br />

on which I was to be slaughtered.” 3 This<br />

“I” is being killed and slaughtered in Die<br />

Zwiebel, and describes all incidents as an<br />

observer of his own slaughter, but from<br />

a subjective point of view. It reaches a<br />

point where the king – a princess makes<br />

an appearance as well, she even sings<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ workers’ song 4 – drinks<br />

from the blood of the slaughtered, which<br />

turns out to be corrosive to an extent as<br />

it poisons and eventually kills him. After that, the slaughtered is being put back together, the<br />

blood infused, the inner organs placed in his body and finally the split skull is being closed up<br />

The consequence of DADÁ MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Memoiren Anna Blumes in Bleie. Eine leichtfassliche Methode zur Entfernung<br />

des Wahnsinns für Jedermann, Walter Heinrich Verlag, Freiburg (Baden) 1922<br />

1<br />

MERZ 20: <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> catalogue, 1927<br />

2<br />

Ibid. p. 99<br />

3<br />

Die Zwiebel, ibid., p. 16<br />

4<br />

Cf. Ibid., p. 19, also published in Sturm Bilderbücher, IV, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Berlin 1920, p. 4

t<br />

58<br />

again, so that he can be brought back to life. The princess begs the formerly slaughtered for<br />

help in order to bring the king back to life, but he decides the king stay dead. He kills the king<br />

by means of his own slaughter; not only does he leave him lying dead, but he also orders that<br />

two yellow candles be inserted in the holes in the king’s gut and that they be lit, whereupon the<br />

king – given the corrosive blood of the slaughtered – explodes. “The people called out a rousing<br />

hip-hip-hurray on my behalf” 5 .<br />

Following the torn king, <strong>Schwitters</strong> continues the scent of death in Das Verwesungswesen<br />

(The Nature of Decay) 6 and he refers to Anna Blume directly: “Trumpet climb Anna Blume<br />

elephant.” “You. – I cannot withhold the great walk from you either” 7 . After slaughtering himself<br />

and murdering the king, <strong>Schwitters</strong> turns towards Anna Blume and covers her with the scent<br />

of death by pointing out that Anna Blume and Arnold Böcklin have the same initials, creating<br />

an immediate memento mori of Arnold Böcklin. Thus, in the <strong>Merz</strong>gedicht 9, Anna Blume’s<br />

execution is demanded 8 . <strong>Schwitters</strong> does not execute her himself, but lets her die poetically, as<br />

“Die Hinrichtung” (The Execution) ends with: “Poor legs lower bodies. Anna Blume greens the<br />

withering.” 9<br />

Regicide <strong>Schwitters</strong> soars from this low point, this withered, upsetting situation, and<br />

launches the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne (<strong>Merz</strong>stage). After the bitter loss of the love of his life and of himself,<br />

the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne now serves as a radiant, defying Bachelor Machine, and which he leans upon in<br />

a combative way and full of a visionary zest of action, calling all stages of the world in order to<br />

enforce the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne. 10<br />


What <strong>Merz</strong>bühne demands is “the general equality of all materials, equality between perfect<br />

human, idiot, whistling wire gauze and idea pump”. The claim for equality of all materials<br />

culminates in the proposition that anything can be used for <strong>Merz</strong>. People even transform into<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> and begin to speak in reasonable sentences. While <strong>Schwitters</strong> sticks to more specific<br />

materials and describes how these become <strong>Merz</strong> or are merzed, he merges the standardization<br />

of interior design and the formation of time using a human being as material. He already<br />

anticipates a <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk (total synthesis of <strong>Merz</strong> art) that we cannot create, but<br />

which arises without the help of an author or individual. <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk is bigger than<br />

man, it affects the whole. <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk becomes a materialized idea, almost as if the<br />

material got out of control in all its dimensions and was formed by <strong>Merz</strong>.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> started <strong>Merz</strong> in a very promising way. With <strong>Merz</strong> in his pocket, he discovers Anna<br />

5<br />

Die Zwiebel, ibid., pp. 26-276 Das Verwesungswesen, ibid., p. 27<br />

7<br />

Ibid.<br />

8<br />

Ibid., p. 28<br />

9<br />

Ibid., p. 28<br />

10<br />

“AN ALLE BÜHNEN DER WELT”, ibid., pp. 31-35

59 t<br />

t<br />

Blume and wants to love and unite <strong>Merz</strong> with Anna Blume. After the loss and reconstruction of<br />

his self and the mourning over the withered Anna Blume, he needs a new location for <strong>Merz</strong>: the<br />

stage. Thus, he can use acting in order to hide his loss and to stage himself as a big Zampano.<br />

He claims another, a new stage, as the conventional stages of the world are unsuitable for<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>: too small, too rigid. <strong>Schwitters</strong> claims a stage that allows for the Gesamtkunstwerk<br />

to be achieved. On and with <strong>Merz</strong>bühne, everything becomes material, even people and also<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. The transition he has gone through with Anna Blume and his slaughter turned him<br />

to artistic material of <strong>Merz</strong>.<br />

With Anna Blume, <strong>Schwitters</strong> makes a poetically fictitious link, similar to many great<br />

thinkers, artists and poets who take compensation as a stimulus for their work, i.e. the<br />

compensation for the loss of a woman. They try to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, to launch an<br />

ultimate artistic gesture with the help of yearning as obsessive motor.<br />


Anna Blume Dichtungen (Anna Blume Poetries) contains the core idea and all essential<br />

elements of <strong>Merz</strong>. <strong>Schwitters</strong> discovers <strong>Merz</strong> in the <strong>Merz</strong>bild and, with Anna Blume, contributes<br />

to its expression and form. Anna Blume is a thought and an intellectual fact come to life, whose<br />

consequence and logic <strong>Schwitters</strong> now pursues. After this initial experience, <strong>Schwitters</strong> climbs<br />

Mount Ararat, the mountain situated in the east of Turkey where Noah’s Arch supposedly had<br />

stranded, with <strong>Merz</strong> and publishes a text holding six pages in Der Ararat – Glossen/Skizzen<br />

und Notizen zur Neuen Kunst (2 nd year, no. 1. 1921) (The Ararat – Commentaries/Sketches and<br />

Notes on New Art). In this text, he first explains thoroughly the meaning of academic art. 11 The<br />

very detailed paragraph, which gives a very exhaustive and pedagogical account of the process<br />

as well as optimization possibilities of painting after nature, ends with: “This is academy!” 12<br />

He goes on to explain why this long and boring paragraph is necessary: “[…] to show that<br />

it is a labor of patience, that it can be learned, that it rests essentially on measurement and<br />

adjusting and provides no food for artistic creation.” 13 However, <strong>Schwitters</strong> also gains knowledge<br />

from the academic process, i.e. that measuring and adjusting visual objects with one another<br />

is the purpose of art. 14 Measuring and adjusting is a core element of the <strong>Merz</strong> idea. <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

often talks about playing off materials against each other. This reflection about the exact artistic<br />

process and about what art could be leads him to yet another realization: “Even striving for<br />

expression in a piece of art seems to be injurious for art. Art is a primordial concept, exalted<br />

like the godhead, inexplicable as life, indefinable and without purpose.” 15<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

11<br />

Ibid., p. 3<br />

12<br />

Ibid., p. 4<br />

13<br />

Ibid., p. 4<br />

14<br />

Ibid., p. 4<br />

15<br />

Ibid., p. 5

t<br />

60<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> painted pictures in accordance with his impressions (of nature) which gave<br />

them an expression. The so-called artistic expression is the transmission of a merely subjective<br />

impression. The artists of that period who were devoted to ‘New Art’, such as <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ friend<br />

Jean Arp, however, aimed at producing art preferably without subjective or personal expression.<br />

For art exists without the artist, it exists as primordial concept. <strong>Schwitters</strong> consistently progresses<br />

with this approach and not only does he declare himself unessential, but also the material which<br />

is used to create art. What is essential, however, is the artistic and formative process, which, in<br />

accordance with <strong>Merz</strong> theory, he finds in the measuring and adjusting of different materials. 16<br />


One year later, <strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes the “Tran No. 22” in Der Sturm (13. Jahr, no. 5,<br />

1922). “Tran” is a collection of <strong>Merz</strong>poems, published as a direct and personal answer to<br />

critics of his artistic work from 1919 to 1924 that had appeared in various magazines. Tran No.<br />

22 titled Tragödie (tragedy), an answer to the critique written by Dr. phil. et med. Weygandt,<br />

contains insertions and advertising slogans that also advertise <strong>Merz</strong>. One of them – “Klebekraft<br />

(Adhesive force) protected by law, in powdered form, can glue leather, cloth, cardboard, etc.;<br />

1st quality; (very ropy) abundant.” – <strong>Schwitters</strong> merzes him in his critique: “If phil. is referring<br />

to art history, then Mister Weygandt disarmed himself with this academic title. Adhesive force,<br />

very ropy, these terms do not apply to the art historian.” 17 The art historian could be seen as<br />

rather dull or reserved, unable to connect people with his analyses and words and, hence, has<br />

to rely on the authority of his academic titles in order to attract the demure attention of the<br />

reader. He seems to succeed, although the critic adorns himself with labels, which he can only<br />

live up to with deception, but not with the actual discipline, the subject he pretends to write<br />

about: “You trust in the belief in authority among the German people and you write a seemingly<br />

scientific article for the people, but not for science.” 18 <strong>Schwitters</strong> comes to this conclusion not<br />

only because he has more knowledge of art theory, but also because he assumes that the art<br />

historian uses the wrong system, the wrong logic for his interpretation of art. Thus, <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

puts the essential issue of esthetic theory and art theory in a nutshell. The critic applies a<br />

‘mind driven logic’ to the interpretation of pieces of art. He tries to understand the piece, to<br />

examine its comprehensibility, as if the work of art were trying to tell us something that could<br />

be justified with rational logic. The mind, however, is one means to experience and form the<br />

world. <strong>Schwitters</strong> contrasts mind driven logic with artistic logic. A piece of art, art itself, follows<br />

the artistic logic. Critics and art scholars search for the ‘meaning’ of an artist’s work and wish<br />

16<br />

Ibid., p. 4<br />

17<br />

“Tran No. 22”, ibid., p. 74<br />

18<br />

Ibid., p. 77

t<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

61<br />

t<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, <strong>Merz</strong> 21. Eine kleine Sammlung von <strong>Merz</strong>-Dichtungen aller Art. Erstes Veilchen Heft, <strong>Merz</strong>verlag, Hanover 1931

t<br />

62<br />

to explain the art to the viewer, who, apparently, is unable to look and see just as well. They<br />

try to classify the piece of art in art history through their critique and their analysis and<br />

behave as historians in the history of art. This interfered massively with <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ point<br />

of view, which is why he poured ‘train oil’ over the critics. History was not supposed to be<br />

miswritten, i.e. written by people who do not really contribute to it. In terms of <strong>Merz</strong>, which<br />

not only dissolves, but always forms and puts things in order, too, <strong>Schwitters</strong> demonstrates<br />

in his own way of writing how one can talk and write about art, i.e. with the poetic artistic<br />

logic of <strong>Merz</strong>. When it comes to the understanding of his art, <strong>Schwitters</strong> awards their own<br />

intelligence and quick-wittedness to the viewers, which shall not be polluted by the critic. It<br />

is only the naive and authentic view on art that makes it possible to perceive art. The mind<br />

makes it difficult to understand art. Art is grasped holistically, not only with the mind, but<br />

also sensuously, emotionally and intuitively. Understanding through one’s mind often comes<br />

last. With artistically driven logic, <strong>Schwitters</strong> pleads for the emotional, sensuous and intuitive,<br />

and even for the sudden understanding of art. 19<br />


<strong>Schwitters</strong> applies this understanding of art not only passively to the comprehension and<br />

perception of art, i.e. receptive-esthetically, but also actively, i.e. productive-esthetically, to the<br />

creation of art, to the artist. Tran No. 22 is followed by i (Ein Manifest) (A Manifest) 20 , which<br />

replenishes <strong>Merz</strong> with the radical specific form i. “In order to shorten the way from intuition<br />

to visualization of the artistic idea as much as possible, so friction will not cause a lot of heat<br />

losses. i equates this way to zero. Idea, material and work of art are identical. i grasps the work<br />

of art in its natural state. I demand i, but not as only form of art, but as specific form.” 21<br />

One is tempted to understand i as a specific form that cannot actually be formed or as a<br />

gesture that cannot be performed, but serves as a vision one aims at. Luckily, <strong>Schwitters</strong> brings<br />

the art critics back from this abstract or even metaphysical idea to the solid ground of artistic<br />

logic. i means taking something directly from nature and displaying it as work of art. A few years<br />

later, <strong>Schwitters</strong> sums up i once again in <strong>Merz</strong> 20, this time with a certain amount of reserve and<br />

finds a simple explanation as to how he designed an i-drawing: “Please let me make this clear,<br />

an i-drawing can be a scrap of paper cut off from a misprinted scrap of paper, which I did not<br />

change afterwards, which is supposed to be composition, clear expression without any blame. 22<br />

19<br />

Ibid., p. 77<br />

20<br />

Ibid., p. 80<br />

21<br />

i (Ein Manifest), ibid., p. 80<br />

22<br />

“<strong>Merz</strong> drawings and i-drawings”, in <strong>Merz</strong> 20, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> catalogue, 1927, p. 102

t<br />

63<br />

t<br />

A radical act, whose radical nature we can hardly grasp today. The formerly radical gestures<br />

by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Marcel Duchamp, who primarily focused on the selection of an object,<br />

a material, or even on an extract of nature as essential part of their artistic act, expanded the<br />

concept of art – canonized up to this point – in such a way that they seem natural today.<br />

i is the direct integration of the living environment into art. i does not only select, but<br />

it claims part of everyday life as art. Of course, this part has to hold its ground, this is the<br />

complexity <strong>Schwitters</strong> talks about when he says that “it requires a much greater ability to cut<br />

out a piece of art of a non-formed nature than to assemble a piece of art from random material<br />

following one’s own artistic law”. 23 Within this active and passive assertion lies the combination<br />

of intuition, material and piece of art, which is identified with i. The specific i-form separates art<br />

from the piece of art and defines art as an independent entity. “Thus, i is a specific form. But it<br />

is necessary to be consistent for once. Will an art critic be able to comprehend this?” 24<br />

The arising of an i-artwork seems to be as simple as the letter i. Only a lower case letter i, an<br />

“up-down-up and a dot on top”. It arises from itself, just as the <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk will arise<br />

one day. The creation of an i-artwork might not be impossible as with the <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk,<br />

but still rather complex and difficult. Hence, i is just a specific form, a “décadence” 25 of the<br />

comprehensive <strong>Merz</strong>. By “décadence”, <strong>Schwitters</strong> means that i is just a small example of a <strong>Merz</strong><br />

operation. In its simplicity, it is a decay, a downfall of <strong>Merz</strong>.<br />

Although i is inferior to <strong>Merz</strong>, it has a transhistorical dimension with regard to human<br />

action. In <strong>Merz</strong> 7 in 1924, <strong>Schwitters</strong> describes i as an original process of man, which had<br />

always been practiced, and therefore, he encourages the use of i until today, so it be practiced in<br />

urban life, just as it had been striven for in ancient cultures of all times. He uses the décadence<br />

of <strong>Merz</strong> 2 to introduce i into everyday life, in order to turn one’s modest and humble attention<br />

also on the insignificant. 26 With i, <strong>Schwitters</strong> attempts to introduce an equality of things, “even<br />

more so, as the overall artistic impact only results from the comparison of the insignificant with<br />

the significant.” 27 In this equality, the highest goal is unity, which we attain through decision<br />

and selection, that is through i. 28<br />


Although art-historical writings like to tie <strong>Merz</strong> to <strong>Schwitters</strong>, it is, if we take <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

seriously, a principle that isn’t tied to him but available to anyone who wishes to configurate and<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

23<br />

“i (Ein Manifest)”, in Der Sturm, 13. Jahr, no 5, 1922, p. 80<br />

24<br />

Ibid., p. 80<br />

25<br />

“i”, in MERZ 2: Nummer i, no 2, 1923, p. 21<br />

26<br />

Ibid., p. 66<br />

27<br />

Ibid., p. 66<br />

28<br />

Ibid., p. 66

t<br />

64<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (ed.), <strong>Merz</strong> 1. Holland DADA, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Hanover 1923

tt65<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Die Kathedrale: 8 Lithos von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (Silbergäule), Paul Steegemann Verlag, Hanover 1920

t<br />

66<br />

work with it. <strong>Merz</strong> is to be understood as power, as an energy that everyone should make use<br />

of in order to free himself or herself and make art. “<strong>Merz</strong> stands for the freedom of all fetters,<br />

for the sake of artistic creation. Freedom is not lack of restraint, but the product of strict artistic<br />

discipline. <strong>Merz</strong> also means tolerance towards any artistically motivated limitation.” 29 With this<br />

definition of <strong>Merz</strong>, <strong>Schwitters</strong> enters in a metaphysical zone of freedom and tolerance, while<br />

pointing out that freedom can only be achieved through outmost artistic discipline. The work<br />

of art might be separated from personal expression, however the artist and thus the author <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> remain nonetheless important. The artist functions as a mediator vis-à-vis art, as<br />

an almost magical transformer who makes something art through his own recognition: “What<br />

is important for i is that it is not something for me, but through me, albeit the others made it,<br />

through my recognition, through me branding it as a work of art, through my recognition.” 30<br />

Not only is the artistic act a selection, but also recognition and claim. With his claim, the artist<br />

makes something art and remains present as auctorial subject: “I am the artist of i” 31 . <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

printed this sentence in <strong>Merz</strong> 2 in large letters in order to give them more weight. He refutes<br />

the danger that through this supposedly simple act, everyone can become an artist—which we<br />

already see in the simple act of “grasping from nature”—using a quote by Alois Schenzinger.<br />

“Only the beholder makes a work of art a work of art.” 32 Picking up the notion of artistic logic<br />

visible in a work of art from Tran No. 22, we can sharpen this point further. <strong>Schwitters</strong> states<br />

that one is supposed to see the artistic logic in a work of art, something which even the simple<br />

man can do. However only the artist is capable of seeing this artistic logic in nature since they<br />

have practice in artistic discipline. The beholder of the environment must be an artist in order<br />

to be capable of recognizing art in it. 33 By the means of i, the artist communicates art to the<br />

beholder in an unmediated way. 34<br />


After <strong>Schwitters</strong> had initiated the <strong>Merz</strong>idee with Anna Blume, based on his first <strong>Merz</strong>bild<br />

in 1919, it was published in different publications and shared in the form of <strong>Merz</strong>- and i-poems<br />

and drawings, he presented his own platform for <strong>Merz</strong> in 1923, the <strong>Merz</strong> Heft (<strong>Merz</strong> magazine),<br />

issued four times a year. The first issue, entitled MERZ 1: Holland Dada, introduces the new<br />

magazine and deals with Dadaism in the Netherlands. 35<br />

Interestingly, <strong>Schwitters</strong> uses Dada to further sharpen the <strong>Merz</strong>idee despite entertaining critical<br />

or even hostile sentiments towards Dada. In Ararat, he distinguishes “Kern- und Huelsendada”<br />

29<br />

Ibid., p. 5<br />

30<br />

“i”, in MERZ 2: Nummer i, no. 2, 1923, p. 17<br />

31<br />

Ibid., p. 17<br />

32<br />

Ibid., p. 18<br />

33<br />

Ibid., p. 18<br />

34<br />

Ibid., p. 19<br />

35<br />

MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hanover, p. 1

67 tt<br />

(core Dada and Huelsendada). 36 Huelsendada is, of course, a direct allusion to Richard<br />

Huelsenbeck, who, in his function as chairman of the ‘Zentralrat des Deutschen Dadismus’, had<br />

rejected <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ application to join the Club Dada, although the other Zentralrat members<br />

such as Raoul Hausmann were not opposed to <strong>Schwitters</strong> joining. This is <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ retaliation.<br />

He describes Huelsendada as an empty hull which is no longer art, but a politically-oriented<br />

version that only makes noise. <strong>Schwitters</strong>, naturally, sees himself closer to core Dada and<br />

maintains a close artistic friendship with its artists. 37<br />

The inclusion of Dada in the definition of <strong>Merz</strong> needs to be understood in direct relation<br />

to the <strong>Merz</strong>idee, with <strong>Merz</strong> being first and foremost a uniting and structuring principle. Thus<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> connects <strong>Merz</strong> with Dada and establishes a very clear relationship between the two,<br />

being, by the way, the author of one of the best paintings of Dadaism. Among the Dada artists,<br />

only Hugo Ball remains on a par with him in terms of understanding and executing Dada in<br />

such an illuminating manner. While Hugo Ball represents the beginning of Dada and took notes<br />

of his anticipations of Dada’s first mythical steps, <strong>Schwitters</strong> stands on its other end and extracts<br />

in retrospect the essence of the Dada movement. They resemble each other as they were located<br />

on the edge of Dada: Hugo Ball brought Dada to life and <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> elevated Dada to the<br />

next level: <strong>Merz</strong>.<br />

Immediately following Dada’s burial, brought about by Tristan Tzara in September of<br />

1922 in Weimar, <strong>Schwitters</strong> leaves for the Netherlands to introduce Dada there, together with<br />

Theo van Doesburg and Petro van Doesburg, Nelly van Doesburg’s pseudonym in the Dada<br />

circle. Between January 10 and February 14, 1923, they organized eight Dada soirées and<br />

Dada matinées in different places in the West of the Netherlands, in cities such as Amsterdam,<br />

Haarlem or Leiden. The first <strong>Merz</strong>heft feeds on the enthusiasm triggered by the adventures<br />

they lived in the Netherlands. The adrenaline released there is more than apparent in the first<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>heft, which was published as early as Fall 1923, according to the date on its cover.<br />

In the first sentences about the Dada experience in the Netherlands, <strong>Schwitters</strong> points out<br />

that Dada had spread in an impressive triumph in the Netherlands. The audience immediately<br />

embraced Dada and started to scream, whisper, sing, cry and rant. <strong>Schwitters</strong> is surprised how<br />

fast the Dutch audience showed support for Dada. At the same time, he distances himself in<br />

a self-ironic and critical way from this global success, calling the Doesburgs and himself the<br />

Dadaistic house chapel. 38 They had awakened the sleeping Dadaism of the masses 39 and he<br />

finds that the era of the present is Dada, nothing but Dada. He speaks of a Dadaneuzeit (Dada<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

36<br />

“<strong>Merz</strong>”, in Der Ararat – Glossen/Skizzen und Notizen zur Neuen Kunst, 2. Jahr, no. 1, 1921, p. 5<br />

37<br />

Ibid., p. 6<br />

38<br />

MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no.1 (1923), Hanover, p. 3<br />

39<br />

Ibid., p. 4

68<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (ed.), <strong>Merz</strong> 4. Banalitäten, <strong>Merz</strong>verlag, Hanover 1923<br />


t<br />

69<br />

t<br />

Modern Age), succeeding the classical Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the<br />

Biedermeier period. 40<br />

Thus he comes to the conclusion that Dada is the style of our time, which is in fact lacking<br />

style. 41 In other words: Dada is just as nonsensical as the times we live in are insane. In the<br />

Netherlands, <strong>Schwitters</strong> and the Doesburgs went through a shock therapy, since they held a<br />

mirror up to the time that is Dada, as if they wanted to fight fire with fire, in order to achieve a<br />

style 42 ; they did it out of love for the style. 43<br />

The audience they encountered in the Netherlands offered resistance against their actions<br />

and events. There was a dissonance between the Dada they presented to the audience and the<br />

Dada the public embraced and called for. The audience saw Dada as shenanigans, as something<br />

absurdly funny, while they were fighting for the style on the stage and took Dada seriously. They<br />

committed to the serious mission of making the world a better place with Dada and introducing<br />

style into the times they lived in. Enthusiastic but ignorant, the audience’s resistance was<br />

encouragement to continue Dada’s advancement and to throw it into their faces. It is comforting<br />

to know that even back then, they had to struggle with that dilemma and be faced, as it happens<br />

in all times, with a seemingly sophisticated civilized man who recognizes how stupid he can be,<br />

and how stupid he is at the bottom of his soul. For <strong>Schwitters</strong>, the stupidity displayed by the<br />

audience was an enormous success, as for once, the civilized man might realize that his grand<br />

culture wasn’t as grand as it looked. 44 To come to this conclusion, the audience first needs the<br />

ability to develop self-awareness.<br />


In <strong>Merz</strong> 4, <strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes four texts entitled Banalitäten (banalities). In the first two<br />

texts, he points out banalities by quoting different Dadaists and writers, among them Goethe<br />

and Schiller. In Banalitäten 3 and Banalitäten 4, he still reflects the Dada Holland tour, though<br />

it is already July 1923. He acknowledges that the activities on the tour were not always of an<br />

artistic nature, for example when they excited and inspired the audience in such a way so that<br />

it would succumb to the transformed Dadaism and calm down again. Their actions were not<br />

artistic, but Dadaistic. In <strong>Merz</strong> 2, Dadaism was defined as a life movement, Dada as the face of<br />

the time they lived in and the Dadaist as a mirror carrier. 45 The Banalitäten in <strong>Merz</strong> 4 continued<br />

this train of thought and put Dada in proximity of ordinariness. For banality is the detecting of<br />

an inartistic complex in an inartistic world. Banality is the creation of a Dada work out of the<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

40<br />

Ibid., p. 5<br />

41<br />

“dada complet”, ibid., p. 5<br />

42<br />

Ibid., p. 7<br />

43<br />

Ibid., p. 7<br />

44<br />

Ibid., p. 7<br />

45<br />

“Banalitäten 3”, in MERZ 4: Banalitäten, no. 4, p. 40

t<br />

70<br />

inartistic complex through limitation. In this definition, banality resembles the i work of art.<br />

The crucial difference is, however, that banality is “deliberate non-art”, while i is deliberate art.<br />

It is not the i principle the Dadaists commit to, but banality. 46<br />

Banalitäten 3 is contrasted with a dada complet 1, expressing the i aspect that in banalities,<br />

art is involved in a complementary way. Again, these Dada banalities cannot be detected or<br />

created by just anyone either. Only the most skilled artist is able to create Dada, because only<br />

he can assess what art is. In other words, in order to make deliberate non-art, one has to know<br />

what art is. Just as <strong>Merz</strong> is complementary to Dada, i is complementary to banalities. 47<br />

This realization leads <strong>Schwitters</strong> to a conclusive relationship between Dada and <strong>Merz</strong>:<br />

“While Dadaism only points to opposites, <strong>Merz</strong> resolves them by giving them values within a<br />

work of art. Pure <strong>Merz</strong> is pure art, pure Dadaism is non-art; in both cases deliberately so.” 48<br />


<strong>Merz</strong> and the so-called Urdada, primeval Dada, which <strong>Schwitters</strong> calls Dadaism, are<br />

complementary and consequently linked with each other. They contrast with a Dada that<br />

the dumb audience can embrace and create. This incomplete Dada destroys the artistic form<br />

through random succession, meaning that there are only a few truly capable artists who may<br />

create Dadaistic works in a consequent manner. 49 The core Dadaists can be included among<br />

those, while the Huelsendadas belong rather to the category of the dumb masses.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ understanding of Dada grows more and more ambivalent. The categorization<br />

of core Dada and Huelsendada is a provisional periphrasis. Whenever he considers something<br />

as Dada, <strong>Schwitters</strong> counts himself among the core Dadas. It becomes Dada through him. Just<br />

as an object of nature becomes art, following the i principle. This transformation is Dada, or i,<br />

which leads <strong>Schwitters</strong> to the conclusion: i = dada. If i = dada, then Dada, core Dada that is, is a<br />

décadence of <strong>Merz</strong> as well. In this process of the core Dadaists, <strong>Schwitters</strong> considers a valuable<br />

method of distinction which goes as follows: Dadaists create Dada, which reminds us that the<br />

world is Dada. The world is dadaistically dumb, but has the potential to become art with i and<br />

Dada. When <strong>Schwitters</strong> says that we live in an ‘i-dada-age’, which the Dadaists, through internal<br />

determination, have transformed into a Dada age, he means that Dada allows for the possibility<br />

of changing the world with art. Dada aims at the easing of time, abandoning its status quo and<br />

rigidity, and remodeling it into a <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk. 50<br />

46<br />

Ibid., p. 41<br />

47<br />

“dada complet 1”, ibid., p. 41<br />

48<br />

“Banalitäten 3”, ibid., p. 40<br />

49<br />

“dada complet 1”, ibid., p. 41<br />

50<br />

Ibid., p. 43

t<br />

71<br />

t<br />


<strong>Merz</strong> 7 features the aggravation of the relationship between Dada and <strong>Merz</strong> through the<br />

introduction of an accent. This allows <strong>Schwitters</strong> to untangle the ambivalence of Dada.<br />

At the beginning of the text dada complet 2, <strong>Schwitters</strong> quotes <strong>Merz</strong> 4, saying that the consequent<br />

and pure Dadaism is absolute non-art, abstract non-art or abstract anti-art, to be precise. The<br />

notion of abstraction is introduced, and explored, towards the end of dada complet 2. It is through<br />

abstraction, through abstract anti-art that Dada achieves a prophetic dimension of the eternal, of<br />

the future and the transhistorical, a dimension that <strong>Schwitters</strong> had already attributed to i. 51<br />

A critic, who called Dada a not to be underestimated danger, is the trigger for <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

genius move. He replied that Dadá made a diagnosis and was a remedy for our heavily ill<br />

generation that should not be underestimated. 52 <strong>Schwitters</strong> uses Dadá with an accent, which<br />

he had already allegedly introduced on December 30, 1923. The accent now allows for three<br />

possibilities of writing Dada and, accordingly, three meanings that may be attributed to it. There<br />

is now dáda, dada or dadá. <strong>Schwitters</strong> asks the reader to vary the pronunciation of the three<br />

versions: dáda, dada, dadá. Dáda, with the emphasis on the first syllable, he associates with the<br />

intonation common to Saxony and finds it trivial, almost reminiscent of Swiss German, peasant<br />

and rude, as if a men’s club would pronounce dáda. By contrast, dadá, with emphasis on the<br />

second syllable, sounds French, colored with verve and cosmopolitan urbanism, according to<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. It rather sounds like a question that remains open and suggests that there is more,<br />

it is playful, saucy and witty. While dáda only encourages a short, blunt nod and slumps down<br />

in dull provincial affirmation, dadá lifts up, making the pointer finger and the eyebrows rise,<br />

making one’s spirit bright and awake. Dada finally, sounds indifferent to <strong>Schwitters</strong>, it sounds<br />

like somebody who doesn’t know what they want. It is very monotonous, almost automatic,<br />

lacking identification or attitude towards the sound of the word. By using dada, the critics display<br />

the same indifference towards Dada as they do towards art. As a proof for how sound is linked<br />

to meaning, <strong>Schwitters</strong> talks about the dumb masses of the audience they had encountered in<br />

the Netherlands who had enthusiastically cried dáda, dáda, dáda. The audience is confronted<br />

with the moral gravity of our time and now explodes with laughter, it drunkenly-clumsily snorts<br />

with laughter. On the other hand, the dynamic dadá is the battle cry of the Dadaists. The first<br />

Dadaists in Zurich, inspired by francophone influence, had said dadá as well. Dadá is core<br />

Dadá. It is this Dadá that blends with i and is complementary to <strong>Merz</strong>. Dadá is the abstract antiart.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> returns to some phrases from <strong>Merz</strong> 1 and rewrites them: “Our time is called dáda,<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

51<br />

“dada complet 2”, MERZ 7, vol. 2, no. 7, 1924, p. 66<br />

52<br />

Ibid., p. 66

t<br />

72<br />

we live in the age of dada. We experience in the age of dáda, nothing is as characteristic of our<br />

time as dáda. For our culture is dáda.” This means that our time has dully collapsed, expresses<br />

itself only in snorting laughter, and lacks style. Our time lacks vision and attitude. “Dadá is the<br />

commitment to lack of style. Dadá is the style of our time.” Dadá seems to pick up on this time,<br />

to say the same thing, only with a different emphasis. Dadá loosens up the game, rouses, looks<br />

at the things the way they are with verve, intervenes and subsequently opens new dimensions<br />

and adds dynamics into rigid structures. Dadá is the invitation to adopt a Dadá attitude in the<br />

face of the anchorless Dadá time. This is also the conclusion <strong>Schwitters</strong> reaches, by revisiting<br />

the fear of the critic and explaining why Dadá is dangerous: “dadá is the face of our time, dadá<br />

is the movement that aims at healing the time by providing the diagnosis. This is why dada is a<br />

not to be underestimated danger.” 53<br />


It seems as if <strong>Schwitters</strong>, after he had hit the audience’s nerve of time, also saw the<br />

opportunity to seize this nerve and change the dumb masses. <strong>Schwitters</strong> believes himself able<br />

to shape the times he lived in with <strong>Merz</strong>, with the objective of bringing back style. <strong>Merz</strong> is the<br />

expression of his love for style. Having in mind the dumb civilized man, he affirms that <strong>Merz</strong><br />

doesn’t care if there are some who disagree. For <strong>Merz</strong> and only <strong>Merz</strong> can transform the world<br />

in its entirety into a giant work of art in a future yet to come. 54<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> has the <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk constantly on the tip of his tongue: it only needs<br />

to be articulated and leveraged in the right way and at the right moment. But, as it is often the<br />

case with things that we have on the very tip of our tongue, we need to carefully approach them<br />

and encircle them in order for them to take shape.<br />

The <strong>Merz</strong>bilder (<strong>Merz</strong> pictures), the art <strong>Schwitters</strong> makes, are preliminary studies relating<br />

to this transformation and design of the world, as well as to the general style. The <strong>Merz</strong>bilder<br />

and the means available to him serve as a preparation for his endeavor of remodeling the world<br />

into a work of art. They are futurological research and visionary tests for a time in which style<br />

once again informs our environment. 55<br />

Despite the visionary dimensions of his work, <strong>Schwitters</strong> remains humble. He links the<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> theory directly to his actions and suggests that <strong>Merz</strong> finds its expression not only in<br />

paintings and drawings — in Fine Arts — but also in the other artistic genres such as music,<br />

poetry, dance or theater. With <strong>Merz</strong>, however, this classification in artistic genres becomes<br />

obsolete, leading <strong>Schwitters</strong> to conclude that there are no such things as individual arts. They<br />

have been artificially separated from each other, in order for specializations and specialists to<br />

53<br />

Ibid., p. 66<br />

54<br />

MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hannover, p. 8<br />

55<br />

“dada complet”, in MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hannover, p. 9

t<br />

73<br />

t<br />

develop. There is only art. 56 <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ pleading for the fusion of artistic genres is essentially<br />

a peal against the specialists and in favor of authorities: He pleads for clarity and style, for the<br />

universal work of art, not individualization. Only this universal work of art, <strong>Merz</strong>, is capable<br />

of changing the world. 57 <strong>Schwitters</strong> demands authorities that focus on the general picture,<br />

individuals with opinions who inspire us and have style. Those instances, he sees them in <strong>Merz</strong>,<br />

and he establishes <strong>Merz</strong> as an authority whose task in the world is to erase oppositions and<br />

distribute emphases. 58 As a result, there no longer is a disparate indifference and we no longer<br />

function on crude opposition. We acquire style by transforming and shaping the time we live in,<br />

and by giving it coherence.<br />


<strong>Schwitters</strong> is right in consequently expanding his first visionary tests with the <strong>Merz</strong>bildern<br />

to architecture, since it shapes the environment of the human beings in a more comprehensive<br />

way than fine arts do. The <strong>Merz</strong>idee can easily be transferred from <strong>Merz</strong>bildern to architecture.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> notes that architecture does not consider actual habitability enough. He claims that<br />

architecture is often too abstract and formal and does not consider that individuals change<br />

a room with their presence. The human being is a disruptive element in architecture. This<br />

is where <strong>Merz</strong> can help, by ‘merzing’ rooms and spaces and adapting them to the human<br />

being as a dynamically erratic being. 59 <strong>Merz</strong> renders architecture organic and ergonomic. <strong>Merz</strong><br />

galvanizes architecture.<br />

The intense relationship between the human being and space that needs to be created can<br />

be achieved by including the human trace into architecture. 60 This means, including the trace<br />

that the individual leaves in the space and the path he walks in the space. The special structure<br />

and dimension of a room and the function it has to fulfill all determine the trace an individual<br />

can create primarily. This trail is included in the execution of the architecture in the way that<br />

walls, niches, grottos and structures are built. The human being needs to be transformed into<br />

architecture’s active user or architecture needs to adapt to the human as a body in movement.<br />

Schwitter’s explorations on architecture evoke the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne as a place where the inclusion<br />

of the trail is consistent and deliberate and all materials, even individuals, are involved. This<br />

is what <strong>Schwitters</strong> implies when he describes the mechanical room as the only consequent<br />

room that may be artistically modeled and still would be inhabitable. 61 Another mechanical<br />

room, apart from the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne, is the <strong>Merz</strong>bau. The <strong>Merz</strong>bau finally is the moment when<br />

the visionary tests of the <strong>Merz</strong>bilder take the space and transform <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ workshop and<br />

apartment into a mechanical room. It would be wrong to only consider the <strong>Merz</strong>bau as a self-<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

56<br />

Ibid., p. 11<br />

57<br />

Cf. “<strong>Merz</strong>”, in Der Ararat– Glossen/Skizzen und Notizen zur Neuen Kunst, 2. Jahr, no. 1, 1921, pp. 6-7<br />

58<br />

“dada complet”, in MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hannover, p. 11<br />

59<br />

Ibid., p. 11<br />

60<br />

Ibid., p. 11<br />

61<br />

Ibid., p. 11

t<br />

74<br />

experiment of the <strong>Merz</strong>architektur’s effects. It is also a first step into the direction that leads to<br />

implementing <strong>Merz</strong>’s task in the world, which is erasing oppositions and distributing emphases.<br />


With <strong>Merz</strong>, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> creates principles and formats that can guide his work and<br />

operations. He applies them to himself and engages them in s serious play. Although these<br />

principles and formats were created by him and for him, they are universal and should be<br />

embraced by every artist, by every individual. <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art does not primarily consist of the<br />

works of art themselves, but in the principles he creates and the ideas he puts into the world.<br />

The works of art are a mirror and expression of this art. This is also revealed in Manifest<br />

Proletkunst that <strong>Schwitters</strong> wrote along with Theo van Doesburg, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and<br />

Christoph Sprengemann on March 6, 1923 in The Hague: “Art is a spiritual function of man,<br />

which aims at freeing him from life’s chaos (tragedy)” 62 .<br />

The manifesto aims at the orchestration of art for political ends. It positions art as an<br />

independent, autonomous and resistant system that neither serves the proletariat nor the<br />

bourgeoisie, and is consequently uncoupled from other systems such as politics, economy,<br />

education, media, religion, law, philosophy or science. As proposed later in the foundations of<br />

systems theory, art, as an autonomous system, also has its own rules it is informed by. 63 Art pursues<br />

a goal of its own, a goal that is independent of the classes of men. It disconnects from thought<br />

of class differences and from the political dialectic on the left and the right and aims at setting<br />

free the creative forces in the individual. The goal to achieve is the mature individual, not the<br />

proletarian or the bourgeois. 64<br />

Manifest Proletkunst is a clear rejection of the political appropriation of art and is applicable<br />

to the entire culture, just as <strong>Merz</strong> is applicable to the entire world. The art that the manifesto’s<br />

authors strive for is strong enough to influence the entirety of culture and is resistant to<br />

influences by social relations. 65 The art that is being manifested and prepared by the authors<br />

is a Gesamtkunstwerk, which is superior to all labels like Dada or Communist Dictatorship. 66<br />

Manifest Proletkunst prepares its secession from Dada, just as <strong>Schwitters</strong> had predicted in the<br />

first issue of <strong>Merz</strong>. Supported by some core Dadaists and backed by the understanding of art<br />

proposed in Manifest Proletkunst, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is able to rise from Dada and declare <strong>Merz</strong> the<br />

logical continuation of Dada. After the chaos of Dada, <strong>Merz</strong> is free to re-establish order and<br />

62<br />

“Manifest Proletkunst”, MERZ 2: Nummer i, no. 2, 1923, p. 24<br />

63<br />

Ibid., p. 24<br />

64<br />

Ibid., p. 25<br />

65<br />

Ibid., p. 25<br />

66<br />

Ibid., p. 25

t<br />

75<br />

t<br />

to inspire the <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk. On the flip side of the <strong>Merz</strong> 2 cover—in which Manifest<br />

Proletkunst was published—the objectives of the magazine are listed: Dada—<strong>Merz</strong>—Style. Motive:<br />

World National Feeling.<br />

From the perspective of its relation to Dada, <strong>Merz</strong> may be understood as follows: Dada<br />

loosens the paralyzed ordinariness of the Dáda era, allowing i to give access to imagination<br />

again, in order to use it and rise with <strong>Merz</strong>.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> is thus the consequence of Dadá, with its oppositions erased and emphases distributed<br />

by the <strong>Merz</strong>gesamtkunstwerk in order to give style back to our time.<br />

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Käte Steinitz, Theo van Doesburg, Die Scheuche. Märchen, Apossverlag, Hanover 1925

76 l<br />


Tending the<br />

Enchanted Garden<br />

Jonathan Fineberg (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, L <strong>Merz</strong>bild L 3 (Das <strong>Merz</strong>bild),<br />

1919 (Lost)

l<br />

In the political and social chaos of Germany after the Great War, in the bewildering onslaught<br />

of sensory input that had come to define modern life, under the psychic assaults of losing a first<br />

born child and a life-long burden of epilepsy, making art was a force against dissolution for the<br />

artist <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. “In the war, things were in terrible turmoil,” <strong>Schwitters</strong> recalled. “What<br />

I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready…<br />

Then suddenly the glorious revolution was upon us… I felt myself freed and had to shout my<br />

jubilation out to the world. Out of parsimony I took whatever I found to do this, because we<br />

were now an impoverished country. One can even shout with refuse, and this is what I did,<br />

nailing and gluing it together… New things had to be made out of the fragments.” 1<br />

The Armistice of November 11 th , 1918 ended World War One. The German military forced<br />

Kaiser Wilhelm to abdicate and in January 1919 they held elections which brought the liberal<br />

Social Democrats to power. But it was an uneasy alliance of old and new, accompanied by<br />

ongoing riots, strikes, assassinations, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the hyperinflation which<br />

created economic havoc in Germany throughout the 1920s.<br />

Yet in 1918, the thirty-one year old <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> lived with his well-to-do parents in the<br />

bourgeois and provincial city of Hanover, as he had all his life and would continue to do until<br />

driven out of the country by the fascists in 1936. He had married his cousin Helma Fischer in<br />

1915, had a son who died only days after birth in September 1916, and two years later had a<br />

second son, Ernst, who remained close to his father throughout their lives. <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ friend<br />

Käte Steinitz described the odd atmosphere of Hanover at that time: “In fact, there was shooting<br />

in the streets of Hanover in those days. Revolutionists tore the golden epaulets from the uniforms<br />

of high officers. But legend has it that through it all the revolutionists scrupulously observed the<br />

civic regulation: ‘Keep off the grass.’ There was a little bloodshed, to be sure. A workman’s and<br />

soldiers government was established, but the lawns, border, and flower beds remained intact.” 2<br />

Steinitz’s warm recollections of <strong>Schwitters</strong> also portray his affability and his eccentricity.<br />

“One day I saw <strong>Kurt</strong>’s bicycle leaning up against the wall of a house in an old part of Hanover…<br />

It was then the best guinea-pig shop in town… I entered the shop because I saw <strong>Kurt</strong> bent over<br />

the counter. He was negotiating a sale to the shopkeeper of one, two, three, four, five guinea<br />

pigs, which he pulled one by one out of his coat pockets. ‘Helma says we have enough guinea<br />

pigs at home,’ he explained to me, ‘and besides Ernst needs Greek and Roman lead soldiers to<br />

play with.’” 3 He took the proceeds down the street to the<br />

toy shop.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> launched his artistic career in 1918-<br />

19, pioneering the assemblage of all manner of nonartistic<br />

refuse, mostly gathered from the streets, with<br />

expressionistically handled passages of painting. In<br />

the same way, he composed stories, plays, and poetry in<br />

disjointed collages of words and fragmentary phrases and<br />

even performed abstract vocal works like his 1919 Sonate<br />

in Urlauten (Sonata in Primal Sounds). “New art forms<br />

out of the remains of a former culture,” 4 he said. “I called<br />

my new manner of working from the principle of using any<br />

material MERZ. That is the second syllable of Kommerz<br />

1<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” 1930,<br />

in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische Werk, ed.<br />

Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont, Cologne<br />

1981, p. 335; cited in Dorothea Dietrich,<br />

The Collages of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Tradition<br />

and Innovation, Cambridge University Press,<br />

Cambridge 1993, pp. 6-7.<br />

2<br />

Käte Trauman Steinitz, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A<br />

Portrait from Life, University of California Press,<br />

Berkeley and Los Angeles 1968, p. 25.<br />

3<br />

Ibid., 26.<br />

4<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Daten aus meinem Leben,”<br />

1926 in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,<br />

Cologne 1981, p. 241; cited in John<br />

Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of<br />

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York<br />

1985, p. 12.<br />

77<br />

SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg

78 l<br />

[Commerce]. It originated from the <strong>Merz</strong>bild, a picture in which the word MERZ, cut-out and<br />

glued-on from an advertisement for the KOMMERZ- UND PRIVATBANK could be read in<br />

between abstract forms… ” 5<br />

Construction for Noble Ladies, a ‘<strong>Merz</strong>bild’ of 1919, exemplifies this first group of <strong>Merz</strong><br />

painting-assemblages. He arranged everything in a chaotic vortex of pigment and detritus: He<br />

fastened the tin lid of a paint can against the surface in the lower left and a spoked wheel in<br />

the upper right, next to a funnel with its phallic stem projecting straight out of the composition.<br />

He stuck on the remains of a larger, broken wheel at the center, above a receipt for shipping<br />

a bicycle by train. Two halves of a flattened toy train at the bottom and top of the right edge<br />

reinforce the diagonal thrust of a long wooden slat towards the upper right, and all of this<br />

belongs to a seamless and perfectly balanced totality with the other found objects and abstract<br />

forms in wood and metal, modulated by passages of expressionistic brushstrokes in oil paint.<br />

Just below and to the right of the center, and on its side, he placed an oil portrait of a “noble<br />

lady,” 6 anchoring the Futurist dynamism of the composition.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Construction for Noble<br />

Ladies, 1919<br />

Cardboard, wood, metal,<br />

and paint,<br />

102.87 x 83.82cm<br />

Los Angeles (CA),<br />

Los Angeles County<br />

Museum<br />

of Art (LACMA)<br />

Purchased with funds<br />

provided by Mr. and Mrs.<br />

Norton Simon,the Junior<br />

Arts Council, Mr. and Mrs.<br />

Frederick R. Weisman,<br />

Mr.and Mrs. Taft Schreiber,<br />

Hans de Schulthess,<br />

Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Janss,<br />

and Mr. and Mrs. Gifford<br />

Phillips<br />

© <strong>2016</strong>. Digital Image<br />

Museum Associates/<br />

LACMA/Art Resource NY/<br />

Scala, Florence

l<br />

Like Kandinsky’s abstractions of the earlier teens, which <strong>Schwitters</strong> knew well, the swirl<br />

of elements in Construction for Noble Ladies destroys all sense of a ground plane while also<br />

dislocating the recognizable objects and images onto a level, semiotic field of abstraction.<br />

In this construction, each element maintains what<br />

Kandinsky called its “inner sound” 7 , an evocative cloud<br />

of association, utterly divorced from any kind of stable<br />

iconography but nevertheless maintaining an intuited<br />

meaning. The fragments in a <strong>Merz</strong>bild made physical,<br />

and in that sense real, the non-narrative and yet allusive<br />

character of the recognizable images in Kandinsky’s<br />

abstract paintings. The viewer experiences them as a<br />

subjective epiphany, rather than as a linear reading of<br />

content. “Any given abstract painting…is such an infinite<br />

multitude,” <strong>Schwitters</strong> wrote, that “no theory will ever<br />

manage to wholly comprehend it.” 8<br />

Although the Berlin Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck<br />

took an immediate dislike to <strong>Schwitters</strong> – derisively<br />

writing that “he lived like a lower middle-class Victorian,”<br />

and calling him “the abstract Spitzweg” 9 – the other Dada<br />

artists in Berlin and Zürich welcomed <strong>Schwitters</strong>. He<br />

collaborated with Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball, developed<br />

lasting relationships with Raoul Hausmann, Hannah<br />

Höch, Hans Arp as well as with the Russian artists El<br />

Lissitzky and Ivan Puni, the Dutch De Stijl founder Theo<br />

Van Doesburg, the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius,<br />

and the Constructivist László Moholy-Nagy. Although<br />

based in Hanover, he thrust himself to the forefront of<br />

the contemporary avant-garde while at the same time<br />

maintaining his connection to the prewar Expressionism<br />

of Der Sturm. <strong>Schwitters</strong> was never a Dada artist as<br />

Tristan Tzara described it (at the 1922 Weimar Congress<br />

which <strong>Schwitters</strong> helped organize): “The beginnings of<br />

Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust,” 10<br />

and “There is a great negative work of destruction to<br />

be accomplished. We must sweep and clean.” 11 Nor was<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> a Constructivist, an Expressionist, an abstract<br />

Cubist, or a Futurist. Yet he was all of these at once. His<br />

was an all inclusive aesthetic of everything. 12<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> swept in all the fragmented pieces of<br />

himself and of everything around him to make it all<br />

whole. Alves Baeselstiel, the protagonist in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

1919 short story Die Zwiebel [the Onion], narrates his<br />

own dismemberment with objective detachment and then<br />

reassembles himself, righting his parts by his own inner<br />

5<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Katalog,” 1927, pp.<br />

99-100, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,<br />

DuMont, Cologne 1981, pp. 252-3;<br />

cited in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames and<br />

Hudson, New York 1985, pp. 12-13.<br />

6<br />

A portrait of his wife Helma, according<br />

to Gisela Zankl-Wohltat, “Gedanken zum<br />

Frühwerk von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” in <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> 1887-1948, exhibition catalog,<br />

Sprengel Museum, Hanover 1986, p.<br />

35. <strong>Schwitters</strong> claimed that there were<br />

seven portraits in this painting in a Letter<br />

to Margaret Miller, December 11, 1946<br />

[in the archives of the Museum of Modern<br />

Art, New York; cited in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of Modern Art &<br />

Thames and Hudson, New York 1985,<br />

p. 56], although no scholar has firmly<br />

identified any of them. Elderfield reports,<br />

based on Maurice Tuchman’s conversation<br />

with an old friend of Ivan Puni [ibid., p.<br />

61.], that one of the “noble ladies” was<br />

Puni’s wife, Kseniya Boguslavskaya.<br />

7<br />

Kandinsky used the term “innere Klang”<br />

or “inner sound” frequently in this way,<br />

as, for example, in Wassily Kandinsky,<br />

On the Spiritual in Art, in Kenneth Lindsay<br />

and Peter Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete<br />

Writings on Art, G. K. Hall, Boston 1982,<br />

p. 218. The Der Sturm Gallery published<br />

Kandinsky’s book Klänge in 1913 and<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> read these books as well<br />

as Kandinsky’s essays the Blaue Reiter<br />

Almanac.<br />

8<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, ”Meine Ansicht zum<br />

Bauhaus-Buch 9,” (April 26, 1927), in<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische Werk,<br />

ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,<br />

Cologne 1981, p. 256; cited in Isabel<br />

Schulz, “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Color and<br />

Collage,” in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Color and<br />

Collage, ed. Isabel Schulz, The Menil<br />

Collection and Yale University Press,<br />

Houston and New Haven 2011, p. 61.<br />

9<br />

Richard Huelsenbeck, “Dada and<br />

Existentialism,” in Willy Verkauf, ed.,<br />

Dada: Monograph of a Movement, 2 nd<br />

ed., Hastings House, New York 1961,<br />

p. 58.<br />

10<br />

Tristan Tzara, “Conference sur Dada,”<br />

Weimar Congress (1922) translated in<br />

Robert Motherwell, Dada: The Painters and<br />

the Poets, MA: G. K. Hall, Boston 1981,<br />

p. 250.<br />

11<br />

Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto” (1918)<br />

translated in Robert Motherwell, Dada: The<br />

Painters and the Poets, MA: G. K. Hall,<br />

Boston 1981, p. 81.<br />

12<br />

No wonder that his closest friend was<br />

Theo van Doesburg – simultaneously<br />

the founder of De Stijl and, under the<br />

pseudonym “Bonset,” a Dadaist.<br />

79 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg

80 l<br />

power. “They started to put me back together. First with a delicate jolt my eyes were reinserted<br />

in their sockets,” 13 Baeselstiel tells us. It is a parable for political reversal but also for the<br />

reorganization of the self (as D. W. Winnicott uses the term) 14 in the artistic project of <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

It was Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm magazine that published <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ Dada poem<br />

An Anna Blume 15 in August 1919, making <strong>Schwitters</strong> famous overnight. The poem employs<br />

multiple perspectives, fragments of found text, and absurd images to evoke the disarray of the<br />

narrator’s emotional state but also his detachment in the throes of love. Like the objects in his<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bild compositions, <strong>Schwitters</strong> explained that: “In poetry, words and sentences are nothing<br />

but parts… torn from their former context, dissociated and brought into a new artistic context,<br />

they become formal parts of the poem, nothing more.” 16 For this, he may have found precedent<br />

in Symbolist depaysment, the Futurist manifestos, and zaum, the transrational language of the<br />

Russian avant-garde.<br />

Juxtaposing word clusters as formal elements, <strong>Schwitters</strong> writes, in Die Zwiebel, for<br />

example: “Anna Blume bathed in lilac blue roses shoots barbs blank abed in a Posturpedic<br />

mattress. (Ripe for plucking, inwardly composed.) Partial explanation misses the point. Then<br />

the butcher took a mighty leap backwards.” 17 The disjunctive scattering of images, actions, and<br />

associations creates a sense of detached remove. He also<br />

13<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “The Onion (<strong>Merz</strong>poem<br />

8)”, translated by Peter Wortsman,<br />

Cambridge Literary Review I/3, Easter,<br />

Cambridge 2010, pp. 113.<br />

14<br />

See, for example, D. W. Winnicott,<br />

Playing and Reality, Routledge, London<br />

1971.<br />

15<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “An Anna Blume,”<br />

1919, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 1,<br />

DuMont, Cologne 1973, pp. 58-63.<br />

16<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Holland Dada,” 1923,<br />

11; in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,<br />

DuMont, Cologne 1981, p. 134; cited<br />

in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The<br />

Museum of Modern Art & Thames and<br />

Hudson, New York 1985, p. 43. See<br />

also: <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Konsequente<br />

Dichtung (Consistent Poetry),” 1924,<br />

p. 46; in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,<br />

DuMont, Cologne 1981, p. 191; cited<br />

in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The<br />

Museum of Modern Art & Thames and<br />

Hudson, New York 1985, p. 130.<br />

17<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Die Zwiebel,” 1919,<br />

in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische Werk,<br />

ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 2, DuMont,<br />

Cologne 1974, pp. 26-7; <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

“The Onion (<strong>Merz</strong>poem 8)”, translated<br />

by Peter Wortsman, Cambridge Literary<br />

Review I/3, Easter, Cambridge 2010,<br />

pp. 114.<br />

18<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Katalog,” 1927, pp.<br />

99-100; in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,<br />

DuMont, Cologne 1981, pp. 252-3;<br />

cited in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames and<br />

Hudson, New York 1985, pp. 12-13.<br />

achieves this in drawings with rubber stamps of words<br />

like “Drucksache” (printed matter), “Die Redaktion” (the<br />

editorial offices), and “Abteilung: Inserate” (Department:<br />

small ads), evoking the world of business transactions<br />

and bureaucratic offices, as does the word “<strong>Merz</strong>,” from<br />

Kommerz und Privatbank. 18<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> made collages from found typography, as<br />

well, to create his effect. He constructed one example<br />

from 1920, from some forty-five fragments of cut and torn<br />

paper, juxtaposing three styles of calligraphy, each with<br />

distinct associations – Gothic Germanic Frakturschrift;<br />

modern sans-serif lettering, and the artist’s own illegible<br />

handwriting. The appropriated words and phrases –<br />

such as “Entlastungs” (exoneration), “Reichsgerichts-<br />

Prozesse gegen den Staat” (legal proceedings against the<br />

state), “Die Liste der Beschuldigungen findet” (the list of<br />

accusations is found), and “Kriegsschauplatz” (theater of<br />

war) – even seem to suggest a political theme, but he<br />

deliberately avoided a statement or a coherent point of<br />

view. Instead, these words record arbitrarily layered<br />

impressions, spontaneous associations around a starting<br />

point.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> composed abstract stage compositions<br />

(<strong>Merz</strong>bühne) modeled on this structural principle too.<br />

“In contrast to drama or opera, all parts of the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne

l<br />

81 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Abteilung: Inserate, 1919<br />

Stamp ink, collage, pencil und color pencil on paper, 31.5 x 24.5 cm<br />

Kunsthaus Zug, Stiftung Sammlung Kamm

82 l<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Ohne Titel (fec.),<br />

1920<br />

Cut-and-pasted printed paper and<br />

pencil on paper on board,<br />

25.1 x 18.2 cm<br />

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)<br />

Gift of Marlborough-Gerson Gallery<br />

© <strong>2016</strong>.Digital image The Museum<br />

of Modern Art, New York/Scala,<br />

Florence<br />

work are inseparably bound together: it cannot be written, read or listened to, it can only be<br />

experienced in the theater,” he explained. “…Only the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne is distinguished by the<br />

fusion of all factors into a total work of art… ” 19 This dream of the total work of art (the<br />

Gesamtkunstwerk) is a leitmotif of Symbolism from Wagner’s operas to the art nouveau vue<br />

d’ensemble and it unifies all of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ disparate artistic experiments.<br />

My aim is the total work of art, which combines all branches of<br />

art into an artistic unit… First, I combined individual categories<br />

of art. I have pasted together poems from words and sentences<br />

so as to produce a rhythmic design. I have on the other hand<br />

pasted up pictures and drawings so that sentences could be read<br />

in them. I have driven nails into pictures so as to produce a<br />

plastic relief apart from the pictorial quality of the paintings. I<br />

did this so as to efface the boundaries between the arts. 20

l<br />

19<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “<strong>Merz</strong>bühne,” 1919, p.<br />

3, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische Werk,<br />

ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,<br />

Cologne 1981, p. 42; cited in John<br />

Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of<br />

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New<br />

York 1985, p. 107.<br />

20<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “<strong>Merz</strong>,” Der Ararat,<br />

1920, pp. 6-7, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das<br />

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach,<br />

volume 5, DuMont, Cologne 1981, p.<br />

79; cited in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames<br />

and Hudson, New York 1985, p. 44.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ idea of the <strong>Merz</strong>bühne is<br />

indebted to Kandinsky’s stage composition<br />

Gelbe Klang, published with his theories in<br />

the Blaue Reiter Almanac 1912.<br />

21<br />

Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art,<br />

McGraw Hill, London and New York<br />

1965, p. 152.<br />

22<br />

See: John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames and<br />

Hudson, New York 1985, p. 160.<br />

23<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Ich und meine Ziele,”<br />

1930, 116, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das<br />

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach,<br />

volume 5, DuMont, Cologne 1981,<br />

p. 345; cited in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of Modern Art &<br />

Thames and Hudson, New York 1985,<br />

p. 159.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> came closest to achieving this grand<br />

synthesis in his <strong>Merz</strong>bau, a perpetually evolving<br />

environment that began around 1923 with a pair of<br />

columnar assemblages in his studio; he called them the<br />

Cathedral of Erotic Misery and the Column of Life. These<br />

grew to encompass the entire room, then several rooms,<br />

with a proliferating warren of little shrines and space<br />

defining architectural structures. As he finished each part,<br />

new additions would swallow it up, in layer upon layer,<br />

with new construction. Sliding doors opened to hidden<br />

grottos, and passages to the interior offered glimpses of the<br />

deeper strata of content, as though the viewer was peering<br />

into a shop window. Caves and tableaux mushroomed in<br />

the relatively formless core of collected debris, souvenirs,<br />

postcards of places, photographs of people, emotionally<br />

charged symbols of fantasies, all freely appropriated and<br />

conglomerated. Gradually, an outer shell enveloped the<br />

expressionist core; this he rigorously constructed in clear<br />

architectural forms of plaster and wood and painted white<br />

with just a few color accents. The core, in turn, receded<br />

further and further into inaccessible private spaces like<br />

Freud’s description of the unconscious. Sometimes<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> even literally plastered over sections with the contents still intact.<br />

“He cut off a lock of my hair and put it in my hole,” Hans Richter reported. “A thick pencil,<br />

filched from Mies van der Rohe’s drawing-board, lay in his cavity. In others’ there were a piece<br />

of a shoelace, a half-smoked cigarette, a nail paring, a piece of tie (Doesburg), a broken pen.” 21<br />

Sophie Taeuber came to stay with <strong>Schwitters</strong> and awoke to find her bra had disappeared into a<br />

cave dedicated to her; Moholy-Nagy lost his socks. 22 <strong>Schwitters</strong> himself described The Big Love<br />

Grotto in the style of one of his poems, inserting “live” elements morphed in the retelling from<br />

the inanimate dolls and objects in the construction:<br />

A wide outside stair leads to it, underneath which stands the<br />

female lavatory attendant of life in a long narrow corridor with<br />

scattered camel dung. Two children greet us and step into life;<br />

owing to damage only part of a mother and child remain. Shiny<br />

and broken objects set the mood. In the middle a couple is<br />

embracing: he has no head, she no arms; between his legs he is<br />

holding a huge blank cartridge. The big twisted-around child’s<br />

head with the syphilitic eyes is warning the embracing couple<br />

to be careful. This is disturbing, but there is reassurance in the<br />

little bottle of my own urine in which immortelles [long-lasting<br />

flower arrangements placed on graves] are suspended. 23<br />

83 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg

84 l<br />

In 1927, the artist Rudolf Jahns entered and “experienced a strange, enrapturing feeling.” 24<br />

Käte Steinitz wrote of her visits: “In each cave was a sediment of impressions and emotions,<br />

with significant literary and symbolic allusions.” 25 <strong>Schwitters</strong> noted that:<br />

Each grotto takes its character from some principal components.<br />

There is the Nibelungen Hoard with the glittering treasure; the<br />

Kyffhäuser with the stone table; the Goethe Grotto with one of<br />

Goethe’s legs as a relic and a lot of pencils worn down to stubs;<br />

… the Sex-Crime Cavern with an abominably mutilated corpse<br />

of an unfortunate young girl, painted tomato-red, and splendid<br />

votive offerings; the Ruhr district with authentic brown coal<br />

and authentic gas coke; an art exhibition with paintings and<br />

sculptures by Michelangelo and myself being viewed by a dog<br />

on a leash;…the brothel with the 3-legged lady made by Hannah<br />

Höch; and the great Grotto of Love. 26<br />

When Sophie Küppers and El Lissitzky (her future<br />

husband) saw the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, she said she was “unable<br />

to draw the line between originality and madness.” 27<br />

It positively repulsed the museum director Alexander<br />

Dorner, who otherwise championed <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work. He<br />

said the “free expression of the socially uncontrolled self<br />

had here bridged the gap between sanity and madness…<br />

It was a kind of fecal smearing – a sick and sickening<br />

relapse into the social irresponsibility of the infant who<br />

plays with trash and filth.” 28 Thus even a sophisticated<br />

observer like Dorner, found the autobiographical,<br />

sexual, and sadistic content of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau shockingly<br />

transgressive, still more so for being hidden beneath<br />

and contrasted with the geometric, Constructivist purity.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> wanted to express everything that impinged<br />

on his consciousness (or unconscious) over the thirteen<br />

years (1923-36) of making this total environment. 29<br />

The <strong>Merz</strong>bau gave form to and purged its content.<br />

“Art is a spiritual function of man, which aims at freeing<br />

him from life’s chaos (tragedy).” 30 That “tragedy” is the<br />

unspeakable revelation of the unconscious that repelled<br />

Dorner precisely because he understood it. At the same<br />

time, it drew <strong>Schwitters</strong> inexorably because it was the<br />

disorganizing force that he needed to overcome in order<br />

to bring coherence to his own sense of self. Certainly the<br />

times were disorienting and <strong>Schwitters</strong> said that “what we<br />

express in our works is…the spirit of our times, dictated<br />

24<br />

Rudolf Jahn cited in Dietmar Elger, “Zur<br />

Entstehung des <strong>Merz</strong>haus,” in Michael<br />

Erlhoff ed., <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Almanach, 1982,<br />

Postskriptum/Kulturamt der Stadt Hannover,<br />

Hanover 1982, pp. 34-5; cited in John<br />

Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of<br />

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York<br />

1985, p. 154.<br />

25<br />

Käte Trauman Steinitz, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A<br />

Portrait from Life, University of California Press,<br />

Berkeley and Los Angeles 1968, p. 91; cited<br />

in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum<br />

of Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New<br />

York 1985, p. 160.<br />

26<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Ich und meine Ziele,”<br />

1930, pp. 115-116, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das<br />

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume<br />

5, DuMont, Cologne 1981, pp. 344-345;<br />

cited in John Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The<br />

Museum of Modern Art & Thames and Hudson,<br />

New York 1985, p. 161.<br />

27<br />

Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, El Lissitzky: Life,<br />

Letters, Texts, Thames & Hudson, London and<br />

New York 1968, p. 36.<br />

28<br />

Alexander Dorner, quoted in Samuel<br />

Cauman, The Living Museum: Experiences<br />

of an Art Historian and Museum Director,<br />

Alexander Dorner, New York University<br />

Press, New York 1958, p. 36; cited in John<br />

Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of<br />

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York<br />

1985, p. 162.<br />

29<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Ich und meine Ziele,”<br />

1930, p. 5; in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,<br />

Cologne 1981, p. 343; cited in John<br />

Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of<br />

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York<br />

1985, p. 165.<br />

30<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Manifest Prolitkunst,”<br />

1923, p. 5; in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das literarische<br />

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,<br />

Cologne 1981, p. 143; cited in John<br />

Elderfield, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, The Museum of<br />

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York<br />

1985, p. 42.

l<br />

by the times themselves.” 31 But the disorienting invasions of his epilepsy also informed his<br />

methods. By his own account, the first onset occurred when he was fourteen, after some local<br />

boys destroyed a garden which he had carefully created – with roses, strawberries, a manmade<br />

hill, and an artificial pond. After this event, he took ill for two years and it was at this time,<br />

he said, that he found his love of art. 32 When he emerged as a mature artist in 1918 it was<br />

with a turn to abstraction and he titled his first abstraction, Der verwunschene Garten [The<br />

Enchanted Garden].<br />

We can’t know how the epilepsy felt to <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

but Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s portrait of his own epilepsy,<br />

couched in his character Prince Myshkin in The Idiot,<br />

offers a telling insight. “He felt in a very curious<br />

condition to-day,” Dostoyevsky wrote, “a condition<br />

similar to that which had preceded his fits in bygone<br />

years. He remembered that at such times he had been<br />

particularly absent, and could not discriminate between<br />

objects and persons even if he concentrated special<br />

attention upon them.” 33 In the aftermath of epileptic<br />

seizures, they leave a state of disorientation as the brain<br />

recovers. 34 The attacks must have been disorganizing 35<br />

for <strong>Schwitters</strong> too. Could his detachment with regard to<br />

his materials and his project of reorganizing fragmentary<br />

experience have been a symbolic reordering informed,<br />

at least in part, by his epilepsy? 36<br />

The aim of Dada was “a great negative work of<br />

destruction” as Tristan Tzara announced at the 1922<br />

conference he organized with <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Weimar. It<br />

was motivated, Tzara said, from the sense of dissolution<br />

in society after the War: “Honor, country, morality,<br />

family, art, religion, liberty, fraternity had once<br />

answered to human needs. Now nothing remains of<br />

them but a skeleton of conventions…” 37 But instead of<br />

taking up a political agenda, as the Berlin Dadaists had<br />

done, <strong>Schwitters</strong> looked inward, seeking psychological<br />

integrity. “I had all my parts back together again with<br />

just a few things missing,” Baeselstiel reports at the<br />

end of Die Zwiebel. But it was not without costs. Some<br />

“shreds of my physical self stayed stuck to the knife.” 38<br />

Under the pressure of Nazi persecution, <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

fled to Norway in January of 1937 and when the Nazis<br />

invaded Norway in April of 1940, <strong>Schwitters</strong> and his<br />

son narrowly escaped to England. He had to leave the<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau behind. He also left Helma who stayed in<br />

Hanover to manage the four houses which provided the<br />

31<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Ich und meine<br />

Ziele,” 1930, p. 5; in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Das literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm<br />

Lach, volume 5, DuMont, Cologne<br />

1981, p. 346.<br />

32<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>:<br />

Herkunft, Werden und Entfaltung,”<br />

1920/21, in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Das<br />

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach,<br />

volume 5, DuMont, Cologne 1981,<br />

p. 83.<br />

33<br />

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot,<br />

trans. Frederick Whishaw, Vizetelly &<br />

Co., London 1887, p. 179.<br />

34<br />

Epileptic seizures result from<br />

abnormal hyperactivity in cortical<br />

nerve cells in an area of the brain. It<br />

takes time to recover normal function<br />

after a seizure, producing what is<br />

called a “postictal state” that may<br />

involve confusion, depression, anxiety,<br />

and obsessive–compulsive behavior.<br />

Spatial orientation, emotional<br />

restraint, and the connecting of short<br />

term and long term memory may be<br />

affected depending on where in the<br />

brain the trauma occurs. Impaired<br />

speech may occur temporarily if the<br />

medial region of the left temporal<br />

lobe is involved, as Mo Costandi<br />

[“Diagnosing Dostoyevsky’s Epilepsy”<br />

https://neurophilosophy.wordpress.<br />

com/2007/04/16/diagnosingdostoyevskys-epilepsy/]<br />

suggests with<br />

regard to Dostoyesvky’s seizures.<br />

35<br />

Gwendolen Webster provides<br />

a vivid description of his seizures<br />

but it isn’t clear on what evidence<br />

she based her description. See:<br />

Gwendolen Webster, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Merz</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>: a biographical study,<br />

University of Wales Press, Cardiff<br />

1997), p. 7.<br />

36<br />

There is evidence in the medical<br />

literature that seizure disorders can<br />

predispose certain individuals to<br />

dissociative dysfunction.<br />

37<br />

Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto”<br />

(1918) translated in Robert<br />

Motherwell, Dada: The Painters and<br />

the Poets, MA: G. K. Hall, Boston<br />

1981, p. 81.<br />

38<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “The Onion<br />

(<strong>Merz</strong>poem 8)” translated by Peter<br />

Wortsman, Cambridge Literary Review<br />

I/3, Easter, Cambridge 2010, pp.<br />

113-14.<br />

85 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Die frühlingstür, 1938<br />

Assemblage, 87.8 x 72 cm<br />

Galerie Gmurzynska<br />

86 l<br />

family income. She died of cancer in 1944 and the income was lost. He soon found a new<br />

companion, Edith Thompson whom he nicknamed “Wantee,” and in 1945 they moved to the<br />

Lake District in the northwest of England where he died three years later of heart failure.<br />

Despite poverty and failing health <strong>Schwitters</strong> nevertheless embarked on a majestic late style in<br />

Norway, as in the great <strong>Merz</strong>bild of 1938 Die frühlingstür (The Spring Door). In it, the space opens<br />

up, as if the expanse of the bucolic Norwegian landscape liberated him from the congested urban<br />

compositions done in Germany. In contrast to the concentrated energy of colliding orthogonals in<br />

Construction for Noble Ladies, the freer, sweeping curves of Die frühlingstür, translucently painted<br />

like gestures color mist in the air, open out to the surrounding space. Even the three dimensional<br />

objects in Die frühlingstür seem to float weightlessly outward to the edges and beyond.<br />

Abstract physical forms project even further, as if flying out of the composition, in the

l<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Pollfoss, 1947<br />

Oil and chalk on panel laid down on the artist’s mount, 17.2 x 17.2 cm<br />

Galerie Gmurzynska<br />

Surrealist Relief of 1943 and Heavy Relief of 1945, made in London. Then in the last two years<br />

of his life <strong>Schwitters</strong> was remarkably productive making collages and beginning the construction<br />

of a new <strong>Merz</strong>bau in the countryside – a “<strong>Merz</strong>barn,” as he called it. These last years extend<br />

the blossoming of the late style that first emerged in Norway as if the beautiful lakes and rugged<br />

mountains of the Lake District reminded him of the beauty of nature in Norway and formed<br />

a continuum with it in this thoughts. He even titled a little painting of 1947 Pollfoss – made<br />

in England but titled after a secluded inn by a waterfall and fishing streams near the fjords of<br />

Norway. Pollfoss is a tiny, remarkably free, sketchlike work with a gentle openness, in lyrical<br />

clouds of color. Was it advanced age and experience that brought <strong>Schwitters</strong> to the calmer unity<br />

in himself that we feel in Pollfoss? Or perhaps the expansiveness of nature that brought the<br />

discernable inner peace that defines these late works?<br />

87 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg

88<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

Siegfried Gohr (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />

A genius in friendship<br />

Photograph of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Käte Steinitz, Nelly van Doesburg,<br />

Theo van Doesburg, Hans Nitzschke,<br />

Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, in the studio of<br />

Vordemberge-Gildewart, Hanover 1923<br />

© RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, Archive of Theo and<br />

Nelly van Doesburg (0408)

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, who knew a lot of people and whom many of his acquaintances have described, was a<br />

multifaceted personality which, in view of his life’s work as an artist and poet, scarcely comes as a surprise.<br />

His companion, Hannah Höch, said: “It is not at all possible to approach in a few words such a complicated and<br />

contradictory person like <strong>Schwitters</strong>. An artist through and through, obsessed with art, uninhibited in the use of<br />

his artistic means like no other in his time. And, along with that, his bourgeois, even petit-bourgeois shell was<br />

nevertheless genuine.” This can be supplemented by a description from Marguerite Hagenbach, the later wife<br />

of Arp: “Hans said to me that <strong>Schwitters</strong> was one of his best friends, a great poet, but a little crazy. After the<br />

Urlaut-Sonate that <strong>Schwitters</strong> had brilliantly recited [in Basel], he came to me and said, ‘It seems to me that<br />


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr<br />

90<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, GäsTebuch FÜR Die mERzausstellunG, 1922<br />

Visitors’ book, pencil, colored pencil on cardboard (cover) and paper<br />

Exhibition MERZ Ausstellung. Gemälde und Zeichnungen von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (Anna Blume), Roemer-Museum,<br />

Hildesheim 1922<br />

© bpk / Sprengel Museum Hannover / Brigitte Borrmann

you liked my sonata. May I introduce you to my dear friend, Arp? He is a great artist and poet and a likeable<br />

man, but a little crazy.’”<br />

91<br />

This anecdote can be fathomed in many directions, but what the epithet “crazy” means, which <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

and Arp mutually attributed to each other, has the important connotation that here it is a matter of persons who<br />

possessed an artistic core that did not allow itself to be pushed aside and ‘deranged’, for which reason they<br />

could be regarded from the outside as crazy.<br />

A further motif can already be read from the sparse lines, namely, that of a friendship among artists. When,<br />

as a consequence of the French Revolution, the ties of artists to the state and church became increasingly<br />

loosened, artists sought a new exchange and a protection that often was only possible through friendships or<br />

associations of artists. The German Nazarenes in Rome around 1800 marked a beginning. Innumerable further<br />

unions followed. In the 20th century not only the element of friendship formed the ground for cohesion, but also<br />

an artistic mission, an idea, a shared artistic or social project. <strong>Schwitters</strong> stimulated such unions, but he also<br />

profited from initiatives emanating from others.<br />

After friendly connections in his home-town of Hanover when he was still painting in a traditional way,<br />

contact with the avant-garde in Berlin came about. One of the significant motors of the new art there was<br />

Herwarth Walden with his gallery, Der Sturm. Here <strong>Schwitters</strong> exhibited for the first time in 1918. Walden was<br />

active internationally, his artists coming not only from Germany. In the summer of 1919 <strong>Schwitters</strong> achieved a<br />

breakthrough when he showed at Walden’s gallery the first <strong>Merz</strong> paintings, his completely individual version of<br />

Dadaism. But Walden organized not only exhibitions, but also discussion evenings with talks, publishing also<br />

a periodical and running a publishing house. <strong>Schwitters</strong> began to publish his first poems, not only in Walden’s<br />

periodical, but also in the publishing house of Paul Steegemann in Hanover; here the anthology Anna Blume<br />

appeared.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> remained restlessly active not only as an artist, but organized, starting in the 1920s, also<br />

discussion evenings where he presented his own texts. Often, however, he planned these soirees not by himself,<br />

for instance, on a trip to Prague in 1921. His wife, Helma <strong>Schwitters</strong>, also attended, as well as Raoul Hausmann<br />

and Hannah Höch. The evenings were clearly successful, to which not least of all <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ personal charm<br />

contributed. This was followed in 1922/23 by the legendary ‘Dada campaign’ in the Netherlands during which<br />

numerous towns were visited. <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Theo van Doesburg and Vilmos Huzár took part. This enterprise<br />

drew a lot of attention. For <strong>Schwitters</strong>, not only the event was important, but also the possibility of enlarging<br />

his network. Scarcely any artist of his generation made and cultivated friendships so consciously, sought<br />

out acquaintances, always guided by the striving to incorporate artists and people into his career who had<br />

understanding for the avant-garde or were themselves engaged in artistic developments on the front line. The<br />

episode about how <strong>Schwitters</strong> won over Raoul Hausmann is particularly telling. The whole thing took place in<br />

1918 or 1919 in Café des Westens in Berlin. <strong>Schwitters</strong> went up to Hausmann and introduced himself which,<br />

however, did not have any great effect. Then he said, “I am a painter; I nail my paintings”. Now the other became<br />

curious and a lifelong friendship and collaboration resulted. <strong>Schwitters</strong> even tried from England to renew the<br />

contract with the friend in order to realize their common newspaper project, PIN. However, it never came about.<br />

Among all his friends, Hans Arp had a special place. They met for the first time in 1918 in Café des<br />

Westens in Berlin. Arp was working in a style that he had developed from cubism. Under his influence <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

glued some abstract collages in 1918, of which one is called Hans, thus representing an homage to his friend

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr<br />

92<br />

“Porträt Herwarth Walden”, poem by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Herwarth<br />

Walden (ed.), Der Sturm, Zehnter Jahrgang, Achtes Heft, Der Sturm<br />

Verlag, Hanover 1919

93<br />

Photograph of Helma <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Nelly van Doesburg, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Theo van Doesburg, in the apartment of<br />

the architect Jan Wils, Den Haag 1923 (Dada Tournée)<br />

© RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, Archive of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg (0408)<br />

who showed him the way out of expressionism and futurism. The two artists had much in common, so that<br />

the contact remained even when <strong>Schwitters</strong> was in exile in Norway. Both were poets of stature, both used<br />

to employ irony and humour also in their works. In the structure of their personalities, they were completely<br />

independent individuals who did not stick to convention. Despite all appearances to the contrary, both had<br />

strong ties with nature. Alfred Döblin, looking on <strong>Schwitters</strong> from the outside, wrote in 1919: “I have never seen<br />

any painter worship nature so intensively. He will not admit it to me. But that doesn’t mean anything.” Visits<br />

by <strong>Schwitters</strong> to Basel and Meudon near Paris consolidated the friendship with Arp, and there were common<br />

works time and again. Here an affinity of intellect manifested itself that had deep roots.<br />

It was above all the letters and postcards through which <strong>Schwitters</strong> built up and cultivated his network<br />

of contacts. In 1920 he exhibited in Dresden together with Oskar Schlemmer and Willi Baumeister, in the

94<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (ed.), <strong>Merz</strong> 6. Jmitatoren watch step!, <strong>Merz</strong>verlag, Hanover 1923

Postcard <strong>Kurt</strong> and Helma<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> to Theo and Nelly van<br />

Doesburg<br />

© RKD – Netherlands Institute for<br />

Art History, Archive of Theo and<br />

Nelly van Doesburg (0408)<br />

95 <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr

96<br />

aftermath writing several postcards to Schlemmer, whose work he obviously valued highly. However, there was<br />

no closer collaboration. But because <strong>Schwitters</strong> maintained close relations with the Bauhaus in Weimar, he was<br />

to encounter Schlemmer there again. The school published portfolios of graphic works and Bauhaus books. The<br />

third portfolio to appear had the title, German Artists. The ten participants included also <strong>Schwitters</strong>. However,<br />

with regard to the planned <strong>Merz</strong> book in the Bauhaus books series, this never got beyond an announcement.<br />

After <strong>Schwitters</strong> had held his first soiree in 1921, he used every opportunity for public appearances. Therefore<br />

he was to be heard also at the Bauhaus in 1925 and 1926. He adapted a well-known saying from choral<br />

societies to the Bauhaus: “For where there is a Bauhaus, there is where you can settle; evil people do not know<br />

anything about squares!” Already in 1929, the founder of the Weimar School, Walter Gropius, commissioned<br />

him to graphically design all the printed material for the Dammerstock Settlement in Karlsruhe. Friendships<br />

were formed during this period as a matter of course. Among these, however, one needs to be particularly<br />

underscored, namely, the friendship with Dr Walter Dexel who was active in Jena as the director of the<br />

Kunstverein. Not only letters and postcards were exchanged with him and his family, but personal visits were<br />

also arranged. Dexel was, properly speaking, an academic art historian, but switched to curating exhibitions,<br />

setting up a noteworthy program in Jena over the years. Apart from that, he was active as an artist. His<br />

hallmark was geometrically formed glass panels. <strong>Schwitters</strong> obviously felt a great affinity to Dexel’s efforts<br />

which is clearly expressed in the extant correspondence. Viewed from today, the avant-garde scene at the<br />

time was relatively compact so that everybody could know everybody else if they wanted to. Apart from that,<br />

the Bauhaus represented a platform on which the international avant-garde could meet and exchange views.<br />

Such an opportunity was provided, for instance, by the Dada Meeting in Weimar in 1922 where an impressive<br />

number of artists got together.<br />

A special feature of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ public appearances, apart from official appearances with readings,<br />

performances, recitations of the Ursonate, etc, consisted in his spontaneous, puzzling character that broke<br />

through all conventions. One day in May 1926, <strong>Schwitters</strong> came upon Leon Trotsky, his wife and secretary<br />

in a restaurant on the banks of the Havel River. He went up to his table, recited the scherzo of the Ursonate,<br />

and declared that his poetry was the Permanent Revolution. Thereupon something unheard of happened, for<br />

Trotsky, somewhat hesitantly at first, recited the scherzo together with <strong>Schwitters</strong>. It was a sign of an immediate<br />

mutual understanding.<br />

Before <strong>Schwitters</strong> finally went into exile in Norway on 2 January 1937, it was the Netherlands and<br />

Switzerland that he visited repeatedly and to where his contacts of friendships led. After the ‘Dada campaign’,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> travelled almost every year to the Netherlands. There were many different reasons for this. On one<br />

hand, he gave talks; on the other, in 1925 he took part in exhibitions in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. One year<br />

later he spent holidays with Helma and his son, Ernst, on the Dutch coast in Kijkduin. Articles by <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

often appeared in Dutch avant-garde publications. Up until 1936 when he travelled through the country for the<br />

last time, he had left behind traces as an artist, poet and writer. His friendship with the mathematician, Hans<br />

Freudenthal, and his wife, Susanne, in Amsterdam kept its significance alongside the professional connections<br />

with the art world. <strong>Schwitters</strong> had got to know the couple in Norway in 1934. This was followed by several visits<br />

to the Freudenthals in Amsterdam. Hans wrote several important mathematical books, but he was particularly<br />

interested in the didactics of science, that is, in the question as to how mathematics lessons were ‘realistically’<br />

to be designed. It can only be surmised what he and <strong>Schwitters</strong> talked about. But did not <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ public<br />

engagement have traits of a bizarre, didactic effort to win over the public to the avant-garde and educate it?

97<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, <strong>Merz</strong> 7. <strong>Merz</strong> ist Form. Formen heißt entformeln, <strong>Merz</strong>verlang, Hanover 1924

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr<br />

98<br />

It was similar with his trips to Switzerland. However, initially there were obstacles to visiting Switzerland<br />

because in 1923 the Swiss consul in Bremen denied <strong>Schwitters</strong> a visa. The reason? <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ presence in<br />

Zurich was not necessary and not desired. Only in 1929 did <strong>Schwitters</strong> really come to Switzerland to recite<br />

poetry together with Arp. It was the married couple, Siegfried Giedeon and Carola Giedeon-Welcker, who<br />

initially effectively supported and advanced <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Switzerland, remarkably, also <strong>Schwitters</strong> the wordartist.<br />

James Joyce was several times a guest in the couple’s home, which presupposed an understanding<br />

for the new language of modern literature. In Switzerland Hans Arp remained a continual point of reference<br />

because he often spent time there. A climax for <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ public resonance in Switzerland is doubtlessly<br />

represented by a discussion evening on 1 December 1935 at the home of the collector couple, Annie and<br />

Oskar Müller-Widmann. The acquaintance with these avant-garde collectors who had built a modern house in<br />

the Basel suburb of Bruderholz in 1934, was mediated by Jan Tschichold who had emigrated to Basel in 1933<br />

for political reasons. Not Zurich, but the city on the bend in the Rhine attracted <strong>Schwitters</strong>, for the museums<br />

and the modern architecture there interested him lastingly. Apart from that, his art found more sympathetic<br />

understanding there. Therefore, the evening of 1 December 1935 in Bruderholz remained unforgettable for<br />

him as the conclusion of the period of his life before going into exile. From Norway <strong>Schwitters</strong> wrote on 17<br />

December 1939, that is, shortly after the Second World War had broken out, to Annie Müller-Widmann: “I would<br />

so much like to come to you once again, and it would have to be peace, sunshine and spring, and all our good<br />

friends would have to be there. That would be a foretaste of paradise.”<br />

How much <strong>Schwitters</strong> suffered from the situation can be measured by how much previously he had been<br />

an artist under way, a restless person who could set up anywhere. He always had his material, that is, the<br />

ingredients for his collages, with him so that new works could be made anywhere.<br />

During the years in Norway he made acquaintances in his own way, and even won friends, but there<br />

was no scene and no audience for modern art. Therefore <strong>Schwitters</strong> was isolated in this regard. After he<br />

had narrowly escaped to Scotland in 1940, he was compelled to spend seventeen months in the Hutchinson<br />

Camp on the Isle of Man. As oppressive as this situation was, he nevertheless met other internees from<br />

the German cultural scene: writers, artists, intellectuals, musicians, actors, scientists. The emigrants made a<br />

virtue of necessity by organizing talks and theatre performances. Because <strong>Schwitters</strong> was sought after as a<br />

portrait painter, he had some income and was able to buy his way out of the usual camp duties. He shared his<br />

room with the social philosopher, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, the offspring of a painter family with connections to the<br />

Düsseldorf Art Academy. The social philosopher had analyzed especially political, economic and social relations<br />

in the Weimar Republic in order to theoretically understand the rise of fascism. <strong>Schwitters</strong> dedicated one of<br />

his most impressive portraits to his roommate. Sitting with his pipe in his mouth, his gaze directed straight out<br />

of the picture, Sohn-Rethel is characterized as someone reflecting from a distance, which is how <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

had got to know him. The two had shared topics to speak about on the basis of their experiences during the<br />

Weimar Republic.<br />

Once <strong>Schwitters</strong> had been released from internment, he first went to London where he met a young<br />

woman, Edith Thomas, whom he called Wantee, probably derived from, “[Do you] want tea?” He felt this new<br />

partner to be an angel whom his wife, Helma, had sent. Wantee cared for and protected the sick and frail man<br />

until his death in 1948. She was the last in a long series of lovers whom <strong>Schwitters</strong> had been able to win over —<br />

with charm, wit and adoration: Käte Steinitz, Grete Dexel, Hannah Höch, Nelly van Doesburg, Katherine S. Dreier,<br />

and many others. The women played a significant role not only in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ life, but also in his work. One of the<br />

most beautiful early assemblages was given the title, Construction for Noble Ladies (1919). The artist had named

the <strong>Merz</strong>bau in Waldhausenstraße 5 in Hanover Cathedral of Erotic Misery. Among the numerous caves and<br />

grottoes there were two that Hannah Höch was able to set up herself, namely: the Goethe Grotto and the Brothel<br />

with a Lady with Three Legs were her own work, surely a proof of special appreciation. One cave was dedicated<br />

to his wife, Helma, an admirable person without whose understanding and patience <strong>Schwitters</strong> would never have<br />

been able to cope with his career that brought him into the foremost rank of artists of his generation. Picasso<br />

and Matisse, Beckmann and Kokoschka continually chose their own women and others for motifs for their work.<br />

Because of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ different method of working, this is not so obvious with him, but as an undercurrent, the<br />

erotic or friendly energies can always be discerned. Thus <strong>Schwitters</strong> created not only a cosmos of works called<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>, but also a cosmos of people who gave him a hold and closeness in his restlessness.<br />

99<br />

Epilogue<br />

It has often been reported how persistently <strong>Schwitters</strong> insisted on exchanging works with friends. A<br />

consequence of this were the many dedications that can be found handwritten on the lower edge of the works.<br />

A further result was the <strong>Merz</strong> collection. Today 54 works can still be documented, frequently from artists<br />

who are today famous. A series of works vanished in the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, being burnt along with it. The group of<br />

works must therefore originally have been much more extensive. As a ‘private museum’, the <strong>Merz</strong> collection<br />

mirrored <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ biography, at the same time including a significant selection from the creative work of<br />

modern artists. From this angle, the <strong>Merz</strong>bau can also be regarded as an artists’ museum, complemented by<br />

such works which <strong>Schwitters</strong> otherwise kept with him.<br />

Photograph of Käte Steinitz, Theo van Doesburg, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, and Nelly van Doesburg, 1930s<br />

© Tate, London 2015

100<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Guestbook of<br />

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover<br />

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


102<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Guestbook of<br />

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover<br />

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


104<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Guestbook of<br />

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover<br />

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


106<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Guestbook of<br />

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover<br />

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


108<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Guestbook of<br />

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961<br />

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover<br />

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> & Kazimir Malevich<br />

110<br />

On the 10th May 1927 Kazimir Malevich wrote a letter, from Berlin,<br />

addressing <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Two versions exist of this letter. One<br />

manuscript is in the Bauhaus-Archive in the Museum für Gestaltung<br />

in Berlin (Inv. n. 2848). The transcript is published in I. A. Vakar, T.<br />

H. Mihienko’s Малевич о себе. Современники о Малевиче. Письма.<br />

Документы. Воспоминания. Критика, том I (RA, Moscow 2004, pp.<br />

189-191), as well as in English translation in Irina A. Vakar and Tatiana<br />

N. Mikhienko’s Kazimir Malevich. Letters and Documents, vol. 1 (Tate<br />

Publishing, London 2015, pp. 202-204).<br />

The second manuscript, a shortened version, can be found in the Stedelijk<br />

Museum in Amsterdam, which was reproduced in English in Troels<br />

Anderen’s K. S. Malevich. The Artist, Infinity, Suprematism – unpublished<br />

writings 1913-33, vol IV (Borgens Forlag, Amsterdam 1978, pp. 160-162).<br />

It remains unclear if the letter was translated into German and sent to the<br />

addressee.<br />

In Malevich’s letter he references <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ essay “Mein <strong>Merz</strong> = Meine<br />

Monstra <strong>Merz</strong> = Jahrmarktvorbild im Sturm”, which was published in the

111<br />

journal Der Sturm (Monatsschrift, 17. Jahrgang, Der Sturm Verlag, Berlin<br />

October 1926, pp. 106-107). In this essay <strong>Schwitters</strong> names Malevich as an<br />

artist who inspired him.<br />

In response, Malevich discusses elements raised in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ writing, i.e.<br />

the meaning of art and if Constructivism can be considered art, which are<br />

coincidentally topics that occupied Malevich since 1910.<br />

There is no evidence to suggest that <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Malevich were<br />

personally acquainted. However, we do know that <strong>Schwitters</strong> was interested<br />

in Malevich’s work. The periodical <strong>Merz</strong> 8/9 (<strong>Merz</strong>verlag, Hanover 1924),<br />

published by <strong>Schwitters</strong> in cooperation with El Lissitzky, pictures Malevich’s<br />

Black Square with commentary.<br />

In <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong>bau, in which he dedicated grottos to different artists, a<br />

space was devoted to Malevich in celebration of his work.<br />

The long-distance friendship between Malevich and <strong>Schwitters</strong> was most<br />

likely initiated by El Lissitzky.<br />

p. 112-113 Letter from Kazimir Malevich to <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 10 May 1927, Berlin<br />

Inv. No. 2848<br />

Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.

112<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> & Kazimir Malevich


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> & Kazimir Malevich<br />

114<br />

To <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

From Kazimir Malewicz<br />

Having read your article in the journal Der Sturm of October 1926, I see that you are an advocate of Art, but<br />

you write in such a tone that it seems like a voice crying in the wilderness, as if the entire field were already<br />

overgrown with Constructivism, and neither Art nor artist were visible behind this overgrowth. But despite all<br />

this, you still make so bold as to call yourself an artist. At the very time when Constructivism (Constructure) is<br />

already becoming an unremarkable phenomenon, at the very time when the banner of Art is beginning to be<br />

raised and the artist is liberated from enslavement to ideas holding sway over his sensations and, strange as it<br />

might seem, given the fact that painters were the first to shrug off objectness from the shoulders of art, and were<br />

the first to start rocking, striking anew at representation, while the architects, who, it would seem, had gained a<br />

firm hold exclusively on expedient forms, who maintained and continue even now to maintain the reason for the<br />

manifestation of forms from the functional side, which in turn flows from the idea, turn up in the ranks of the front<br />

of art, as such.<br />

It must indeed be acknowledged: that Art is still in a period of crisis, Constructivism is not completely cured,<br />

Art in our day is suffering a severe case of it, but it is my diagnosis nonetheless that it will prevail, for man will<br />

still remain man and the machine will not possess him, and it will not turn him into a mechanical automaton,<br />

since he has made the machine to liberate his movements for more important matters. That is already enough for<br />

Constructivism not to become the apotheosis of life, but only Art.<br />

Man will never throw himself into the slot of an automated machine, like a coin, in order to receive in exchange<br />

a dead piece of cardboard for his fare, or a five-kopeck stamp. Because he has constructed it to carry out dead<br />

functions, for which mechanical movements exist. Man, by contrast, has reserved for himself live functions and live<br />

movements. Hence Constructivism can never kill Art, but the automaton has triumphed over the Constructivists.<br />

Contemporary artists who have transformed themselves into Constructivists under the influence of “expedient<br />

technology” have renounced Art, wishing to serve life and provide it in time with a perfected economic “kitchenbedroom”<br />

or “kitchen-automobile,” they are saw blades, that is, something even life is reluctant to accept.<br />

The Constructivists viewed contemporary man as a contemporary automaton, they adopted the automaton as<br />

the image of man. Thus, unwittingly they themselves became automatons, with a purpose and the image of a<br />

purpose—and it’s the purpose that was their automaton. Hence they suffer from visions of purpose-images and from<br />

a change in conceptions, therefore they suffer too from a mania for overcoming the economic purposes of squalid<br />

life. They themselves don’t know that the construction for them serves only as a method of crawling out of those<br />

nooks and crannies into which life has thrust them.<br />

But since this is their purpose and image, obviously they will never crawl out, for to crawl out from under purpose<br />

and image, that is, to triumph over its realization, means to enter objectlessness.<br />

The new artists, being revolutionaries in spirit, were carried away by contemporary<br />

changes in political and economic human relations, as a result they introduce new achievements in Art as a new<br />

technical means of expressing political and economic<br />

relations, instead of revealing Art as such, liberating it from this or that ideology, and<br />

creating an Art that is really new in form, they engaged in illustration, representation<br />

(at a time when it would have been more essential to go to the barricades not with<br />

canvases, but with a more expressive instrument).<br />

This is one instance, in another case part of the artists of the new Art went to work<br />

constructing various types of expedient objects, and in this instance, such artists rejected Art and ceased to be

115<br />

artists. In the wake of this confusion of concepts the spirit, the strength were also directed, not to a new form of<br />

Art, but to the form that had been before, that is, illustrating and serving ideologies. Hence the new artists begin to<br />

overlook Art.<br />

The late 19th century and early 20th century were noted for a supreme event in Art. This event was noteworthy<br />

because it led to objectlessness, it freed itself from ideological tenants who are like hermit crabs, who crawl into<br />

beautiful shells and turn them into utilitarian, expedient living quarters. Moreover, they even propose that if the<br />

hermit crab didn’t exist, then the shell wouldn’t exist either, and with their ideology they prove that the shell was<br />

the result of its [the crab’s] functions, of its life.<br />

The shell itself also became convinced of this ideology and gave itself up to be eaten, from which the ideological<br />

crab only grew stronger in fat and body and made itself beautiful with [the shell’s] Art. Just so will the artists be<br />

eaten by the ideologues.<br />

Look at the hermit crab, sitting on the mother-of-pearl shell, and you will see that a harmonious connection<br />

between its image? [sic] and the image of the shell does not exist. So too in Art there is no harmony between the<br />

tavern of life and Art.<br />

Religion and the State are sometimes connected, sometimes they don’t understand each other and part ways,<br />

essentially this is one and the same thing, it is only a difference in methods of attaining a goodly kingdom in<br />

heaven or on earth.<br />

The same with Science-Technology, in developing means of communications, the train, the auto, the airplane, the<br />

radio, and so on, for the most rapid achievement of the goal and the image of the idea, in like manner it does not<br />

achieve it. This has already been proven by the historical movement of materialism and Religionism.<br />

We have only to mention the fact that thousands of engineers with millions of workers and peasants to this day<br />

have not been able to build anything permanent or unchanging, whereas the artist, with a simple bristle brush or<br />

chisel has made things that have worked permanently and in like manner throughout all ages.<br />

Artists long ago triumphed over space and time, and image and idea, without weapons, power, gases, and<br />

dynamite. Everything else is merely breaking down an open door.<br />

What’s more, artists long ago destroyed “thought,” something that has not been achieved despite all the efforts of<br />

high-minded people to create a particular form of life. After all, every State or religion system (so-called order)<br />

strives to establish a single, unchanging thinking, and how similar are the religious commandments:<br />

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.<br />

“Thou shalt have no other thinking but mine,” says the State idea.<br />

Anyone who thinks otherwise will be punished.<br />

Thus, Comrade <strong>Schwitters</strong>, artists have long ago come to the watch-tower of rest<br />

and objectlessness, and the hermit crab to this day has not found his abode, he has built nothing, nothing<br />

comfortable, nothing utilitarian, but in order not to fail completely, he passes himself off as a genius of the<br />

ideological future, since he can offer nothing in the present, and wishing to be conscientious, he says right off the<br />

bat, “I promise nothing in the present, only in the future,” but even so he ate up the shell today. Artists offer a<br />

thing of today, for it is in all things today, of today (Praezens [sic]).<br />

Kazimir Malevich<br />

Berlin 1o May 1917<br />

This English translation is published in Kazimir Malevich: Letters, Documents, Memoirs, Criticism Volume 1<br />

(Tate Publishing, 2015) and is reproduced by permission of the Tate Trustees.

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> & Kazimir Malevich<br />

116<br />

El Lissitzky, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (eds.),<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 8/9, <strong>Merz</strong>verlag, Hanover 1924,<br />

cover and page reproducing Malevich’s<br />

Black Square

p. 117-119 cover and two pages by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Mein <strong>Merz</strong> und Meine Monstre <strong>Merz</strong> –<br />

Muster Messe im Sturm”, in Herwarth Walden (ed.), Der Sturm, Monatsschrift, 17. Jahrgang,<br />

Der Sturm Verlag, Berlin October 1926<br />


118<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> & Kazimir Malevich


120<br />

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

KARIN ORCHARD (2000)<br />


OF WASTE<br />



“I think I could do well in the USA.”<br />

(Letter from <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> to Helma<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, 11 June 1941)<br />

Last year in the May issue of the American<br />

art journal Artnews, when the journal’s editors<br />

together with critics and curators listed “the<br />

century’s 25 most influential artists” <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> was not amongst those chosen.<br />

Instead the list named artists such as Max<br />

Ernst, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans,<br />

Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko and<br />

Marcel Duchamp. Despite this “relative<br />

absence of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>” 1 in the late 20th<br />

century, in the 1950s and 60s he had been<br />

hailed along with Marcel Duchamp as a hero<br />

of Modernism and as a role model for avantgarde<br />

artists in the post-war period.<br />

In order to analyse the response amongst<br />

artists in the USA to <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work,<br />

and its influence on the next generation, it is<br />

necessary to establish what artists, critics and<br />

curators living there could have known of his<br />

work. We have to ask which works from which<br />

periods of his career could be seen in the<br />

original, which of his theoretical and literary<br />

texts were available in English translations,<br />

how was he presented in publications and<br />

exhibition catalogues, in which contexts,<br />

in what kind of galleries, museums and<br />

exhibitions was he present? Since <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

to his regret, never visited the United States,<br />

he did not have the opportunity to promote<br />

his work there personally nor to captivate<br />

audiences there with his skills as a speaker<br />

and performer. If he had been able to fulfil<br />

his plans to go the United States or even to<br />

emigrate there, his impact would no doubt<br />

have been that much greater, for he generally<br />

made a memorable impression with his<br />

pleasing, humorous yet eccentric personality.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ contacts with the USA went<br />

back to 1920, the year after he had started<br />

to work on his so-called ‘<strong>Merz</strong>’ collage<br />

technique. The initiative came from the<br />

American collector Katherine S. Dreier, who<br />

was looking for new artists and ideas for the<br />

Société Anonyme, which she had founded with<br />

Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray in New York.<br />

In her search she travelled through Europe,<br />

assiduously making new contacts. 2 It was in<br />

Herwarth Walden’s Sturm gallery in Berlin,<br />

that she first encountered the nailed and<br />

glued pictures by <strong>Schwitters</strong> that were causing<br />

a scandal at the time. Convinced of their<br />

quality, from then on she showed <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

work almost every year in the exhibitions<br />

of the Société Anonyme which also used to<br />

tour throughout the United States. The most<br />

important of these exhibitions was certainly<br />

the International Exhibition of Modern Art in<br />

the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1926. 3<br />

Since the legendary Armory Show in New York<br />

in 1913, there had been no comparable major<br />

exhibition of international contemporary art<br />

in the United States. Katherine S. Dreier<br />

had asked <strong>Schwitters</strong> and his wife Helma to<br />

assist in the selection process, particularly<br />

for the Constructivist section. They both<br />

enthusiastically threw themselves into this<br />

task and acted as European agents for the<br />

Société Anonyme. In 1931 <strong>Schwitters</strong> was<br />

even appointed an Honorary President of the<br />

society. In the Brooklyn exhibition there was<br />

a total of eleven works by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> on<br />

show.<br />

Over the years Katherine S. Dreier<br />

purchased a large number of works by <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> from all the different stages in his<br />

career, both for her private collection and for<br />

the collection of the Société Anonyme. This<br />

1<br />

Rudi Fuchs, Conflicts with Modernism or the Absence of <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>/Konflikte mit dem Modernismus oder die Abwesenheit<br />

von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Bern and Berlin 1991.<br />

2<br />

See Gwendolen Webster, ‘<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Katherine Dreier’,<br />

in: German Life and Letters, vol. 52, no. 4, 1999, pp. 443–456.<br />

3<br />

See Ruth L. Bohan, The Société Anonyme’s Brooklyn Exhibition.<br />

Katherine Dreier and Modernism in Amerika, Ann Arbor 1982, pp.<br />

47f., 55.<br />


THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

122<br />

Katherine S. Dreier, Constantin Aladjalov, International Exhibition of Modern Art, Societe Anonyme,<br />

Brooklyn Museum, New York 1926

Letter from <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

to Katherine S. Dreier, 6 October 1947<br />

Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme<br />

archive. Yale Collection of American Literature,<br />

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.<br />


124<br />

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

became partly accessible to the general public<br />

when Dreier gave it to the Yale University<br />

Art Museum in 1941. After her death in<br />

1952, Marcel Duchamp was named as the<br />

administrator of the private collection left<br />

in her estate. He donated nineteen works<br />

by <strong>Schwitters</strong> to the Museum of Modern Art<br />

(MoMA) in New York, another eleven went to<br />

the collection in Yale University Art Museum,<br />

three to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum<br />

in New York, one <strong>Merz</strong> picture and one collage<br />

to the Phillips Collection and two works to<br />

the American University in Washington. But<br />

Katherine S. Dreier’s support for <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

did not stop at the purchase of works of art for<br />

her collection; she also smoothed the path for<br />

purchases by other leading private American<br />

collections and assisted the artist and his<br />

family financially during the difficult years of<br />

his exile. She did not meet him face to face<br />

until 1926 when she visited him in Hanover.<br />

There was a second meeting in 1929; once<br />

again they met in Hanover, this time together<br />

with Duchamp. There is no detailed record of<br />

this meeting, and we can only speculate as to<br />

how this single encounter between these two<br />

protagonists of Modernism may have gone.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> felt greatly flattered by the interest<br />

Katherine S. Dreier took in him, particularly<br />

since this committed collector offered him a<br />

good chance of becoming better known in the<br />

USA. Yet Dreier found it difficult to interest a<br />

wider public in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art. In her speech<br />

at the first one-man show of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work<br />

in New York in the Pinacotheca Gallery in<br />

1948, she was very open: “It has taken a long<br />

time for the American public to respond to the<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> though we had shown them already<br />

in 1920. I had thought that the response<br />

would come as quickly as did that of Klee, not<br />

realising that <strong>Schwitters</strong> was far more difficult<br />

for the average person to understand because<br />

he was purely the painter and there was no<br />

approach through the intellect which Klee<br />

reached through his whimsical delineation<br />

of ideas. This all happened 27 years ago and<br />

except for a few lovers of the rare quality<br />

of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ ‘<strong>Merz</strong>’ collages, he remained<br />

almost unknown in this country”. 4 But by his<br />

first one-man show on American soil at the<br />

latest, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was recognised as a leading<br />

protagonist of abstract modernism.<br />

Again through Dreier, in 1935 contact<br />

was made with the newly founded Museum<br />

of Modern Art in New York, which was<br />

– alongside the Société Anonyme – the<br />

most important institution for modern art.<br />

On Dreier’s suggestion, the director of the<br />

Museum, Alfred Barr, visited <strong>Schwitters</strong> in<br />

Hanover, and bought one picture that year<br />

and two the following year for the Museum<br />

of Modern Art collection. 5 In the extremely<br />

influential exhibitions put on by MoMA in<br />

1936, Cubism and Abstract Art 6 and Fantastic<br />

Art, Dada, Surrealism 7 there were collages<br />

by <strong>Schwitters</strong> and <strong>Merz</strong> pictures, as well as<br />

photographs of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau on display and<br />

illustrated in the catalogue. The catalogue<br />

essay in the shape of an introduction to Dada<br />

by Georges Hugnet devoted a whole section<br />

to <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

The regard that those responsible at<br />

the Museum of Modern Art had for <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> and his work is evident from the<br />

fact that they awarded him a Fellowship<br />

as a means of supporting him in his work<br />

on a third <strong>Merz</strong>bau. Since 1946 <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

4<br />

Katherine S. Dreier, unpublished manuscript (carbon copy), <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover<br />

5<br />

Reichardt-Schwertschlag Der We˝ihnachtsmann, 1922, Collage,<br />

18.7 x 15.2 cm; Mz. 379. Potsdamer, 1922, Collage 17.9 x 14.4 cm;<br />

Zeichnung A 2 Haus. (Hansi), 1918, Collage, 17.9 x 14.5 cm.<br />

6<br />

The works exhibited were Strahlen Welt <strong>Merz</strong>bild 31B, 1920, and<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>konstruktion (above), 1921, as well as four collages from 1921<br />

to 1926, both assemblages were illustrated in the catalogue.<br />

7<br />

The exhibits included Strahlen Welt <strong>Merz</strong>bild 31B, 1920, three<br />

collages from 1920 to 1922 and nine photographs of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau;<br />

the <strong>Merz</strong> picture and two photographs of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau were illustrated<br />

in the catalogue.

together with Alfred Barr and the curator<br />

Margaret Miller, had been working on plans<br />

to complete earlier <strong>Merz</strong>baus; initially the<br />

idea was to rebuild and restore the <strong>Merz</strong>bau<br />

in Hanover that had been destroyed in 1943<br />

during the war; later on discussions turned<br />

to the question of completing the Haus am<br />

Bakken, the Norwegian <strong>Merz</strong>bau in Lysaker<br />

near Oslo which <strong>Schwitters</strong> had had to<br />

abandon when he fled the country. However,<br />

the wholesale destruction of the Hanover<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau and <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ precarious state of<br />

health meant that neither of these was a viable<br />

possibility. By this time the artist was already<br />

living in the Lake District, which led him to<br />

consider undertaking a new <strong>Merz</strong> project in a<br />

barn in Elterwater near Ambleside. The first<br />

instalment of the Fellowship of a thousand<br />

dollars arrived punctually in June 1947 on his<br />

60th birthday, and he started immediately on<br />

his <strong>Merz</strong>barn. Yet this project, too, was never<br />

to be finished since <strong>Schwitters</strong> died early the<br />

following year.<br />

In 1946, <strong>Schwitters</strong> also discussed<br />

other projects besides the <strong>Merz</strong>bau with the<br />

Museum of Modern Art: these included a<br />

one-man show, another planned project was<br />

his participation in an international group<br />

show focusing on collage, which was initially<br />

intended for summer 1947. However, both<br />

shows were repeatedly postponed – and in<br />

the end <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ first one-man show in<br />

MoMA did not take place until 1985. During<br />

the earlier discussion period, <strong>Schwitters</strong> had<br />

already selected 39 recent collages and sent<br />

them to New York in four groups. 8 Some of<br />

these were shown in the major exhibition<br />

Collage which finally took place from 21<br />

September until 5 December 1948, after<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ death. Nineteen collages by<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> were shown, eight from 1946/47.<br />

Besides Picasso with twenty works and Max<br />

Ernst with twelve collages, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was one<br />

of the few artists in this influential exhibition<br />

whose work was shown in any great numbers. 9<br />

This in itself bears witness to the recognition<br />

he enjoyed at MoMA as a pioneer of the art<br />

of collage. In the short introduction to the<br />

list of exhibits, his <strong>Merz</strong> art is described as<br />

being “distinct from the anti-aesthetic and<br />

political directness of the Dada movement<br />

in Germany” – a distinction that was to be<br />

very important for the subsequent reception<br />

of his work. Although <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ œuvre has<br />

frequently been labelled as Dada, the qualities<br />

of his more aesthetic approach had in fact<br />

been recognised early on.<br />

The exhibition was very positively<br />

received and reviewed. The most influential<br />

critic and promoter of the emergent Abstract<br />

Expressionism, Clement Greenberg, wrote that<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> and Hans Arp – even if at a “certain<br />

distance” – could be seen to be following in<br />

the footsteps of Picasso and Braque, the “great<br />

masters of collage”. 10 Greenberg’s estimation<br />

of the significance of collage resulted in a farreaching<br />

reassessment of this technique: “The<br />

medium of collage has played a crucial role in<br />

the painting and sculpture of the 20th century,<br />

and it is the most trenchant and direct key to<br />

the aesthetics of genuine modern art.” 11<br />

Since the planned one-man show of <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work in MoMA did not come to<br />

fruition, credit for putting on the first solo<br />

presentation of his work in the USA goes to<br />

a commercial gallery. At the same time, the<br />

8<br />

Lists from the estate in the <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Archive in the<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover.<br />

9<br />

According to the hectographed exhibition list 102 works were<br />

shown. There was no catalogue, although there was evidently a plan<br />

to publish one, see the letter from Margaret Miller to<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 29 November 1946, copy in the <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover.<br />

10<br />

Clement Greenberg, untitled, in the column ‘Art’, in: The Nation<br />

167, no. 21, 27 November 1948, pp. 612ff., reprinted in: idem, The<br />

Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. by John O’Brian, Chicago and<br />

London, 1986, pp. 259–263, here p. 262.<br />

11<br />

Ibid., p. 259.<br />


126<br />

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

Exhibition catalogue<br />

for <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

at The Pinacotheca, New York,<br />

January-February 1948<br />

(front cover, text by Naum Gabo)<br />

© Tate, London <strong>2016</strong>

exhibition in the Pinacotheca Gallery in New<br />

York also became, by force of circumstances,<br />

a memorial exhibition, since it opened on<br />

19 January 1948 shortly after the death of<br />

the artist. This exhibition had also been<br />

planned during <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ lifetime and he<br />

had partly selected the works himself. Once<br />

again, it was Katherine S. Dreier who had<br />

introduced the gallerist Rose Fried to the<br />

work of the German <strong>Merz</strong> artist and who also<br />

supported the exhibition by lending works.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> and Rose Fried had enjoyed a<br />

lively correspondance since late 1946 and<br />

were both enthused by their shared plans for<br />

an exhibition. In order to set this exhibition<br />

apart from the Collage exhibition which was<br />

scheduled to take place at the same time in<br />

MoMA, <strong>Schwitters</strong> suggested showing <strong>Merz</strong><br />

pictures and sculptures as well as collages. 12<br />

In the end the exhibition contained collages<br />

and constructions, mainly from 1946/47, with<br />

26 entries in the catalogue.<br />

Even before the exhibition had opened<br />

Rose Fried was already able to sell works,<br />

with the result that she asked <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

and Katherine S. Dreier to send more<br />

works. 13 From a commercial point of view the<br />

exhibition turned out to be a disaster, because<br />

while it was running only another two works<br />

were sold. But over time the situation changed<br />

and in October 1948 Rose Fried wrote to the<br />

artist’s son, Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, asking for more<br />

works, since “there is growing interest in<br />

them and I would like to put on an exhibition<br />

again this year, if possible”. 14 The opening of<br />

a second one-man show with the title Small<br />

Group of Collages by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> was,<br />

however, delayed until 1953. In 1954 and<br />

1956 Rose Fried showed his work in group<br />

shows, amongst others in her important<br />

International Collage Exhibition, which took<br />

place in spring 1956, and with eighty-five<br />

selected works traced the development of<br />

collage from the beginnings of Modernism<br />

right up to contemporary works by artists such<br />

as Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner and Anne<br />

Ryan, to name just a few of the American<br />

participants.<br />

During the war and in the immediate postwar<br />

period, the reception of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

art reached one of its early highpoints. New<br />

York became a focal point for the avantgarde<br />

in art, and the <strong>Merz</strong> artist played an<br />

important part in this as an inspiration and<br />

role-model. His increasing renown coincided<br />

with the emergence of an independent art<br />

scene and new artistic tendencies in the USA,<br />

the so-called New York School, Abstract<br />

Expressionism and Neo-Dada. There was even<br />

a suggestion that the new movement should<br />

be called Neo-<strong>Merz</strong> instead of Neo-Dada. 15<br />

Robert Motherwell is regarded as<br />

one of the leading exponents of Abstract<br />

Expressionism. His early works had been<br />

included alongside <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ works in the<br />

aforementioned exhibition Collage in MoMA<br />

in 1948, as well as in the collage exhibition<br />

that Rose Fried put on in her gallery in 1956.<br />

However, the exhibition which had originally<br />

sparked off his interest in this medium<br />

had taken place much earlier. In 1942,<br />

Motherwell had met the American collector<br />

12<br />

Letter from <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> to Rose Fried, 25 January 1947,<br />

Archives of American Art, Rose Fried Gallery Papers, microfilm no.<br />

2206.<br />

13<br />

Letter from Rose Fried to <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 27 May 1947, <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover. Amongst<br />

other things she sold a collage to a “young artist”, see letter from<br />

Rose Fried to Katherine S. Dreier, 25 March 1947, Yale University,<br />

The Beinicke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Box<br />

29, Folder 838. Unfortunately it is not possible to say who this artist<br />

might have been.<br />

14<br />

Letter from Rose Fried to Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 31 October 1948,<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover.<br />

15<br />

Irving Sandler, ‘Ash can revisited’, in: Art International IV, no. 8,<br />

1060, p. 29, as quoted in: Maria Müller, Aspekte der Dada-Rezeption,<br />

1950–1966, Essen 1987, p. 86.<br />


THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

128<br />

Private view invitation to the<br />

Collage exhibition held at The<br />

Museum of Modern Art, 1948<br />

(front cover, inside and back<br />

cover)<br />

© Tate, London 2015

and gallerist Peggy Guggenheim, who had<br />

owned one of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ larger works since<br />

1940 – his assemblage Maraak Var I of<br />

1930 – and who had already exhibited five<br />

collages by <strong>Schwitters</strong> as long ago as 1938 in<br />

London, in the Collage exhibition in her first<br />

gallery, the Guggenheim Jeune. 16 Motherwell<br />

must certainly have been able to study her<br />

collection in detail, particularly since he later<br />

advised Peggy Guggenheim on art matters. In<br />

October 1942 she had opened her legendary<br />

Art of the Century Gallery in New York,<br />

and was planning the major international<br />

Exhibition of Collage for the following year,<br />

which was to include artists such as Picasso,<br />

Matisse and – of course – <strong>Schwitters</strong>. In<br />

addition this was to be the first overview<br />

exhibition of collage in the United States. The<br />

young American artists Robert Motherwell,<br />

Jackson Pollock and William Baziotos were<br />

also invited to contribute collages to this<br />

exhibition. All three were a little hesitant at<br />

first, since they had never made any collages<br />

before, and Motherwell and Pollock decided<br />

to carry out their first experiments in Pollock’s<br />

studio. This proved to be a crucial experience<br />

in Motherwell’s development and from that<br />

point onwards, collage played a major part in<br />

his œuvre. 17<br />

Robert Motherwell was not only<br />

recognised as an artist but also made a<br />

name for himself as a leading critic and art<br />

historian, and as such he was responsible for<br />

The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology,<br />

which is still the standard work in English<br />

on the Dada movement. It first appeared in<br />

1951 and quickly became a kind of bible<br />

for all those who were interested in Dada at<br />

the time. One might even go so far as to say<br />

that it was this publication that first aroused<br />

any real enthusiasm amongst artists and<br />

critics for Dada. 18 Motherwell was the first to<br />

introduce a wider English-speaking public<br />

and above all a large number of artists and<br />

critics to <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work and theory. In his<br />

introduction to the anthology, and similarly in<br />

the annotated bibliography by the librarian at<br />

MoMA, Bernard Karpel, <strong>Schwitters</strong> occupies<br />

more space than any other artist. A whole<br />

chapter is given over to an English translation<br />

of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ programmatic text <strong>Merz</strong> of<br />

1920, in which he formulated his <strong>Merz</strong> theory<br />

for the first time. Another chapter contains<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ text on ‘Theo van Doesburg and<br />

Dada’, and in Georges Hugnet’s essay on the<br />

history of the Dada movement <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

again occupies a prominent position: “It<br />

was <strong>Schwitters</strong> who gave Dada its final<br />

impetus”. 19 The basic artistic approach that<br />

Hugnet identified in <strong>Schwitters</strong>, struck a<br />

nerve amongst the younger generation of<br />

American artists: “Walking along the street,<br />

he would pick up a piece of string, a fragment<br />

of glass, the scattered princes of the waste<br />

land, the elements of these infinitely inspiring<br />

landscapes. At home, heaps of wooden junk,<br />

tufts of horsehair, old rags, broken and<br />

unrecognisable objects, provided him with<br />

clippings from life and poetry, and constituted<br />

his reserves. With these witnesses taken from<br />

16<br />

The Surrealist painter Roland Penrose acted as advisor for the<br />

exhibition. He and the art-critic Herbert Read, who also knew<br />

Peggy Guggenheim very well and helped her when she was planning<br />

her museum, had been the main organisers of the Exhibition of<br />

Twentieth Century German Art in the New Burlington Galleries<br />

in London, in which <strong>Schwitters</strong> was represented and which Peggy<br />

Guggenheim certainly saw. Herbert Read was one of the few who<br />

stood up for <strong>Schwitters</strong> in England and had written an essay for the<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ first one-man show in Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery<br />

in London in 1944. The close friendship between Peggy Guggenheim<br />

and Nelly van Doesburg provided another chance to become<br />

acquainted with <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work, in that Nelly van Doesburg had<br />

long been a friend of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> and owned numerous collages<br />

by him; a further chance was through the Belgian Surrealist E. L.<br />

T. Mesens, who had been a friend of <strong>Schwitters</strong> since 1927. With<br />

his London Gallery Mesens was Peggy Guggenheim’s neighbour<br />

in Cork Street and presented <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ second one-man show in<br />

England in his gallery in 1950.<br />

17<br />

See H. H. Arnason, ‘On Robert Motherwell and his Early Work’,<br />

in: Art International X, no. 1, 1966, pp. 17–35, here p. 23.<br />

18<br />

For instance Barbara Rose, ‘Dada Then and Now’, in:<br />

Art International VII, no. 1, 1963, pp. 22–28, here p. 28.<br />

19<br />

Georges Hugnet, ‘The Dada Spirit in Painting’, in: Robert<br />

Motherwell, The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, New York<br />

1951, p. 162.<br />


130<br />

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

the earth, he constructed sculptures and<br />

objects which are among the most disturbing<br />

products of his time. To the principle of the<br />

object, he added a respect for life in the<br />

form of dirt and putrefaction. […] <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

suggested the irrational tastes that we know<br />

from our dreams: spontaneity and the<br />

acceptance of chance without choice.” 20<br />

Apart from Motherwell’s anthology, at<br />

that time there were scarcely any Englishlanguage<br />

publications on <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

or translations of his texts. Carola Giedion-<br />

Welcker’s essay on <strong>Schwitters</strong>, which first<br />

appeared in Weltwoche in 1947, and which was<br />

published in the Magazine of Art as an obituary<br />

in October 1948 with the title, ‘<strong>Schwitters</strong>:<br />

or the Allusions of the Imagination’, was the<br />

first extended, copiously illustrated text on<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> to become available in the Englishspeaking<br />

world. In addition there was also the<br />

small pamphlet-catalogue produced for the<br />

exhibition in the Pinacotheca Gallery in 1948,<br />

with texts by Katherine S. Dreier, Naum Gabo<br />

and Charmion Wiegand.<br />

20<br />

Ibid., pp. 163f. The text had been previously published in a very<br />

slightly different version in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition<br />

catalogue, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, 1936.<br />

21<br />

On Anne Ryan see: Anne Ryan Collages, Brooklyn Museum,<br />

New York, 1974; Donald Windham, ‘Anne Ryan and her collages’,<br />

in: Artnews, 73, no. 5, 1974, pp. 76–78; Anne Ryan. Collages from<br />

Three Museums, Washburn Gallery, New York, 1991.<br />

22<br />

As quoted in: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection, Walker<br />

Art Center, Minneapolis, 1990, p. 447.<br />

23<br />

Lee Hall, Betty Parsons. Artist, Dealer, Collector, New York 1991,<br />

pp. 182f.<br />

24<br />

Laura de Coppet and Alan Jones, The Art Dealers, New York<br />

1984, p. 23.<br />

25<br />

Peter Watson, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Castelli & Co. Der Aufstieg<br />

des internationalen Kunstmarkts, Düsseldorf and elsewhere 1993,<br />

p. 346.<br />

26<br />

On the history of the gallery see: Three Generations of Twentieth-Century<br />

Art. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection of the<br />

Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modem Art, New York 1972,<br />

pp. 210–230.<br />

Even if the gallerist Rose Fried was<br />

more of an enthusiastic, idealistic art-lover<br />

than a successful business woman and artdealer,<br />

nevertheless her exhibition made a<br />

major impression on the New York public<br />

and, as we know, on at least one artist: Anne<br />

Ryan. 21 Born in New Jersey in 1889, Anne<br />

Ryan was already 58 years old when she first<br />

came into contact with <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art.<br />

As a self-taught artist it had been some time<br />

before she started to explore print techniques,<br />

especially wood-cuts. She moved in artistic<br />

circles and knew Jackson Pollock, Barnet<br />

Newman and Hans Hofmann, who supported<br />

her in her work. However, she only arrived at<br />

her own language of forms – which brought<br />

her overnight recognition amongst the New<br />

York avant-garde – after she had visited the<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> exhibition in Rose Fried’s gallery.<br />

Her daughter remembers that first visit to<br />

the gallery: “Mother went from one collage<br />

to another in a passion of delight. She knew<br />

instantly and completely that she had found<br />

her métier. And she was practically exalted.<br />

She had a great capacity for joy but I never<br />

saw her so consumed by it […] We went<br />

home and before she put water on for supper,<br />

she was at her work table making collages.<br />

During the following weeks she visited the<br />

Fried Gallery a couple of times […].” 22 In the<br />

six years until her death in 1954, Anne Ryan<br />

worked exclusively on collages. Her works<br />

were valued highly, yet her success is largely<br />

forgotten today. These small-format works,<br />

mainly in fabric and paper, display a fine<br />

feeling for materials combined with a sense<br />

of structure and pictorial composition; they<br />

show the influence of Cubism, of Paul Klee<br />

and – above all – of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

In the early to mid-1950s, there were<br />

at least four exhibitions of Ryan’s collages<br />

in the influential Betty Parsons Gallery in<br />

New York: three one-woman shows (1950,<br />

1954 and 1955) and a joint show with Lee<br />

Krasner (1953). 23 The Betty Parsons Gallery<br />

was one of the few galleries in New York to<br />

specialise exclusively in contemporary art.<br />

Parsons had good contacts amongst important

collectors and leading institutions for modern<br />

art such as the Museum of Modern Art. She<br />

was much respected by artists, particularly<br />

since she was a working artist herself. Yet, just<br />

like Rose Fried’s gallery, the Betty Parsons<br />

Gallery never had the same commercial<br />

success as the comparable galleries owned<br />

by Sam Kootz, Leo Castelli and Sidney Janis.<br />

Betty Parsons, looking back, commented that<br />

when she opened her gallery in 1946, of the<br />

fifteen or so galleries in New York at the time,<br />

only three or four specialised exclusively in<br />

contemporary art. 24 At the time in New York<br />

there were only around fifty professional<br />

artists, everyone knew everyone and they were<br />

on familiar terms with one another. 25 People<br />

talked about art with the European émigrés<br />

amongst their numbers, and visited the few<br />

exhibitions that showed the new, radical<br />

works of the avant-garde. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> was<br />

by no means unknown in these circles.<br />

In September 1948, Sidney Janis<br />

opened his gallery space at 15 East 57th<br />

Street – directly opposite the Betty Parsons<br />

Gallery. 26 Thanks to the triumphant progress<br />

of Abstract Expressionism Sidney Janis<br />

established himself as an extremely successful<br />

gallerist and art-dealer, since early on he had<br />

managed to entice the most promising young<br />

artists away from Betty Parsons, including<br />

Jackson Pollock in 1952, Franz Kline and<br />

Invitation to a preview of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ exhibition<br />

at the Sidney Janis Gallery, 1952<br />

© Tate, London 2015<br />


132<br />

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

Mark Rothko in 1953, and Robert Motherwell<br />

the year after that. Sidney Janis’ practice was<br />

to show these younger artists either together<br />

with or alternately with established exponents<br />

of Classical Modernism such as Fernand Léger<br />

or Piet Mondrian, in order to break down the<br />

wider public’s resistance to new art forms.<br />

One of the modernists, whom he exhibited<br />

very frequently in the years to come, was <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. Shortly after the latter’s death,<br />

Janis had made contact with Edith Thomas,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ companion during the last years of<br />

his life in England, and had acquired a large<br />

number of works from her, either buying them<br />

directly or taking them on commission. These<br />

were predominantly collages from <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

late period in England, since the artist had<br />

had to leave his early works and his large<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> pictures behind in Lysaker and Hanover<br />

when he fled to England. Thus the American<br />

public was much more familiar than its<br />

European counterpart with the late collages<br />

from the ensembles on loan to MoMA from<br />

Rose Fried and Edith Thomas. 27 In contrast to<br />

the rediscovery of the <strong>Merz</strong> artist in post-war<br />

Europe, which – largely due to the preferences<br />

of Werner Schmalenbach and the artist’s son,<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> – concentrated on the early<br />

‘classical’ <strong>Merz</strong> drawings and pictures, there<br />

27<br />

For more detail see Karin Orchard, ‘>Meine Zeit wird kommen

he also designed the catalogue: a poster-sized<br />

sheet of silk-paper, printed, and crumpled into<br />

a ball, which then had to be retrieved from a<br />

trash can. <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work was on prominent<br />

display in this exhibition: the catalogue lists<br />

six of his works which were shown along with<br />

publications and his <strong>Merz</strong> magazines.<br />

One of the visitors at this exhibition was<br />

Robert Rauschenberg. This visit is Robert<br />

Rauschenberg’s earliest recorded encounter<br />

with <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ œuvre. He, too, was one of<br />

Betty Parsons’ artists and had his first oneman<br />

show in her gallery, opposite Sidney<br />

Janis’ rooms, in 1951. Rauschenberg is often<br />

hailed as <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ greatest successor,<br />

although some dismiss him as an imitator.<br />

He himself later denied that <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

had been a direct influence and claimed<br />

that he had only become aware of the art<br />

of the Dadaist after he had already evolved<br />

his own style. In view of the immediate<br />

proximity of the two galleries, and the small<br />

number of artists, gallerists and critics in<br />

New York amongst whom Rauschenberg<br />

moved, and whose conversation would often<br />

turn to <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Dadaism in those<br />

days, this claim of ignorance is somewhat<br />

unconvincing. Moreover, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was not<br />

only the subject of four one-man shows in<br />

the Sidney Janis Gallery, he was also present<br />

in a whole variety of group shows. And in<br />

addition to that, the gallery had extensive<br />

storage space – even today it still owns over<br />

forty collages – which any interested party<br />

could have access to, so that by 1953 at the<br />

latest, Rauschenberg will have had ample<br />

opportunity to see works by <strong>Schwitters</strong>, with<br />

the exception of the 1952 exhibition, because<br />

at the time he was travelling in Italy with Cy<br />

Twombly. At the same time, it is perfectly<br />

possible that he could have visited the 1948<br />

exhibition in the Pinacotheca when he spent<br />

a few days in New York in February. 31 In an<br />

interview in 1965, he recalled that on a visit<br />

to a <strong>Schwitters</strong> exhibition it had felt “as if<br />

the whole exhibition had been made just for<br />

me”, 32 and, later on, that he had “found out<br />

about collages because everyone was talking<br />

about <strong>Schwitters</strong> and I wanted to know more<br />

Leaflet for an exhibition entitled,<br />

Selection of French Art at the Sidney Janis Gallery, 1955 (back cover)<br />

© Tate, London 2015<br />


134<br />

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />

about him”. 33 He even bought some late<br />

collages by <strong>Schwitters</strong>, as did Jasper Johns<br />

and Cy Twombly.<br />

On closer examination, the influence<br />

of the <strong>Merz</strong> artist appears to be selfevident,<br />

particularly when one compares<br />

Rauschenberg’s early work from the 1950s,<br />

his Red Paintings and his Combine Paintings<br />

with <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ late works. Of course their<br />

aims and solutions are different, for despite<br />

their comparable use of waste and debris,<br />

Rauschenberg has quite different artistic<br />

intentions. His aim is to show that found objects<br />

retain their everyday identity, even if they<br />

become part of a work of art. Rauschenberg<br />

operates in the realm between art and life, while<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> wants to bridge the gap between art<br />

and life. 34 All materials, even waste, seem to<br />

the Dadaist to be suitable components in a<br />

work of art. This transformation is the main<br />

preoccupation of <strong>Merz</strong>.<br />

“The waste of the world becomes my<br />

art” – this quote from <strong>Schwitters</strong> served as<br />

the motto for the first comprehensive book<br />

on collage that was published by Harriet Janis<br />

(the wife of Sidney Janis) and Rudi Blesh in<br />

1962. This publication marked the highpoint<br />

of <strong>Schwitters</strong> reception in the 1950s and<br />

60s in the United States, for it is enhanced<br />

with numerous illustrations of his work, his<br />

writings are quoted to explain his theories<br />

and his name is on practically every page. The<br />

authors draw their critical investigation of<br />

collage to a close with the following statement:<br />

“<strong>Schwitters</strong> moved from dada to a prophecy<br />

of this generation’s leap from anti-art’s social<br />

and esthetic protest to the calm acceptance<br />

of our harvest of junk as material for a truly<br />

contemporary art – and let the chips of<br />

meaning fall where they may. They use junk<br />

as an act of moral and esthetic integrity, as<br />

the only realistic course. Their intellectual<br />

god is Marcel Duchamp who preceded dada,<br />

then transcended its negative limitations;<br />

their guide is <strong>Schwitters</strong> who heard the<br />

mute eloquence of our waste.” 35 Due respect<br />

is paid to the inventors of modern collage –<br />

Picasso, Braque and Arp, but <strong>Schwitters</strong> takes<br />

precedence as the true master of collage using<br />

found objects.<br />

In the critical assessment in the 1950s<br />

and 1960s of the precursors and the progress<br />

of post-war art, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was seen as the<br />

equal of Marcel Duchamp. Often the two were<br />

named in the same breath when it came to<br />

identifying the most important influences<br />

on art until well into the 1960s and 70s –<br />

not to mention literature, sound poetry and<br />

music. American artists and critics recognised<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ achievements even if his unwieldy,<br />

scarcely narrative abstraction meant that he<br />

never attained the wide public acclaim of a<br />

Picasso or Paul Klee. He is often described as<br />

an ‘artist’s artist’, whose real impact came when<br />

artists pursuing new directions – in Abstract<br />

Expressionism, Neo-Dada and Pop Art – were<br />

searching for role-models and inspiration, and<br />

found a rich seam in <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ late work.<br />

Unaltered reprint from the exhibition catalogue<br />

“Aller Anfang ist <strong>Merz</strong> - Von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> bis heute”,<br />

Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000<br />

p. 135-137 Letter from Katherine S. Dreier<br />

to <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, 16 July 1925.<br />

Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme<br />

archive. Yale Collection of American Literature,<br />

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library<br />

33<br />

Robert Rauschenberg in conversation with Barbara Rose, in: Robert<br />

Rauschenberg et al., Kunst heute, no. 3, Cologne 1989, p. 59.<br />

34<br />

See Joachim Jäger, Das zivilisierte Bild. Robert Rauschenberg und<br />

seine Combine Paintings der Jahre 1960 bis 1962, Klagenfurt and<br />

Vienna 1999, pp. 52–63.<br />

35<br />

Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh, Collage. Personalities, Concepts,<br />

Techniques, Philadelphia and New York 1962, p. 255.


THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard<br />



138<br />

How to look on Modern Art in America<br />

by Ad Reinhardt, 1961<br />

How to Look at Modern Art in America counts among the most famous illustrations<br />

by American Abstract Expressionist Ad Reinhardt. First conceived for the journal PM<br />

in 1946, Reinhardt created this family tree of modern art with a nod towards Alfred<br />

J. Barr’s renowned diagram cover of his catalogue to the seminal 1936 exhibition<br />

Cubism and Abstract Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The updated<br />

version from 1961 was published in the summer issue of ARTnews.


140<br />

KURT<br />




Norman <strong>Rosenthal</strong> (<strong>2016</strong>)

141<br />

All art of any significance comes from art<br />

and will also continually generate new art. As<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> wrote in an article dated 1940-<br />

46, in somewhat broken English:<br />

When I was born. 20.6.87, I was influenced<br />

by Picasso to cry. When I could walk<br />

and speak I still stood under Picasso’s<br />

influence and said to my mother: “Tom”<br />

or “Happening” meaning the entrances of<br />

the canal under the street. 1<br />

He continues, after invoking Matisse,<br />

Mondrian, the Surrealists, Hans Arp, Di<br />

Chirico, by claiming he “never stood under<br />

the influence of Dadaism” and that rather, in<br />

1919, he created <strong>Merz</strong> on the Leineriver (in his<br />

home town of Hanover) ”under the influence of<br />

Rembrandt”. 2 Arguably, the only work in this<br />

exhibition that demonstrates the direct influence<br />

of any other artist is a drawing made in 1918<br />

called The Lonely One, which takes techniques<br />

and motifs from Lyonel Feininger and Ernst<br />

Ludwig Kirchner. Earlier, as a young man,<br />

he had studied at the Dresden Arts Academy<br />

and as late as 1915 painted competently in a<br />

traditional manner redolent of Adolph Menzel<br />

or Wilhelm Leibl. As with Max Beckmann,<br />

the experience and knowledge of the horrors<br />

of the First World War changed everything.<br />

Subsequently, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was to become one<br />

the twentieth century’s truest originals, whose<br />

invention of collage sourced almost exclusively<br />

from the detritus of everyday life – from bus<br />

tickets to the torn pages of newspapers,<br />

splintered wood salvaged from rubbish heaps,<br />

shorelines or forests, to letters and numbers<br />

always pregnant with poetic meaning and<br />

implied sounds, like Cagean musical scores that<br />

anticipate the American composer’s chance<br />

operations. His is an art of the street and the<br />

1<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Eile ist des Witzes Weile: Eine Auswahl aus den<br />

Texten, Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, p. 17.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

Z 71 Der Einsame. (2)<br />

1918<br />

Charcoal on paper<br />

32.4 x 23.3 cm<br />

Galerie Gmurzynska<br />

Lyonel Feininger, Cathedral, 1919<br />

Title page for Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus<br />

manifesto and program.<br />

31,0 x 19,1 cm<br />

© bpk / Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz /<br />

László Tóth<br />

WWI Image of soldiers<br />

in a trench Asleep within<br />

100 yards of Thiepval<br />

Courtesy The National<br />

Library of Scotland


world observed, yet it is forever subjectively<br />

hermetic – an art that never allows the viewer<br />

totally to unlock its secrets. At the time of his<br />

death in January 1948 in the unlikely Lake<br />

District town of Kendal in the north west of<br />

England, <strong>Schwitters</strong> was all but unknown and<br />

forgotten and in the words of Fred Uhlman, an<br />

artist friend he’d met in the internment camp<br />

on the Isle of Man, ”He died […] in poverty<br />

trying to sell his collages for a pound apiece“. 3<br />

But it seems <strong>Schwitters</strong> never doubted his own<br />

importance as a significant artist of his time.<br />

One of his first apologists in West<br />

Germany after the Second World War was<br />

the art historian and museum director Werner<br />

Schmalenbach. Schmalenbach maintained<br />

that <strong>Schwitters</strong>, unlike the largely Berlin-based<br />

Dadaistic artists – whether Georg Grosz<br />

or John Heartfield, not to mention his close<br />

friend Richard Huelsenbeck or even his great<br />

supporter Herwarth Walden, editor of the<br />

avant-garde magazine and gallery Der Sturm –<br />

saw art not as a political tool but as “a spiritual<br />

function of Man, whose point is to release<br />

him from the chaos of life (tragedy)” and that<br />

“the subsuming of oneself in art approaches<br />

divine service in freeing man of the cares of<br />

everyday life!” 4 We are already anticipating<br />

the first <strong>Merz</strong>bau that was to be his cathedral.<br />

Ultimately, for <strong>Schwitters</strong> <strong>Merz</strong> is form. There is<br />

no need to remind the reader of the origin of<br />

the word <strong>Merz</strong> that arose out of the new world<br />

full of optimism and destruction that engulfed<br />

Europe, and most especially Germany, in<br />

1919, and that became his unique trademark.<br />

Nor in his biography was there any shortage<br />

of melancholy and tragedy, even if in the years<br />

between 1919 and 1933 <strong>Schwitters</strong> enjoyed<br />

considerable fame in the world of Weimar<br />

Germany.<br />

3<br />

Fred Uhlman, The Making of an Englishman, Victor Gollancz Ltd,<br />

London 1960, p. 239.<br />

4<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> exhibition catalogue, galerie gmurzynska, Cologne<br />

1978, p. 27.<br />

142<br />

He made hundreds, if not thousands,<br />

of magnificent collages, large and small,<br />

but surely his greatest achievements were in<br />

his conception and realisation of the three<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bauten. The largest and most elaborate of<br />

these was built in his house in an anonymous<br />

street in Hanover, Waldhausenstrasse – later<br />

destroyed by an inevitable bomb attack in<br />

1943. He was to name it his Kathedrale des<br />

Erotischen Elends – the Cathedral of Erotic<br />

Misery. Cathedrals are essentially public<br />

spaces but it’s unclear how many individuals,<br />

aside from his immediate family, ever saw<br />

this essentially secret interior. However, in the<br />

famous exhibition staged by Alfred J. Barr at<br />

the Museum of Modern Art in 1936, Fantastic<br />

Art, Dada, Surrealism, two photographs of it<br />

illustrated the catalogue. One, titled The Gold<br />

Grotto (1925), the other, The Blue Window<br />

(1933), indicates the continual work-in-progress<br />

of this unique work. In fact, it seems that no less<br />

than seven other photographs were exhibited<br />

alongside full collages from 1920 and 1922.<br />

Interior of Well’s Cathedral<br />

© Historic England Archive

143<br />

The extraordinary American collector Katherine<br />

S. Dreier, who with Duchamp founded the<br />

Société Anonyme, was one of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’<br />

earliest patrons and collectors and had sought<br />

him out in Hanover. As early as 1923 Dreier<br />

reproduced his work in her book Western Art<br />

and the New Era. Although she fails to mention<br />

him in her text, he is, significantly, the last of her<br />

chosen illustrations – as though art from Piero<br />

della Francesca onwards could go no further.<br />

There are, of course, contemporary<br />

architects, like Frank Gehry and Zaha<br />

Hadid whose use of endlessly surprising and<br />

secretive angles owe much to the memory of<br />

photographs such as those that survive. But the<br />

house that <strong>Schwitters</strong> built was a container,<br />

too, of cultural memories that evoke, like<br />

true cathedrals, distant cultural pasts, and,<br />

as with the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, an architectural future<br />

with prophetic perspicacity. As an archetype<br />

it also gives much material for any aspiring<br />

psychologist. With this example it is possible to<br />

dwell on the aesthetics of hoarding as a private<br />

and public activity that characterises all sectors<br />

of society, past, present and future. What are<br />

places like the British Museum (public) or that<br />

remarkable private edifice of Sir John Soane<br />

other than cathedrals of erotic misery? Or the<br />

Carceri of Piranesi? Are they not at best spaces<br />

of melancholic nostalgia that cling hopelessly<br />

to a past that constantly resonates lost time<br />

within the span of human thought and culture?<br />

What else are those tombs of ancient culture,<br />

such as those of Ancient Egypt and China,<br />

which enable the dead to take the material<br />

necessities of life with them into another world?<br />

What distinguishes a room containing voodoo<br />

fetishes from someone’s collection of autographs<br />

of the stars? <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ extraordinary insight<br />

was to find beauty, intrinsic value and creative<br />

potential not in luxurious objects that might fill<br />

ancient tombs, or for that matter grand palaces<br />

and museums, but in the detritus of his own<br />

society.<br />

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London<br />

Courtesy Justin Bishop www.justinbishop.com.au<br />

Giovanni Battista Piranesi<br />

The gothic arch, ca. 1949-1950<br />

from Carceri d’invenzione, 41.6 x 54.6 cm<br />

Courtesy Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich

144<br />


Having discovered <strong>Merz</strong> in a single<br />

collage he found it could lead for himself, and<br />

for others, to a sublime quality as evocative as<br />

any that might be achieved in the traditional<br />

art of painting. However, as he was to write<br />

in 1922:<br />

The philosophy of <strong>Merz</strong> can be applied<br />

best of all to the category of architecture.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> means the using of old things for<br />

the creation of the new work of art. As a<br />

result, because of the difficulty of obtaining<br />

material with which to build houses,<br />

nothing remains other than to use the old<br />

and to convert it to new ideas and concepts. 5<br />

Might we claim <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> as the<br />

discoverer of the modern ethic of recycling?<br />

Recycling becomes for him its own aesthetic<br />

category, even as he found a ‘day job’ in<br />

Hanover as an innovative typographer.<br />

Through international art magazines of the<br />

time, in the 1920s he became part of the<br />

Replica of antechamber of King Tutankhamen’s<br />

tomb with royal funerary objects<br />

© DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty<br />

Images<br />

world of Constructivism, maintaining close<br />

contacts with De Stijl, especially with Theo van<br />

Doesburg, the Bauhaus, not to mention the<br />

Russian avant-garde. However, even in his most<br />

abstract pieces of the 1920s he nearly always<br />

found an appropriate collaging material out<br />

of which to make Constructivist compositions,<br />

such as Blau (1923-26), of primary coloured<br />

nailed pieces of found wood. One could even<br />

go as far to argue that he was, within his own<br />

world, a one-person anti-Bauhaus artist. The<br />

Bauhaus was, at its origin and through the art<br />

of many of its prominent participants – Wassily<br />

Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and<br />

Johannes Itten – a place of declared spiritual<br />

content but it rapidly became a site of objective<br />

purist rationality far removed from the erotic<br />

desperation implicit in <strong>Merz</strong>. Indeed, the only<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau partially to survive – that of Elterwater<br />

in the Lake District – resembles in its imaginary<br />

form nothing more or less than the inside of<br />

a womb. To quote the writer Elizabeth Burns<br />

Gamard:<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

blau,1923-26,<br />

Oil and wood on wood, nailed, 53 x 42.5 cm

145<br />

What <strong>Schwitters</strong> describes in the<br />

i-manifest is the anonymity and spiritual<br />

generosity of (natural) love, the inherent<br />

eroticism that governs all living systems.<br />

The liberative energies of art mirror the<br />

energies begotten by the sexual act, the<br />

mark of eros. The Kathedrale is the site<br />

in which the intuition of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ art,<br />

a living erotic system, is actualized. In<br />

this sense, the artist is an anonymous<br />

mediator, an individual responsible<br />

for both the receiving and nursing of<br />

intuitive impressions until the moment of<br />

actualization, the material confluence of<br />

creative energy, is realized. 6<br />

In that sense every fragment of <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

each <strong>Merz</strong>bild, however small, is potentially<br />

part of a <strong>Merz</strong>bau – an implicit total work of<br />

art enabled through any heap of rubbish.<br />

It is this that makes <strong>Schwitters</strong> one of the<br />

most innovative and prophetic artists of the<br />

first half of the twentieth century, someone<br />

who saw in so many ways the route that the<br />

art of the world was to take, leading to our<br />

present day. For many artists who came to<br />

prominence during the second half of the<br />

twentieth century, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ influence – either<br />

by direct knowledge and influence or indirect<br />

affinity – often hard to establish with any<br />

degree of certainty – is legion and well known.<br />

Even where the spirit of Marcel Duchamp is<br />

perhaps too often invoked, it is at the very least<br />

his ethic and character that is central. If that<br />

spirit was felt firstly in Europe and America on<br />

both sides of the Atlantic, it has extended in<br />

recent decades throughout the entire world,<br />

covering every continent, as the discipline of<br />

art continues on its seemingly unstoppable<br />

trajectory. It becomes almost arbitrary whom or<br />

what to choose to invoke, in the first instance,<br />

5<br />

Harald Szeemann, Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk exhibition<br />

catalogue, Zurich 1983, p.324.<br />

6<br />

Elizabeth Burns Gamard, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong>bau: The Cathedral<br />

of Erotic Misery, Princeton Architectural Press, New York 2000, p.117.<br />

Louise Nevelson,<br />

Sky Cathedral, 1958,<br />

Assemblage: wood construction, painted black,<br />

343.9 x 305.4 x 45.7cm<br />

Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA).<br />

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mildwoff.<br />

© <strong>2016</strong>. Digital image, The Museum of Modern<br />

Art, New York/Scala, Florence<br />

Rirkit Tiravanija,<br />

Untitled (The air between the chain link piece and the broken<br />

bicycle), 2005,<br />

Glass and stainless-steel structure with transmitter; wood structure<br />

with receiver and furniture; DVD player and two monitors; two<br />

antennas; wallpaper<br />

(installation view, Hugo Boss Prize, Guggenheim, New York)<br />

Courtesy Gavin Brown’s enterprise New York/Rome


from Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns,<br />

to Joseph Beuys or Dieter Roth, the worlds<br />

of Nouveau Realisme and Fluxus in Europe,<br />

English Pop Art as manifest by the work of<br />

Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, not to<br />

mention most of the greatest American Pop Art<br />

stars such as Claes Oldenburg, Ed Kienholz,<br />

John Chamberlain or, indeed, Andy Warhol<br />

himself, whose factory and the activities that<br />

took place within can be read as a kind of<br />

open plan <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

An essentially throwaway society has<br />

become evermore an essential source for artists<br />

as they scour skips and convert the wastes of<br />

an accelerated obsolescence of nature and<br />

industrial life to create individual languages<br />

and new mnemonic poetics out of broken pots,<br />

dried sunflowers and ancient iron bedsteads that<br />

in another world, before <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, had<br />

been the preserve of the rag and bone man.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, like Einstein or Freud, opened a book<br />

after which his subject of choice and the business<br />

of seeing would never be the same again.<br />

Certain artists have already been invoked and<br />

others among his immediate successors include<br />

Robert Motherwell with his collages that focus on<br />

grissini or Gauloises packets, or Louise Nevelson<br />

who, as far back as 1958, christened one of<br />

her most ambitious pieces Sky Cathedral, which<br />

consists of a black wall constructed of wooden<br />

boxes stacked upright and seemingly filled with<br />

a thousand and one fetishistic objects, mostly<br />

found, glued inside. Nevelson went on to make<br />

many more of these structures that <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

would surely have recognised as an homage to<br />

his own work.<br />

To fast-forward to the world of the present,<br />

the spirit of <strong>Schwitters</strong>, in all its multifarious<br />

aspects, can be found everywhere. We can<br />

feel him in those magnificent shimmering cloths<br />

made by El Anatsui, who was born in Ghana<br />

in 1944, made from thousands upon thousands<br />

of aluminium bottle tops sourced from recycling<br />

146<br />

stations and sewn together with copper wire,<br />

evoking for our time the great traditions<br />

of Ghanaian cloth making, but equally, in<br />

transformative environmental ways, all the spirits<br />

of erotic misery that characterises our own time.<br />

Another prominent artist one might mention here<br />

is Rikrit Tiravanija whose relational art sometimes<br />

involves audience participation along with<br />

plastic cups, picnics or even artefacts from his<br />

own apartment. His classic piece of 2005, The<br />

Air Between the Chain Link Piece and the Broken<br />

Bicycle, for all its obvious winking at Duchamp,<br />

constructs two environments, one made of wood,<br />

the other of glass, accompanied by poetic wall<br />

texts that when looked at could not be conceived<br />

of without reference to <strong>Merz</strong> and <strong>Merz</strong>bauten.<br />

The same can be said to be true of Thomas<br />

Hirschhorn, a declared admirer of <strong>Schwitters</strong>. It<br />

still remains unclear whether the first <strong>Merz</strong>bau in<br />

Hanover broke through the ceiling of his house.<br />

Hirschhorn, though, in a recent piece writes of a<br />

self-constructing kind of <strong>Merz</strong>bau he constructed<br />

in a private gallery in Naples in 2013. Titled<br />

Break Through, he allowed the ceiling of the<br />

gallery to fall in on itself. The gallery, in itself<br />

a functional space, became a subjective space<br />

in which, to quote the artist, ”I have to raise my<br />

head, I have to open my eyes wide and face<br />

what I do not want to see. This is the logic, the<br />

form and the mission of this sculpture.“<br />

Another contemporary classic example<br />

of a cathedral of erotic misery is the Haus U R<br />

by Gregor Schneider that he exhibited to huge<br />

acclaim in 2001 at the Venice Biennale, where<br />

it was awarded the Golden Lion. Schneider<br />

declared that the title of the piece merely relates<br />

to where the house normally stood in his small<br />

hometown of Rheydt in the lower Rhineland,<br />

but U R invokes a whole German philosophical<br />

world of beginnings, in both time and place, and<br />

equally a primitive and primeval psychological<br />

site that anyone who has experienced his house<br />

will recognise as a Beuysian, if sinister, cathedral<br />

of true erotic misery.

147<br />

It is perhaps pertinently strange that<br />

three more or less contemporary artists who<br />

happen to carry the name ‘Rhoades/Rhodes’,<br />

phonetically the same, are all Schwitterian, to<br />

coin a perhaps not entirely happy adjective.<br />

Jason Rhoades is remembered as an<br />

extraordinary creator of blindingly bright neon<br />

environments made of words. A friend of Paul<br />

McCarthy and Mike Kelley, all were Los Angeles<br />

artists – unimaginable without the example of<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. The same is true of two younger<br />

American artists. Stephen G. Rhodes, whose art<br />

installations construct labyrinthine spaces on a<br />

grand scale that evoke American and European<br />

philosophy and history. Davis Rhodes’ work,<br />

in contrast with Stephen G. Rhodes’, is almost<br />

minimalist. By cutting huge sheets of coloured<br />

paper, which find their own form, he makes in<br />

the process undeniably <strong>Merz</strong>-like spaces.<br />

Ultimately, such lists of artists today could<br />

go on indefinitely. Any browsing on the website<br />

of any self-respecting contemporary art gallery<br />

will reveal artists young and old, a majority,<br />

or at least a substantial number, of whom<br />

can be read as coming out of <strong>Schwitters</strong>. His<br />

momentary, sudden discovery of <strong>Merz</strong> opened<br />

a book that it seems will never be closed. As he<br />

declared in that article of 1940-46:<br />

One needs a medium. The best is, one<br />

is his own medium [sic]. But don’t be<br />

serious because seriousness belongs to<br />

a passed time. This medium, called you<br />

yourself will tell you to take absolutely<br />

the wrong material. That is very good,<br />

because only the wrong material used in<br />

the wrong way, will give you right picture,<br />

when you look at it from the right angle<br />

[...] That is my confession I have to make<br />

MERZ. 7<br />

7<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Eile ist des Witzes Weile: Eine Auswahl aus den<br />

Texten, Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, p.17.<br />

Stephen G. Rhodes,<br />

Receding Mind: Circle of Shit, 2010,<br />

Film installations.<br />

Installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.<br />

June 19-September 26, 2010.<br />

Davis Rhodes<br />

Untitled, 2009,<br />

Spray paint on vinyl,<br />

243,8 x 121,9 cm




(24 May <strong>2016</strong>)<br />

<strong>Damien</strong> <strong>Hirst</strong> interviewed by Norman <strong>Rosenthal</strong>, London<br />


NR: Tell me, <strong>Damien</strong>, when did you first come across <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>?<br />

DH: I knew Robert Rauschenberg’s work when I was doing my foundation studies in Leeds.<br />

That was, I don’t know, probably in the early 1980s. I was making collages, but I didn’t come<br />

across <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> until later.<br />

NR: What were the collages like?<br />

DH: Well, I’ve always tried to paint but I never could because I couldn’t work out what to paint.<br />

I’d be sitting in front of a blank canvas thinking do I do a figure, do I do a tree, do I do, what<br />

do I do? I didn’t know what to do. I used to get lost. I got drop spot painting – I loved throwing<br />

paint around.<br />

NR: Were you drawing?<br />

DH: Drawing was something controlled that I couldn’t do. The reason I tried making collages<br />

was because I saw a show by Francis Davison at the Hayward Gallery in the early ‘80s, I think.<br />

NR: I’m not familiar at all with his work.<br />

DH: Francis Davison was married to the Suffolk painter Margaret Mellis and he made collages<br />

on torn paper. On foundation I made a collage which was very like a <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, but at this<br />

point I’d not come across him, and I remember one of my tutors came and said you should have<br />

a look at <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. And I remember thinking he must be an American artist because he’s<br />

called <strong>Kurt</strong>. I thought, you know, he was like Willem de Kooning. So for ages I thought he was<br />

an American artist. I just thought that this work was amazing, inspirational. It helped me realize<br />

that because I found it hard to create things I could re-arrange already existing elements – I had<br />

a skill for that.<br />

NR: Did you know about his connection to the Lake District and Newcastle?<br />

DH: I found out later. Elma Thubron, my tutor at Goldsmiths, told me about it.<br />

NR: Related to Harry Thubron.<br />

DH: Harry’s wife. Elma taught me at Goldsmiths after Harry died.<br />

NR: And Harry was a kind of collagist.<br />

DH: Yes, he made collages. Harry taught Marcus Harvey, who was at Goldsmiths before me –<br />

he was a, he’s a friend of mine from Leeds who I knew before I got into Goldsmiths. He told me<br />

that Harry would come into college and rip up people’s art!<br />

NR: Literally rip up people’s art?<br />

DH: If somebody had been making a painting he’d tear it in half and stick it back together the<br />

other way round and say: ‘It looks better now, work on it!’ That forced you to destroy what you<br />



were working on, which in a way is a very Schwitterian thing to do. I’ve got a big collection of<br />

Harry’s work now. I have thirty collages.<br />

NR: I assume you have <strong>Schwitters</strong> in your collection?<br />

DH: I’ve got a couple of works on paper, but not any constructions. I’d like to get more, but I<br />

think they’re–<br />

NR: –quite expensive.<br />

DH: And the good ones are hard to find.<br />

NR: I remember a place in West London, when I was a boy where you could buy them<br />

for £50 each – maybe less. Fifty pounds was a lot of money, certainly for me in those<br />

days. It was actually one of my first encounters with “real art”.<br />

DH: Elma Thubron told me that she was once in Ambleside and she was walking around and<br />

she saw the gate post ‘Cylinders‘, and she thought: ‘Oh my god, I remember this from the books.’<br />

And she said she went in and looked around and met a kind of a farmer, and asked him whether<br />

he has a work by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. And he said, ‘Oh yeah, I know.’ And he took her to a barn filled<br />

with loads of equipment – farming stuff like hoes, forks, spades – and in the back of the barn,<br />

with things leaning against it, was this huge <strong>Schwitters</strong> piece. The way she describes it makes it<br />

sound amazing: there were low windows and there was shimmering green light because of the<br />

grass outside. She said it was the most amazing thing discovering it on your own wandering<br />

around in the Lake District. Richard Hamilton took it out shortly after that. It must have been<br />

in the late ‘50s.<br />

NR: So you only have two <strong>Schwitters</strong> pieces?<br />

DH: I’ve got one really good one.<br />

NR: Where did you find it?<br />

DH: I can’t remember now – it was a long time ago. I’ve been looking for a construction really.<br />

I know that Miuccia Prada has an amazing green one. I remember looking at <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work<br />

and thinking that I couldn’t work whether they’d looked new at one point or if they’d aged, or if<br />

they had been created to look nostalgic. I’ve got some fake <strong>Schwitters</strong> as well.<br />

NR: Yes? Where did you get these?<br />

DH: On Ebay. I buy lots of fakes. I’ve also got lots of fake <strong>Damien</strong> <strong>Hirst</strong>s, which I sign. So is it<br />

a fake, then?<br />

NR: I’m sure there are lots of fake <strong>Schwitters</strong>. I’ve written an article now about <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

in which I claim that since Rauschenberg, right down to the present, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is at least<br />


as important as Marcel Duchamp.<br />

DH: Duchamp is so important, but I think it’s a different thing. Maybe you can say that the<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau is as important as the urinal, but I don’t think you can disentangle it so easily. <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

never really left the picture plane and I always thought you needed to leave the picture plane.<br />

NR: But he does use the the detritus of society, which is a big thing for art. When you,<br />

<strong>Damien</strong>, use cigarette ash in a vitrine, for example, you’re working in a lineage with<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

DH: When the sculpture starts crawling off the table and up the wall, all hell breaks loose.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> was definitely that guy. Also maybe his poetry is what endures too. All these things he<br />

is bringing into play about language – this totally changes the world. I like the fact, too, that he<br />

didn’t get accepted by the Surrealists.<br />

NR: Aside from from <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Duchamp and Picasso, do you think that there is any<br />

other artist in the first half of the 20th century who changed art? Who made possible so<br />

much other art?<br />

DH: I think you can’t imagine Jasper Johns’ beer cans without <strong>Schwitters</strong>. I think Pop Art came<br />

out of <strong>Schwitters</strong> as well.<br />

NR: When you’re making art, do you think about older artists at all?<br />

DH: It’s impossible not to. I remember being at Goldsmiths and looking around at all the people<br />

and thinking: We’ve got nothing in common. And then you realize that the world is so multifacetted<br />

that every generation will have this feeling. When Ian Jeffrey wrote the essay for the<br />

Freeze catalogue he called it ‘Platonic Tropics’ and I thought that it was a really a good way of<br />

saying that you have all these people who think that they have things in common but actually<br />

they have nothing in common. <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ work is heterogenous in that way. Every painting is<br />

like a battle like between creation and destruction.<br />

NR: Have you ever done an environment yourself?<br />

DH: The fly piece, A Thousand Years (1990) is definitely <strong>Schwitters</strong>-inspired. When I moved<br />

to London I found this old guy’s house, Mr. Barnes, and I made col-lages from stuff of his like<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’. Did you ever see these?<br />

NR: No. This is long before Freeze?<br />

DH: Before Goldmsiths. I got into Goldmsiths with one of the little collages – they were just on<br />

display in the Tate St. Ives. And I remember there Basil Beattie said to me: These are great. You<br />

really shouldn’t be in an art school, you should go get an exhibition. That really fucking threw<br />

me. And then I thought: What am I doing here? And then I thought to throw it all away and<br />

start again. And then Michael Craig-Martin came in during my first few months and said to me:<br />



What are you doing?<br />

You’re arranging objects on these found backboards, why don’t you get rid of the them to arrange<br />

the objects on the wall? And then I did that and I thought it was an amazing breakthrough. And<br />

then I realized that, maybe ten years before, Johnny LeKray had been doing it. And I thought,<br />

fucking hell, I’m not advanced at all, someone did that major thing ten years ago. And that kind<br />

of led to the medicine cabinet. I was totally against conceptual art. I hated it. I liked <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

because he wasn’t this ‘50s abstraction, but this kind of image that was about how you feel. I<br />

wanted browns and purples if I’m feeling somber and reds and yellows when I’m happy. I wanted<br />

that emotional kind of art and then it didn’t work in the world of today.<br />

NR: <strong>Schwitters</strong> and your work share this erotic aspect. You know he called the <strong>Merz</strong>bau<br />

the Cathedral of Erotic Misery?<br />

DH: Oh yeah, yeah, brilliant. To come back to my collages, I found the guy living next door<br />

to me living in a squat. I could hear though the walls the guy next door to me and I then I<br />

looked out of the window and he was pushing a shopping trolley around and collecting stuff and<br />

bringing it back to the house, day in day out. One day I stopped hearing him so I went around<br />

and I broke in. I got in and found two locked doors on the top floor and the rest of the house was<br />

just ruined. About sixty years it had been in that state. Eventually we broke the doors down and<br />

went in and collected sixty years of stuff, then I started collecting tools and ham-mers and paint<br />

and string and started bringing it all back to my studio and that’s when I started making my<br />

collages. Up there I found stuff he had collected that I had thrown out as well, like I found a tin<br />

that had been run over by a car and-<br />

NR: Why did he like all that stuff? The fetishistic aspect of it?<br />

DH: I really got to know him – he was called Mr. Barnes. From the top of the room there were<br />

piles to the ceiling, maybe a foot from the ceiling, and there was a little corridor through it,<br />

and there was a bench near a foot pedal like a lay of turned wood and he had alarm clocks, a<br />

clock collection, he was fixing the clocks, and it was chaos at the top and I went through it, and<br />

when I got down to the table level, I found, like, a civilized man and I found, like, his letters<br />

and his handwriting. At the top was where I found porn magazines from the seventies and he<br />

had scribbled with red pen the vaginas and before that it was like Paris Match. Little pencil<br />

lines drawn around the women, some of them dressed and drawn around the clothes. It was just<br />

unbelievable. I got to know the guy and he was… I went through sixty years of his life and got<br />

to know him.<br />

NR: But he was still alive?<br />

DH: No, he was rehoused by the council and the landlord didn’t want to have anything to do with it.<br />


NR: So what happened to the house?<br />

DH: A few weeks after I went around the council came around with two guys. They had big<br />

shovels and smashed the windows out and shoved it all out the window. I went mad. It was<br />

unbelievable, sixty years of existence and then gone in no time. It completely blew my mind.<br />

And then I found it really difficult at Goldsmiths, when I got there, to kind of create anything<br />

meaningful, because you just thought, that was it. That was the most meaningful thing. And then<br />

the only thing that got me out of it was minimalism, because it went the opposite of that.<br />

NR: So out of all this came your source to fill your collages?<br />

DH: Yes. Well, and then I carried on collecting myself.<br />

NR: Do you still collage?<br />

DH: Organizing Freeze was a collage. I got all these existing elements, people’s art, buildings,<br />

arrangeable on the walls.<br />

NR: I think every exhibition is a kind of collage.<br />

DH: Yes, it is. Meyer Vaisman once said to me, when I lived in New York for about eighteen<br />

months, that collage was the greatest idea of the 20th century. There is so much going on in<br />

the world – the collage lends itself to making a comment about the world. You know you take<br />

fragments of the world and then you reconstruct another world, which is a mirror of the world.<br />

It is the most direct and simplest way to do it.<br />

NR: Do you still have all of your constructions from Mr Barnes’ junk?<br />

DH: Yeah. I actually gave one to Rauschenberg. And then I bought it back of his estate after he<br />

died. Let’s do a <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

NR: Let’s do one. Let’s do one here!<br />

DH: Let’s do one with spots. A <strong>Merz</strong>bau with spots.<br />

Interview conducted by Norman <strong>Rosenthal</strong> with the help of Jonathan White<br />


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau,<br />

Hanover 1933<br />

Double<br />

Bladed<br />

Axe<br />

Flavin Judd (<strong>2016</strong>)<br />


“Imitation remains imitation. Imitation is weakness and error.” - KS<br />

In the structure of society the artist holds a singular position: live within it, live with its strictures<br />

but don’t follow them. The artist is to be free to create and not be restrained, make something that<br />

is outside the society, outside the culture even if eventually it will be accepted by the culture. This<br />

is true as long as the artist actually stays within the strictures of the society, if the artist ventures too<br />

far out he or she will be ridiculed and attacked, or exiled.<br />

After more than a decade of making art <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> started on his largest project: <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

In his house in Hanover <strong>Schwitters</strong> started by building a column, a free standing sculpture in the<br />

center of his studio. The column was human height and embedded with objects in its plaster. Later<br />

while looking at the column he noticed that it connected to the works and images on his studio<br />

walls. He then connected these images to the column with string. As the column continued to<br />

develop he connected the column to the walls and the ceiling until it made a cavernous structure.<br />

He didn’t stop working when he had filled his entire studio, he continued and the <strong>Merz</strong>bau grew<br />

from room to room in his suburban house, displacing paying tenants and requiring punched holes<br />

in the floor until it took up half the house. Growing organically both in size and form <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

invented a new art form from the conventions of his post Dada career of the twenties. Fourteen years<br />

after he had started he had built his spiraling structure into the fabric of his house, winding up<br />

from the basement to the attic as the art displaced people and took up rooms like an ever growing<br />

family or organism.<br />

The <strong>Merz</strong>bau was a negative space, filled with grottos and nooks with small sculptures, personal<br />

effects and tokens of his life and friends, a self portrait in three dimensions, a biography written in<br />

space. While the project started out as a Dadaist object it evolved to become a more organic work<br />

with abstract and natural shapes that would later cover the earlier nooks and hiding places. In order<br />

to walk into the <strong>Merz</strong>bau one had to follow a tight, curving hallway that lead to (in the original<br />

155<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau,<br />

Hanover 1933

oom at least) a central cavern. From there one could go up or down to further rooms, caverns<br />

and grottos. The overall color was the white of the plaster with specks of other colors. The various<br />

constructions housed within the plaster were everyday objects modified to disassociate them from<br />

their normal use and the personal objects of his friends set in plaster like a visual phonebook or<br />

trace of relationships. <strong>Schwitters</strong> took real objects from the world and cast them within his work,<br />

distancing them from their everydayness and connecting them to each other. For <strong>Schwitters</strong> the<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau was an interconnected web of relations, each object or grotto influencing and informing<br />

the next, creating an overall universe that one had to explore. The work was larger than the visitor<br />

could take in and more complex than simply an object in a room. In this way <strong>Schwitters</strong> used his<br />

history, his connections and relationships to make his own culture, a foreign culture, one that<br />

would be denounced by the government and the society and even some of his friends. The <strong>Merz</strong>bau<br />

was his way of dealing with a society that didn’t know what to do with him and a life that didn’t<br />

make sense, he made an antidote.<br />

Double Bladed Axe · by Flavin Judd<br />

Judd doesn’t seem to have any relation to <strong>Schwitters</strong> or his project. Don’s works are a different<br />

escape route, a different response to the cultural environment, one that seems completely at odds<br />

with the <strong>Merz</strong>bau or collages. What could Don do with cigarette butts, toy dolls, bottle caps and<br />

scraps of advertisements? If the artist within the society is the structure, the framework, then the<br />

work itself is the details, the creation within that structure. In this way Judd and <strong>Schwitters</strong> are the<br />

same. They each took the cultures that they inhabited and made something contrary to that culture,<br />

they made their own out of themselves. In Don’s case it is the combination of the art, furniture,<br />

architecture and design that make up his life’s work. This work was produced over thirty five years<br />

and has a certain quality that connects it all together. For Don the art had to stand as works in<br />

themselves, works that were like pebbles on the beach, something in themselves and not products<br />

or reactions to the prevailing culture. While this is the opposite of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ accumulation of his<br />

surroundings in his artwork it is similar in that they each made something that emphatically didn’t<br />

exist before. Not only did both Don’s work and the <strong>Merz</strong>bau not exist but they were unimaginable<br />

2nd Floor, 101 Spring Street, New<br />

York, NY featuring <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Auwiese, 1920, newspaper and<br />

block paper collage in situ<br />

© Judd Foundation<br />

Courtesy Judd Foundation Archives<br />


<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Auwiese, 1920,<br />

newspaper and block<br />

paper collage<br />

© Judd Foundation<br />

Courtesy Judd<br />

Foundation Archives<br />

before each artist made them. <strong>Schwitters</strong> gathered the tokens of his life, the refuse, the castaways,<br />

everything that he could find of value and turned them into a cathedral, Don threw everything away<br />

and made a different kind of cathedral, one of space and color and given facts.<br />

The two artists came from entirely different directions to make their worlds the way they wanted,<br />

they each made a culture which in course, changed the greater culture. Within the society, within the<br />

banality of what was given them they made the extraordinary.<br />

For Don’s work almost all has been saved: there is 101 Spring Street in New York, the spaces<br />

in Marfa, Texas, even three remote ranch houses which echo <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ exile houses in Norway and<br />

Great Britain. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Don fought hard for his art, realizing that it was up to him to<br />

make sure it was still around when he was gone. Part of this concern was the history of prior artists<br />

and what happened to their work, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is a true example of how delicate artwork and culture<br />

really is. His enormous creation in Hanover was destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in October<br />

1943 and subsequent versions of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau would also be destroyed or only saved piecemeal<br />

years after they were constructed. In the last year of his life <strong>Schwitters</strong> had started on a new version<br />

of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau but he never lived to complete it.<br />

For Don the criterion of art was that it had to be good and for him there was no such thing<br />

as minimalism. Probably for <strong>Schwitters</strong> the various labels that were applied to him didn’t matter<br />

either as labels are a society’s way of saying it doesn’t understand new work. Without the labels<br />

they are connected by their quality, something Don recognized. Hanging on the top floor of Judd<br />

Foundation’s 101 Spring Street is the <strong>Schwitters</strong> collage that Don bought and installed. The small<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> piece at 101 Spring Street hangs beautifully with an Arp and a Stuart Davis and is lit by<br />

the glow of a Dan Flavin, I think he would have appreciated the location. 101 Spring Street only has<br />

the work of sixteen artists within it, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is one of them.<br />


Clare Elliott<br />

This chronology gives a brief overview of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

life and career with a special concentration on events<br />

relating to the reception of his art in the United States. For<br />

a more comprehensive biography, see Karin Orchard and<br />

Isabel Schulz, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Catalogue Raisonné, the<br />

first volume of which is a key source of this chronology,<br />

together with the provenance and exhibition information<br />

in all three volumes. Other sources consulted include, in<br />

order of relative importance, correspondence in the <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> Archiv, Sprengel Museum Hannover; The<br />

Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, ed. Jennifer<br />

R. Gross, 2006; Dada in the Collection of The Museum<br />

of Modern Art, Anne Umland and Adrian Sudhalter,<br />

2008; <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, John Elderfield, 1985; and <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, Werner Schmalenbach, 1967 (English ed.).<br />

1887<br />

Curt “<strong>Kurt</strong>” Hermann Eduard Carl Julius <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

is born on June 20 in Hanover, a small city in the<br />

Lower Saxony region of Germany. His parents, Eduard<br />

and Henriette (née Beckemeyer) <strong>Schwitters</strong>, own a<br />

prosperous clothing store.<br />

In the first few years of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s life, his family<br />

moves several times within Hanover. In 1901 they<br />

settle permanently at 5 Waldhausstrasse (renamed<br />

Waldhausenstrasse in 1907).<br />

1908 -14<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> begins to study art and write poetry.<br />

He attends various art schools: the Kunstgewerbeschule<br />

in Hanover in 1908—9; the Berliner Akademie der Künste<br />

in 1911, where he is expelled as “untalented” after a<br />

four-week probationary period; and Königlich Sächsische<br />

Akademie der Künste in Dresden between 1909 and<br />

1914. While in Dresden he paints in conservative,<br />

academic, and eventually impressionistic styles.<br />

In the spring of 1911, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work is rejected by<br />

the Kunstgenossenschaft Hannover, but he is included<br />

in their August exhibition. Two years later, his work is<br />

shown for the first time in the large annual exhibition<br />

“Grosse Kunstausstellung” February—May 1913, at the<br />

Hannover Kunstverein, and the annual autumn exhibition<br />

of local artists in September—October. He will exhibit<br />

regularly at the Kunstverein until 1934.<br />

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria<br />

on June 28, 1914, brings about World War I. Germany<br />

declares war on Russia and France. <strong>Schwitters</strong> returns<br />

to Hanover.<br />

1915<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> and his first cousin Wilhelmine “Helma”<br />

Eilerdine Gerhardine Friederike Fischer marry on October<br />

5. They move into a flat in 5 Waldhausenstrasse, where<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> also sets up a studio. The couple goes on<br />

to have two sons: Gerd <strong>Schwitters</strong>, born September<br />

9, 1916, who dies only eight days later, and Ernst<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, born November 16, 1918.<br />

1917<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> exhibits for the first time at the Kestner<br />

Gesellschaft, Hanover, in May—June 1917. Established<br />

the year before by Paul Erich Küppers, the Kestner<br />

Gesellschaft brings diverse avant-garde artists to the<br />

relatively provincial Hanover, exposing <strong>Schwitters</strong> to a<br />

variety of new artistic styles. He begins painting and<br />

drawing in an Expressionist style and his work becomes<br />

increasingly abstract. Also in this year, <strong>Schwitters</strong> meets<br />

Christof Spengemann a critic journalist, and publisher,<br />

with whom he becomes a lasting friend, Spengemann<br />

introduces <strong>Schwitters</strong> to key players in Hanover’s literary<br />

circles.<br />

In March, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is drafted into the German army,<br />

Reichs-lnfanterieregiment 73, but because he suffers<br />

from epilepsy, he is declared unfit for service. Beginning<br />

in June he performs military service as a draftsman in<br />

the WülfeI ironworks in Hanover until November 1918.<br />

1918<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> meets artist and art historian Kate Steinitz,<br />

with whom he will collaborate on several projects and<br />

remain friends throughout his life. When she moves<br />

to California in 1942, Steinitz will play a key role in<br />

introducing <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work to the West Coast of the<br />

United States.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> joins the Hannoversche Secession, a group<br />

of local artists who had established themselves the<br />

previous June in opposition to the conservative Hannover<br />

Kunstverein. He participates in their first exhibition at the<br />

Kestner Gesellschaft.<br />

In June, Herwarth Walden includes <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work for<br />

the first time in his famed Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin.<br />

Established in 1913, the gallery, known as the primary<br />

sponsor of German Expressionism, was the focal point<br />

of the Berlin avant-garde for more than a decade. By<br />

1918 the activities include art classes, lectures, and the<br />

publication of books and portfolios; its multi-disciplinary<br />

approach influences the development of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

own thinking about art. <strong>Schwitters</strong> will perform and<br />

exhibit regularly at Galerie Der Sturm until 1928; he<br />

makes numerous contributions to the journal Der Sturm<br />

from 1919 to 1928.<br />

In Berlin, <strong>Schwitters</strong> meets artists Hans Arp, Raoul<br />



Hausmann, and Hannah Höch, all of whom become his<br />

lifelong friends.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> produces collages of discarded paper for<br />

the first time and soon after, his first assemblages<br />

incorporating a variety of small, found objects into his<br />

compositions. He invents the term “<strong>Merz</strong>” (according to<br />

the artist, from Kommerz, or “commerce”) to describe<br />

his art. He eventually extends the principles of collage<br />

composition and the designation “<strong>Merz</strong>” to all his<br />

activities: graphic design, writing, and performance.<br />

Despite breaking new ground with his abstract, collagebased<br />

oeuvre, <strong>Schwitters</strong> will continue to produce<br />

figurative works and landscapes in a traditional figurative<br />

style throughout his life.<br />

On November 11 an armistice signals the official end of<br />

the First World War. The following June, Germany signs<br />

the Treaty of Versailles, agreeing to reparations that will<br />

bankrupt the country’s economy.<br />

1919<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> becomes a member of the artists association<br />

Internationale Vereinigung von Expressionisten, Kubisten<br />

und Futuristen, or IVEKF. At the same time, he becomes<br />

increasingly aware of the radical Dada movement.<br />

Launched in Zurich, Dadaism soon took root in several<br />

cities internationally, most notably for <strong>Schwitters</strong> in<br />

Berlin. In May he meets Dada writer Richard Huelsenbeck<br />

in Berlin and shortly after writes to Tristan Tzara in Zurich<br />

expressing his interest in the latter’s Dada publications.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> also begins a series of Dadaist watercolors<br />

and produces rubber-stamp drawings and graphic prints.<br />

Despite his active engagement with prominent Dadaists,<br />

he is officially rejected by the group, which deems him<br />

too bourgeois, in part because he is associated with the<br />

Galerie Der Sturm.<br />

Through the summer and early fall, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work<br />

is shown in a number of group exhibitions outside<br />

Hanover, including one at the Jenaer Kunstverein, Jena<br />

(May—June); at the Galerie Emil Richter and the Neue<br />

Vereinigung für Kunst, Dresden (June—July); at the<br />

Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, where he exhibits the <strong>Merz</strong><br />

pictures for the first time (July); and at the Kunstsalon<br />

Rembrandt in Zurich (July—September).<br />

In July, <strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes an essay explaining the<br />

concept of <strong>Merz</strong>, and the Dadaist love poem “An Anna<br />

Blume” (To Eve Blossom) in Der Sturm, no. 4; in October<br />

he publishes “1 <strong>Merz</strong>bühne’ (1 The <strong>Merz</strong> Stage) in Sturm-<br />

Bühne, Jahrbuch des Theaters der Expressionisten (no.<br />

8). At the end of the year Paul Steegemann publishes<br />

the book Anna Blume. Dichtungen (Eve Blossom,<br />

Poetry), which contains a collection of prose and poetry,<br />

including “An Anna Blume.” The poem is soon translated<br />

into several languages and earns <strong>Schwitters</strong> instant<br />

notoriety in Germany and internationally.<br />

Between 1919 and 1924, <strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes (in<br />

addition to his <strong>Merz</strong> magazine founded in 1923) four<br />

volumes of poetry and prose and numerous poems, and<br />

he responds to harsh criticism of his work in strident<br />

and often hilarious texts he calls “Tran” (from Lebertran,<br />

meaning cod-liver oil), which are published in a variety of<br />

periodicals.<br />

1920<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> regularly travels to Berlin, where he recites<br />

poetry at the Galerie Der Sturm for the first time on May<br />

5. He meets artist George Grosz and continues to be<br />

in contact with the Dada artists there. He also makes<br />

a trip to Cologne, where he becomes acquainted with<br />

writer Michel Seuphor and artist Max Ernst. Ernst makes<br />

a return visit to Hanover later in the year.<br />

At the Galerie Der Strum, <strong>Schwitters</strong> meets collector<br />

Katherine S. Dreier, who with artists Marcel Duchamp<br />

and Man Ray the same year found the Société Anonyme<br />

as the first organization in the United States to focus<br />

exclusively on contemporary art. Of German descent and<br />

with strong ties to Berlin and particularly the Galerie Der<br />

Sturm, Dreier develops close friendships with <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

and his wife, Helma, with whom she thereafter<br />

corresponds frequently. Dreier is not only instrumental<br />

in introducing <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work to the United States<br />

but also provides needed financial assistance to the<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>es during the 1920s and 1930s.<br />

“Fifth Exhibition of the Société Anonyme.” Galleries of<br />

the Société Anonyme, New York, November 1-December<br />

15, includes works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> in his first exhibition in<br />

the United States. He is also included in exhibitions in<br />

Darmstadt, Dresden, and Rome.<br />

Several publications feature images of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> work together with descriptions of his studio:<br />

Bernhard Gröttrup, “Ein Besuch bei Anna Blume,”<br />

Die Pille; Eine aktuelle, kritische, witzige, freche,<br />

unparteiische hannoversche Wochenzeitschrift (no. 7);<br />

and Alfred Dudelsack, “Kuwitters: Bei <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” in the<br />

supplement of Braunschweiger Illustrierte Woche (no. 5).<br />

1921<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s essay “<strong>Merz</strong>” (written in December 1920)<br />

and photographs of several of his <strong>Merz</strong> works are<br />

published in the Munich-based magazine Der Ararat (no.<br />

1) edited by Hans Goltz. Exiled Hungarian poet Lajos<br />

Kassak devotes a three-page spread of his periodical<br />

MA (Today) to <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work, including a Hungarian<br />


translation of “An Anna Blume” and photographs of<br />

several artworks.<br />

“Eighth Exhibition of the Société Anonyme,” Galleries<br />

of the Société Anonyme, New York, March 15—April 12,<br />

includes work by <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

In April, <strong>Schwitters</strong> realizes his first solo exhibition at<br />

the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin (“96. Austellung. <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. <strong>Merz</strong>bilder. <strong>Merz</strong>zeichnung. Gesamtschau”).<br />

The selection of seventy works provides a comprehensive<br />

overview of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s <strong>Merz</strong> works.<br />

From May through July, <strong>Schwitters</strong> travels to Dresden,<br />

Erfurt, Weimar, and Leipzig for poetry recitals. In July<br />

his poems appear in the Dutch journal De Stijl edited by<br />

Theo van Doesburg. <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Van Doesburg meet<br />

later that summer.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> and Helma <strong>Schwitters</strong>, together with Raoul<br />

Hausmann and Hannah Höch, undertake a trip they call the<br />

“Anti-Dada-<strong>Merz</strong>-Reise” to Prague in August-September,<br />

which culminates in an evening of performances<br />

staged in the Saal Urania on September 6. Inspired by<br />

Hausmann’s sound poem “fmsbw,” <strong>Schwitters</strong> begins<br />

work on his “Ursonate” (Sonata in Primordial Sounds),<br />

1923-33. Expanded over a period of ten years, the<br />

“Ursonate” eventually would grow into a forty-minute<br />

sound poem organized into four movements with a<br />

prelude and finale. <strong>Schwitters</strong> considers the “Ursonate,”<br />

like the <strong>Merz</strong>bau (<strong>Merz</strong> Construction) in Hanover, to be a<br />

defining life’s work,<br />

1922<br />

During a chaotic year in Germany, owing to the rapid<br />

devaluation of the German mark and the resulting<br />

hyperinflation, <strong>Schwitters</strong> produces his first sound poems<br />

and continues to publish poems, manifestos, and articles.<br />

Images of works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> appear in two important<br />

books on modern art: Die Kunst der Gegenwart: Die Sechs<br />

Bücher der Kunst, edited by Paul Ferdinand Schmidt, and<br />

Buch Neuer Künstler, edited by<br />

Lajos Kassák and László Moholy-Nagy.<br />

In September, Van Doesburg, Arp, and Tzara join <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

for evenings of Dada recitals in Jena, Weimar, and finally<br />

Hanover, where they are joined by Hausmann and Höch.<br />

Constructivist artist El Lissitzky attends the Hanover<br />

performance, which takes place September 30 at the<br />

Galerie von Garvens. <strong>Schwitters</strong> also travels to Berlin to<br />

visit the “Erste Russische Austellung” at the Galerie van<br />

Diemen, which introduces Western European audiences<br />

to recent developments in Russian art. For the next several<br />

years, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work and his interest in graphic design<br />

and typography develop from his increasing contact with<br />

Constructivists such as Van Doesburg and Lissitzky.<br />

Dreier purchases one of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s first collages, <strong>Merz</strong><br />

19, 1920 (Yale University Art Gallery), from the Galerie<br />

Der Sturm.<br />

1923<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes the first issue of his journal <strong>Merz</strong><br />

in January. Issues of <strong>Merz</strong> are produced at irregular<br />

intervals and in a variety of formats, including magazine,<br />

book, and folio, until 1932. <strong>Schwitters</strong> not only uses <strong>Merz</strong><br />

as a platform for his own writings, graphic design, and<br />

artworks but also publishes articles by a wide variety of<br />

avant-garde artists.<br />

Also in January, <strong>Schwitters</strong> begins a four-month trip of<br />

the Netherlands, the “Dada Tornee,” with Theo and Nelly<br />

van Doesburg and Vilmos Huszár. He meets the Dutch<br />

designer Piet Zwart, who greatly influences <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

interest in modern typography.<br />

In March, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work is shown alongside that<br />

of Oskar Schlemmer, Moholy-Nagy, Lissitzky, and Max<br />

Burchartz in an exhibition of Constructivist art at the<br />

Galerie Emil Richter, Dresden.<br />

Hausmann and <strong>Schwitters</strong> perform a <strong>Merz</strong> matinee in<br />

the Konzerthaus Tivoli in Hanover on December 30, for<br />

which Lissitzky designs a poster.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> presumably begins work on two <strong>Merz</strong>säulen<br />

(<strong>Merz</strong> Columns), which become the foundations of his<br />

later Hanover <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

1924<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> establishes an advertising office called <strong>Merz</strong>-<br />

Werbezentrale through which he receives an increasing<br />

number of commissions to design typography over the<br />

next few years. <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work is included in the<br />

influential exhibition “Contimporanul Prima expozitie<br />

internationala” in Bucharest, and Herwarth Walden<br />

includes reproductions of Das Arbeiterbild (The Worker<br />

Picture), 1919 (Moderna Museet, Stockholm), and Franz<br />

Müller’s Drahtfrühling (Franz Müller’s Wire Springtime),<br />

1919 (lost), in the revised edition of his Einblick in Kunst<br />

(1st ed., 1917).<br />

Between April and July, <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Lissitzky collaborate<br />

on <strong>Merz</strong> 8/9 Nasci (<strong>Merz</strong> 8/9 Becoming). The double<br />

issue places illustrations by Constructivist artists Kazimir<br />

Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, and Piet Mondrian alongside<br />

drawings by Dada artists Man Ray and Hans Arp.<br />

In September, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s designs for a <strong>Merz</strong> theater,<br />

Normalbühne <strong>Merz</strong> (Normal <strong>Merz</strong>stage) are included<br />

in an exhibition of theater design, “Internationale<br />

Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik” in Vienna, which<br />

travels to Paris and New York.<br />



In November, <strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes <strong>Merz</strong> 11. Typoreklame,<br />

an issue devoted to advertising, typography, and graphic<br />

design. It includes an essay by <strong>Schwitters</strong>, “Thesen über<br />

Typographie” (Theories about Typography), describing<br />

the importance of simple modern fonts and wellbalanced<br />

design.<br />

At the end of the year <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Steinitz establish<br />

a publishing house called Apossverlag. They produce<br />

the fairy tales Hahnepeter. Die Märchen vom Paradies<br />

(Peter the Rooster, The Fairy Tale about Paradise) and<br />

Die Scheuche (The Scarecrow), which are published<br />

the following year. They also found the series “Neue<br />

Architektur” (New Architecture) and publish as its<br />

first (and last) volume, Grosstadtbauten by Ludwig<br />

Hilberseimer.<br />

1925<br />

A photo of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s studio as it appeared in 1920 (a<br />

forerunner of the Hanover <strong>Merz</strong>bau) is published in the<br />

book Die Kunstismen by Lissitzky and Arp.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 13 <strong>Merz</strong>—Grammophonplatte (<strong>Merz</strong>—Phonograph<br />

Record) is published. It includes a recording of the<br />

scherzo from <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s “Ursonate.” On February 14<br />

he performs the entire “Ursonate” publicly for the first<br />

time at a recital, which takes place in Potsdam in a<br />

private home.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> continues to publish (mostly grotesques and<br />

criticism), perform, and exhibit, mainly in Germany.<br />

1926<br />

In April, in preparation for the Société Anonyme’s<br />

upcoming “International Exhibition of Modern Art,” Dreier<br />

visits <strong>Schwitters</strong> at his studio in Hanover. She attends a<br />

recital of his work at the Bauhaus in Dessau, and the pair<br />

takes a weeklong trip to the Netherlands. The exhibition<br />

opens at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, November<br />

19, and travels to Anderson Galleries, New York, January<br />

25—February 5, 1927; Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New<br />

York, February 25—March 20, 1927; Toronto Art Gallery,<br />

April 24, 1927. It includes eleven works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> in<br />

Brooklyn but only seven elsewhere.<br />

Later in the year, <strong>Schwitters</strong> makes trips to Berlin,<br />

Dresden, and Prague. In December he participates in the<br />

opening ceremonies of the Bauhaus building in Dessau.<br />

1927<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> organizes a major retrospective exhibition of<br />

his work titled “Grosse <strong>Merz</strong>ausstellung 1927”, which<br />

travels to several German cites, including Wiesbaden,<br />

Bochum, and Barmen.<br />

In January, ten collages by <strong>Schwitters</strong> are included in<br />

the exhibition “Constructivist Drawings and Posters,”<br />

University of California, Los Angeles. The presentation is<br />

organized by artist and dealer Galka Scheyer. Scheyer, a<br />

native of Germany, had immigrated to the United States<br />

in 1924; in 1925 she moved to San Francisco and later<br />

settled permanently in Los Angeles. From California, she<br />

promoted German artists, primarily Lyonel Feininger,<br />

Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee, and Oscar Schlemmer, until<br />

her death in 1945. Her collection, including works by <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, was donated to the Norton Simon Museum,<br />

Pasadena, California.<br />

On March 12, with Carl Buchheister, Rudolf Jahns,<br />

Hans Nitzschke, and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> establishes die abstrakten hannover, a<br />

subdivision of the Berlin artists’ group Die Abstrakten,<br />

Internationale Vereinigung der Expressionisten,<br />

Futuristen, Kubisten und Konstruktivisten e. v. The group<br />

disbands in 1931.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> makes a monthlong visit to France and<br />

Belgium in April that includes a performance of the<br />

“Ursonate” at the gallery Le sacre du printemps, Paris.<br />

While in Paris, he meets artists Tristan Tzara, André<br />

Breton, and E.L.T. Mesens; he will make annual trips to<br />

Paris through 1931.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s play Schattenspiel (Shadow Game), ca.<br />

1925, is performed in an avant-garde theater in Prague<br />

on May 8; <strong>Schwitters</strong> attends the premiere.<br />

An English translation by Myrtle Klein of “An Anna<br />

Blume” titled “Anna Blossom Has Wheels” appears in<br />

the June issue of Transition (no. 3), an American literary<br />

journal edited by Eugene Jonas.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> collaborates with Steinitz on a libretto for the<br />

grotesque opera Der Zusammenstoss (The Collision), for<br />

which they win second prize at a competition in Vienna,<br />

August 1928.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> meets with Robert Michel, Willi Baumeister,<br />

Jan Tschichold, Walter Dexel, Friedrich Vordemberge-<br />

Gildewart, César Domela, and László Moholy-Nagy to<br />

establish an association of commercial artists called ring<br />

neue werbegestalter.<br />

1928<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> travels to Rome, Naples, and Sicily for five<br />

weeks as a guest student at the secondary school<br />

Technische Hochschule in Hanover.<br />

“A Small Intimate Exhibition Arranged by the Société<br />

Anonyme,” Arts Council Gallery at the Barbizon Hotel,<br />

New York, February 20—March 3, includes work by<br />


<strong>Schwitters</strong>. Dreier and composer lmre Weisshaus<br />

(pseudonym Paul Arma) perform <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s sound<br />

poems at a recital in Dreier’s home in New York,<br />

November 28.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> contributes an essay titled “Gestaltende<br />

Typographie” (Constructive Typography) to the<br />

September issue of Der Sturm 19, no. 6, 265—69. In<br />

addition, <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Steinitz are commissioned to<br />

design a brochure for the Test der Technik,” which takes<br />

place in Hanover on December 8.<br />

1929<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> joins the artist’s group dedicated to<br />

abstraction Cercle et Carré, Paris, founded by Joaquin<br />

Torres-Garcia and Michel Seuphor; members include<br />

Le Corbusier, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work is included in the landmark “Premiere<br />

exposition internationale du groupe Cercle et Carré,”<br />

Galerie 23, Paris, April 1930.<br />

In the spring, Dreier visits <strong>Schwitters</strong> again in Hanover,<br />

this time with Duchamp.<br />

In July, Helma and <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> make their first<br />

journey to Scandinavia; until 1936, <strong>Schwitters</strong> will make<br />

annual summer trips to Norway, where he earns money<br />

by selling traditional landscape paintings and occasional<br />

portraits.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> designs all of the ephemera for the October<br />

inauguration of the first apartments built for the<br />

Dammerstock-Siedlung, an architectural development<br />

project in Karlsruhe headed by Walter Gropius, founder<br />

of the Bauhaus school.<br />

In October the US stock market crashes, signaling the<br />

beginning of a worldwide economic depression. The art<br />

market likewise collapses.<br />

1930<br />

In the early 1930’s, <strong>Schwitters</strong> begins working on<br />

an ongoing room-size installation of built and found<br />

architectural and collage elements meant to be seen as<br />

a single artwork, which in 1933 he christens <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

Initially occupying only his studio, the <strong>Merz</strong>bau eventually<br />

grows to take over several rooms of the family’s residence.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> continues to work on the <strong>Merz</strong>bau until he<br />

leaves Hanover in January 1937. The work is destroyed by<br />

Allied bombs on October 8 and 9, 1943.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> publishes the brochure “Die neue Gestaltung<br />

in der Typographie” (New Design in Typography).<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> joins the PEN Club, an English literary society<br />

founded in London in 1921, and establishes an author’s<br />

group in Hanover, “Ring Hannoverscher Schriftsteller”<br />

with Christof Spengemann and Carl Credé.<br />

Dreier visits <strong>Schwitters</strong> again in Hanover on March 30;<br />

she purchases his Relief mit rotem Segment (Relief with<br />

Red Segment), 1927.<br />

In what is likely his last public performance in Germany,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> reads several works, including “An Anna<br />

Blume” and “Schacko,” on December 21 at “Künstler in<br />

Front” in the Capitol-Hochhaus, Hanover.<br />

1931<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> is elected an Honorary President of the<br />

Société Anonyme. Five of his works are included in a show<br />

organized by the Société Anonyme, “An International<br />

Exhibition Illustrating the Most Recent Development in<br />

Abstract Art: Special Exhibition Arranged in Honor of the<br />

Opening of the New Building of the New School,” at the<br />

New School for Social Research, New York, January 1—<br />

February 2. The exhibition travels to Albright Art Gallery,<br />

Buffalo, New York, February 18—March 8.<br />

Franz Müller’s Wire Springtime, <strong>Merz</strong>bild 9 b das grosse<br />

lchbild (<strong>Merz</strong> Picture 9 b The Great I Picture), 1919<br />

(Museum Ludwig, Cologne), and Albert Finzlerbild<br />

(Albert Finzler Picture), 1926 (Sprengel Museum<br />

Hannover, loan from Finanz Informatik), are reproduced<br />

in the third edition of Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (Art<br />

of the Twentieth Century) by Carl Einstein.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> joins Paris-based “abstraction-création,” an<br />

artists’ association formed in opposition to Surrealism<br />

that grew out of the short-lived Cercle et Carré. The<br />

group’s journal publishes images of the Hanover<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau and other works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> between 1932<br />

and 1934.<br />

1932<br />

The Hannover Kunstverein includes <strong>Schwitters</strong> in their<br />

one-hundredth anniversary exhibition, March—April.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s “Ursonate” is published as <strong>Merz</strong> 24;<br />

with typography by Jan Tschichold. <strong>Schwitters</strong> records<br />

the poems ‘Scherzo” and “An Anna Blume” for the<br />

broadcaster Süddeutsche Rundfunk AG, Stuttgart, May 5.<br />

Helma and <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> visit Guernsey, the Channel<br />

Islands; Brittany, France; and Spain, Morocco, and Italy.<br />

1933<br />

In January, Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor and<br />



several weeks later becomes dictator of Germany.<br />

As the political situation in Germany becomes<br />

increasingly difficult for avant-garde artists, <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

begins withdrawing from public appearances and<br />

exhibitions, focusing instead on the <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

Reproductions of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s works are included in<br />

the exhibition “Novembergeist: Kunst im Dienste der<br />

Zersetzung” (November Spirit: Art in the Service of<br />

Moral Corruption), June—September 1933, Stuttgart<br />

and Bielefeld, organized by the National Socialists with<br />

the intent to ridicule modern art and artists.<br />

1934<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> meets Tommaso Marinetti, founder of<br />

Futurism, at the Berlin opening of the exhibition<br />

“Aeropittura,” on March 28.<br />

In the summer <strong>Schwitters</strong> begins a second <strong>Merz</strong><br />

construction, Hütte auf Hjertøya (Cottage on Hjertøya),<br />

1932—39, in a primitive hut on the island of Hjertøya in<br />

Moldefjord, Norway.<br />

The last presentation of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work in Nazicontrolled<br />

Germany (other than in derogatory exhibitions<br />

organized by the government), is the annual autumn<br />

“Herbstausstellung Hannoverscher Künstler” at the<br />

Hannover Kunstverein, October—November.<br />

Mz 199, 1921 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,<br />

New York), is included in “Modern Works of Art: Fifth<br />

Anniversary Exhibition,” November19, 1934—January<br />

20, 1935, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, marking<br />

the first time <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work was on view there.<br />

1935<br />

L <strong>Merz</strong>bild L3 (Das <strong>Merz</strong>bild) [L <strong>Merz</strong> Picture L3 (The<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> Picture)], 1919, and Ringbild (Ring Picture), 1920/21,<br />

are confiscated from the Stadtmuseum Dresden and put<br />

into the first “Entartete Kunst,” an exhibition of modern<br />

art deemed degenerate (entartete) by the National<br />

Socialists. The first such exhibition began in Dresden<br />

in September1933 and ended in Frankfurt, September<br />

1936; a second “Entartete Kunst” tours Germany from<br />

July 18, 1937, until April 20, 1941. Both works are now<br />

lost and presumed destroyed.<br />

In May, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., director of the Museum of<br />

Modern Art, New York, visits the <strong>Schwitters</strong>es’ home<br />

in Hanover. Barr had most likely been introduced to<br />

the artist’s work through his close association with<br />

Dreier. Although <strong>Schwitters</strong> is in Norway, Barr views the<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>bau. A few months later, while he is in Paris, Barr<br />

purchases Reichardt-Schwertschlag Father Christmas,<br />

1922, from the poet Paul Eluard for the museum’s<br />

collection. The next year in Berlin he purchases Drawing<br />

A 2 House. [Hansi], 1918, and Mz. 379. Potsdamer, also<br />

for the museum’s collection, where they alI three remain<br />

today.<br />

By this time, American collector Albert Eugene Gallatin<br />

had purchased two works by <strong>Schwitters</strong>, <strong>Merz</strong>bild<br />

20a (Bild Streichholz—Hosenknopf) (<strong>Merz</strong> Picture 20a<br />

(Picture Match—Trouser—Button)], 1919, and Untitled<br />

(<strong>Merz</strong> Construction, Top), ca. 1923—26. Parts of<br />

Gallatin’s collection of modern art were on continuous<br />

view in New York at his Gallery of Living Art (later the<br />

Museum of Living Art) from 1927 to 1936. In 1942 the<br />

collection, including the two works noted above, moved<br />

to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it remains.<br />

1936<br />

Alfred Barr places <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s works in two Museum<br />

of Modern Art exhibitions: six in ‘Cubism and Abstract<br />

Art,” March 2—April 19, and four in “Fantastic Art,<br />

Dada, Surrealism,” December 1936—January 1937. Nine<br />

photographs of the Hanover <strong>Merz</strong>bau are also included<br />

in the exhibition and catalogue for “Fantastic Art”.<br />

In November, <strong>Schwitters</strong> writes to both Barr and Josef<br />

Albers, also living in the States, proposing to build a room<br />

in the U.S. similar to the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, which he describes as<br />

an abstract sculpture into which one can enter. Neither<br />

Barr nor Albers pursues the idea.<br />

The same month, <strong>Schwitters</strong> writes to Dreier from<br />

Amsterdam, reporting on developments in his art and<br />

advising her to write to him only in the Netherlands or<br />

under a pseudonym.<br />

1937<br />

Due to the increasingly hostile political situation in<br />

Germany, <strong>Schwitters</strong> flees to Norway on January 2,<br />

joining his son, Ernst, who had left two weeks earlier.<br />

Helma <strong>Schwitters</strong> remains in Hanover, visiting her<br />

husband occasionally. Fortunately, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is able<br />

to arrange for most of his work to be shipped from<br />

his studio in Hanover to Norway. He begins building a<br />

third <strong>Merz</strong> construction in Lysaker, the Haus am Bakken<br />

(House on the Slope; destroyed 1951).<br />

During her last trip to Europe, in spring 1937, Dreier visits<br />

Helma in Hanover and views the <strong>Merz</strong>bau.<br />

Throughout the summer Nazis continue to purge German<br />

museums of modern art; works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> are<br />

removed from institutions in Berlin, Hanover, Mannheim,<br />

Breslau, Saarbrücken, Wiesbaden, and elsewhere. The<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> Picture, 1919; Ring Picture, 1920/21; Mz 190,<br />


1921; and Mz 195 Das Eine (Mz 195 The One), 1921, are<br />

included in the second “Entartete Kunst” exhibition. All<br />

of the above are missing and presumed destroyed.<br />

1938<br />

Peggy Guggenheim, an American collector living in<br />

London, borrows five works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> from Nelly van<br />

Doesburg and includes them in “Exhibition of Collages,<br />

Papiers-collés, and Photo-montages” in her London<br />

gallery, Guggenheim-Jeune. When the war starts,<br />

Guggenheim will return to the United States and show<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s works at Art of This Century, her influential<br />

gallery in New York.<br />

In July, <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work is included in “Exhibition of<br />

Twentieth-Century German Art” at New Burlington<br />

Galleries, London (organized in opposition to the<br />

“Entartete Kunst” exhibitions), and in September—<br />

October in “International nutidskunst. Konstruktivisme,<br />

neoplasticime, abstract kunst, surrealisme,” Oslo.<br />

1939<br />

Poems and a drawing by <strong>Schwitters</strong> are included in<br />

Homme que a perdu son squelette, the fourth volume<br />

of Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s magazine of contemporary art,<br />

Plastique, published in Paris.<br />

“Art of Tomorrow” at the Museum of Non Objective<br />

Painting (now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum),<br />

New York, June, includes <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work.<br />

The next month, Helma <strong>Schwitters</strong> visits her husband in<br />

Norway for the last time.<br />

In September, Germany invades Poland, thus signaling<br />

the beginning of World War II. Great Britain and France<br />

declare war on Germany.<br />

“Some New Forms of Beauty” at George Walter Vincent<br />

Smith Art Gallery, Springfield, Massachusetts, November<br />

9—December 17, includes Relief with Red Segment; the<br />

exhibition travels to Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford,<br />

Connecticut, January 4 - February 4, 1940.<br />

1940-41<br />

At the beginning of 1940, with the help of Steinitz,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> unsuccessfully attempts to procure an<br />

American visa.<br />

When German troops invade Norway in April 1940,<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>; his son, Ernst; and Ernst’s wife, Esther,<br />

flee over a period of several weeks to Great Britain. The<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>es are interned in various detention camps<br />

in Scotland and England for the remainder of 1940 and<br />

through the end of 1941. <strong>Schwitters</strong> writes a poem about<br />

the experience titled “Flucht” (Flight).<br />

In one such camp, Hutchinson Camp, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is able<br />

to set up a studio where he makes collages, sculpture,<br />

and portraits of other detainees, He also stages recitals<br />

(which include “Silence,” the first poem he wrote in<br />

English) and publishes in the internees’ journal, The<br />

Camp.<br />

In December 1941 he is released from internment and<br />

moves to London. He meets Edith Thomas (nicknamed<br />

“Wantee”), who later becomes his companion.<br />

Dreier and Duchamp retire the Société Anonyme in<br />

1941 and donate its collection, including several pieces<br />

by <strong>Schwitters</strong>, to the Yale University Art Gallery, New<br />

Haven, Connecticut. Upon Dreier’s death in 1952,<br />

her personal art collection is bequeathed to important<br />

public collections; works by <strong>Schwitters</strong> go to the<br />

Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the Solomon R.<br />

Guggenheim Musum, New York; and the Museum of<br />

Modern Art, New York.<br />

1942<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> continues to compose poetry, in English,<br />

until the end of his life, having renounced the German<br />

language during the war.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s works continue to find audience in the U.S.;<br />

five are included in “The Exhibition of the Collection of<br />

the Société Anonyme—Museum of Modern Art: 1920,”<br />

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut,<br />

January 12—February 22; and three in the ongoing<br />

exhibition of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection, “Art of<br />

This Century; Objects—Drawings—Photographs—<br />

Paintings—Sculpture—Collages 1910—1942,” Art of This<br />

Century, New York, October 21, 1942—June 1947.<br />

1943-45<br />

Peggy Guggenheim includes <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s work in<br />

“Exhibition of Collage” at Art of This Century, New York,<br />

April 16—May 5, 1943.<br />

The family home of the <strong>Schwitters</strong>es in Hanover,<br />

together with the <strong>Merz</strong>bau, is destroyed by Allied bombs<br />

on October 8 and 9, 1943.<br />

In April 1944, <strong>Schwitters</strong> suffers a stroke and is<br />

temporarily paralyzed on one side of his body. Helma<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> dies of cancer in Hanover on October 29.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> does not learn of her death until December.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> is the focus of a one-man exhibition at the<br />

Modern Art Gallery, London, December1944. Herbert<br />

Read contributes an introduction and essay to the<br />



exhibition catalogue. In November 1945, <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

writes to Alfred Barr in an attempt to circulate the<br />

exhibition to the United States. Unfortunately, Barr had<br />

been asked to resign from the Museum of Modern Art<br />

the previous autumn.<br />

Jan Tschichold organizes a presentation of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

work to accompany the exhibition “Der Sturm (Sammlung<br />

Nell Walden)” at Kunstmuseum Bern, February—April<br />

1945.<br />

After the war ends in June, Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> returns to<br />

Norway; he assumes Norwegian citizenship at the end of<br />

the year. At the same time, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> moves with<br />

his companion, Edith Thomas, to Ambleside in the Lake<br />

District of England. <strong>Schwitters</strong> remains in poor financial<br />

condition until the end of his life. During these years, he<br />

earns some money painting portraits, landscapes, and<br />

still-lifes. A friend from Hanover, Walter Dux, who is also<br />

living in London, provides additional assistance.<br />

1946<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> is unusually prolific in the last two years of<br />

his life, producing a large number of collages in 1946<br />

and 1947.<br />

Carola Giedion-Welcker publishes thirteen of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

poems in her anthology Poètes à l’Ècart—Antholoqie der<br />

Abseitigen, Benteli, Bern.<br />

In April, <strong>Schwitters</strong> writes to Oliver M. Kaufmann in<br />

Chicago asking him for funds to use to restore the<br />

remains of the <strong>Merz</strong>bau. The following year, on his sixtieth<br />

birthday, June 20, 1947, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is awarded $1,000 by<br />

the Museum of Modern Art, New York (funds provided<br />

by Kaufmann), for reconstructing or continuing existing<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> constructions, whether in Hanover or Lysaker.<br />

Unable to travel outside England, <strong>Schwitters</strong> chooses to<br />

start a new <strong>Merz</strong> construction, the <strong>Merz</strong> Barn, on a farm<br />

belonging to Harry Pierce near Elterwater in the Lake<br />

District. The <strong>Merz</strong> Barn is never completed.<br />

packages of food and vitamins to him in England.<br />

Despite increasing frailty, <strong>Schwitters</strong> is able to stage two<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> evenings at the London Gallery, March 5 and 7. He<br />

is unable to convince the BBC to record his “Ursonate.”<br />

Schwitter’s work is included in “The White Plain” at<br />

the Pinacotheca, New York, March 19—April 12, an<br />

influential exhibition of leading European abstract artists<br />

such as Mondrian and Kandinsky and the American artist<br />

Burgoyne Diller.<br />

1948<br />

On January 8, one day after being granted British<br />

citizenship, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> dies in England of acute<br />

pulmonary edema and myocarditis. After an initial burial<br />

in Ambleside, his remains are moved to Hanover in 1970.<br />

Twenty-six of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s works are featured,<br />

posthumously, in the artist’s first solo exhibition in<br />

the United States, held at the Pinacotheca (later the<br />

Rose Fried Gallery), January 19—February 29. Dreier<br />

contributes an essay to the exhibition catalogue titled<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: The Dadas Have Come to Town”;<br />

Naum Gabo and Charmion von Wiegand also write text.<br />

Margaret Miller includes nineteen works by <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

in ‘Collage,’ the Museum of Modern Art, New York,<br />

September 21—December 5.<br />

Clare Elliott, „Chronology”, first published in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>:<br />

Color and Collage, edited by Isabel Schulz (Houston: Menil<br />

Collection, 2010).<br />

© Menil Foundation, Inc., Houston, reprinted with permission.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> begins corresponding with Margaret Miller, a<br />

curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who is organizing<br />

an exhibition of collages for the museum.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> spends the end of 1946 confined to bed after<br />

a hip fracture.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> renews contact with Katherine Dreier. The<br />

two discuss the possibility of a <strong>Schwitters</strong> exhibition in<br />

the United States; the result is a solo show, organized<br />

by Dreier, held in 1948 at the Pinacotheca in New York.<br />

1947<br />

Dreier remains in touch with <strong>Schwitters</strong>, sending<br />


Catalogue Raisonné<br />

Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>:<br />

Catalogue Raisonné. Published by the Sprengel Museum<br />

Hannover, on behalf of the Savings Bank Foundation<br />

of Lower Saxony, the NORD/LB Norddeutsche<br />

Landesbank, the Sparkasse Hannover, and the <strong>Kurt</strong> and<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> Foundation. 3 vols. Ostfildern-Ruit:<br />

Hatje Cantz, 2000-2006.<br />

Publications by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

In addition to working as a visual artist, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

was a prolific writer and poet; a comprehensive<br />

bibliography of <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s writings is in the catalogue<br />

raisonné (see above). Listed below are selected writings<br />

by <strong>Schwitters</strong> published during his lifetime; others may<br />

be found in the Chronology. Publications and recordings<br />

by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> are listed in chronological order.<br />

Selected Writings Published during <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s<br />

Lifetime (excluding <strong>Merz</strong> magazine)<br />

Anna Blume. Dichtungen. Die Silbergäule 39/40.<br />

Hanover: Paul Steegemann, 1919; rev. ed. Hanover: Paul<br />

Steegemann, 1922.<br />

Die Kathedrale. 8 Lithos von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Die<br />

Silbergäule 41/42. Hanover: Paul Steegemann, 1920.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Book 4 of Sturm-Bilderbuch. Berlin:<br />

Sturm, [ca. 1920].<br />

Elementar. Die Blume Anna. Die neue Anna Blume. Eine<br />

Gedichtsammlung aus den Jahren 1918—1922. Berlin:<br />

Sturm, 1922.<br />

Memoiren Anna Blumes in Bleie. Eine leichtfassliche<br />

Methode zur Erlernung des Wahnsinns für Jedermann.<br />

Schnitter-Bücher. Die hohe Reihe. Freiburg (Baden):<br />

Walter Heinrich, 1922.<br />

Auguste Bolte (ein Lebertran). Tran Nr. 30. Berlin: Sturm,<br />

1923.<br />

Lithos von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Fifty numbered copies. 1923.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 4. Banalitäten. July 1923.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 5. 7 Arpaden. Portfolio with seven lithographs by<br />

Hans Arp. Fifty numbered copies. 1923.<br />

With Hans Arp. <strong>Merz</strong> 6. lmitatoren watch step! Arp 1.<br />

Propaganda [sic] und Arp. Oct. 1923.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 7. Subsequently called Tapsheft. Jan. 1924.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 8/9. Nasci. Typography by El Lissitzky. July 1924.<br />

“<strong>Merz</strong> 10. Bauhaus-Buch.” Announced in <strong>Merz</strong> 8/9 but<br />

not published.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 11. Typoreklame. The so-called Pelikan-Nummer.<br />

November 1924.<br />

With Kate Steinitz. Hahnepeter (<strong>Merz</strong> 12), [1924]. Fifty<br />

numbered copies, hand colored and signed by the<br />

author. Also published as Aposs 1; Aposs-Verlag, 1925.<br />

Individual copies with glued-on paper bands titled <strong>Merz</strong><br />

12. 1925.<br />

With Kate Steinitz and Theo van Doesburg. Die Scheuche<br />

(<strong>Merz</strong> 14/15). 1925. First published as Aposs 3; Aposs-<br />

Verlag. Individual copies with glued-on paper bands later<br />

called <strong>Merz</strong> 14/15. 1925.<br />

With Kate Steinitz. Die Märchen vom Paradies (<strong>Merz</strong><br />

16/17). 1924. First published as Aposs 2; Aposs-Verlag.<br />

lndividual copies with glued-on paper bands called <strong>Merz</strong><br />

16/17 1925/II. 1925.<br />

Ludwig Hilberseimer. Grosstadtbauten (<strong>Merz</strong> 18/19).<br />

Neue Architektur, ed. by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Kate<br />

Steinitz, 1), 1925; subsequently called <strong>Merz</strong> 18/19.<br />

Jan.—Apr. 1926.<br />


Die neue Gestaltung der Typographie. Brochure.<br />

Hanover: K. <strong>Schwitters</strong>, [1925].<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> Magazines<br />

From 1923 to 1932, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> published a<br />

magazine called <strong>Merz</strong>, which he wrote by himself or in<br />

collaboration and published in Hanover.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 1. Holland Dada. Jan. 1923.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 2 Nummer i. Apr. 1923.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 3 <strong>Merz</strong> Mappe. Erste Mappe des <strong>Merz</strong>verlages. 6<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 20. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Katalog. 1927.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 21 erstes Veilchen-Heft. Eine kleine Sammlung von<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>-Dichtungen aller Art von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. 1931<br />

“<strong>Merz</strong> 22. Entwicklung.” Announced in <strong>Merz</strong> 21 but<br />

never published.<br />

“<strong>Merz</strong> 23. e. E.” Announced in an insert in <strong>Merz</strong> 21 but<br />

never published.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 24. Ursonate. 1932. Typography by Jan Tschichold.<br />

Fifty of 1,ooo copies numbered and signed.<br />


Original Recordings by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

<strong>Merz</strong> 13 <strong>Merz</strong> - Grammophonplatte. Scherzo of<br />

“Ursonate” spoken by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Hanover, 1925.<br />

Anna Blume. Scherzo der Ursonate. Spoken by <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart, May 5,<br />

1932.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Urwerk. Ed. Robert Galitz, <strong>Kurt</strong> Kreiler,<br />

and Klaus Gabbert. Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 2007.<br />

Texts by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Published Posthumously<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Das Iiterarische Werk. 5 vols. Ed. Friedhelm<br />

Lach. Cologne: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1973 - 81.<br />

Three Painter-Poets: Arp, <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Klee. Selected<br />

Poems. Ed. by Harriet Watts. Baltimore, MD: Penguin<br />

Books, 1974.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Wir spielen, bis uns der Tod abholt.<br />

Briefe aus fünf Jahrzehnten. Ed. By Ernst Nündel.<br />

Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1974.<br />

The <strong>Merz</strong>book: <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Poems. Ed. by Colin<br />

Morton. Kingston, Ontario: Quarry Press, 1987.<br />

The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology. Ed. Robert<br />

Motherwell. New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1951;<br />

reprint, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard<br />

University Press. 1989.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>: Norwegian Landscapes, the Zoological<br />

Garden’s Lottery and More Stories. Ed. Per Kirkeby.<br />

Hellerup, DK: Edtion Bløndal, 1995.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Poems, Performance Pieces, Proses,<br />

Plays, Poetics. Ed. Pierre Joris, Jerome Rothenberg,<br />

and Naomi Yang. Philadelphia: Temple University Press;<br />

reprint, Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 2002.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Lucky Hans and Other <strong>Merz</strong> Fairy Tales.<br />

Ed. and trans. Jack Zipes; illustrated by Irvine Peacock.<br />

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.<br />

Monographic Publications<br />

Beaujean, Marion, and Maria Haldenwanger. <strong>Schwitters</strong>-<br />

Archiv der Stadtbibliothek Hannover: Bestandsverzeichnis<br />

1986. Hanover: Stadtbibliothek Hannover, 1986.<br />

Brookes, V. J. “Fred.” “<strong>Schwitters</strong> in Exile: The Rural Art<br />

of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> 1937—1948.” PhD diss., University of<br />

Newcastle upon Tyne, 1967.<br />

Crossley, Barbara. The Triumph of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

Ambleside, England: Armitt Trust, 2005.<br />

Dietrich, Dorothea. The Collages of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

Tradition and Innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge<br />

University Press, 1993.<br />

Elger, Dietmar. Der <strong>Merz</strong>bau von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Eine<br />

Werkmonographie. Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek,<br />

ed. Christian Posthofen, 12. Cologne: König, 1999.<br />

Ewig, Isabelle. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Oxymore ou l’art de Ia<br />

contradiction. PhD diss., Université Paris, Sorbonne.<br />

Lille: A.N.R.T. Université de Lille Ill, 2000.<br />

Fuchs, Rudi. Conflicts with Modernism or the Absence<br />

of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Vol. 1 of Theme and Objection. Bern:<br />

Gachnang and Springer, 1991.<br />

Gamard, Elizabeth Burns. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong>bau:<br />

The Cathedral of Erotic Misery. New York; Princeton<br />

Architectural Press, 2000.<br />

Germundson, Curt Robert. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Hanover;<br />

Investigation of the Cultural Environment.” PhD diss.,<br />

University of Iowa, 2001.<br />

Luke, Megan Rand. “Space for Recognition; The Late<br />

Work and Exile of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1930 - 1948).” PhD<br />

diss., Harvard University, 2009.<br />

Nih, Annegreth. “Decoding <strong>Merz</strong>: An Interpretative<br />

Study of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ Early Work, 1918—1922.” PhD<br />

diss., University of Texas at Austin 1990.<br />

Notz, Adrian, and Ulrich Christ. <strong>Merz</strong> World: Processing the<br />

Complicated Order. Zurich: Jrp Ringier Kunstverlag, 2008.<br />

Nündel, Ernst. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Selbstzeugnissen und<br />

Bilddokumenten. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1981.<br />

Orchard, Karin, and Isabel Schulz. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Werke<br />

und Dokumente im Sprengel Museum Hannover/<strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>: Catalogue of the Works and Documents in<br />

the Sprengel Museum Hannover. Hanover: Sprengel<br />

Museum Hannover and Verein der Freunde des Sprengel<br />

Museum Hannover, 1998.<br />

Schmalenbach, Werner. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. New York: Harry<br />

N. Abrams, 1967.<br />

Sigrid, Franz. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong>-Ästhetik im<br />

Spannungsfeld der Künste. Freiburg im Breisgau:<br />

Rombach, 2009.<br />

Stadtmüller, Klaus. <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Norwegen: Arbeiten,<br />

Dokumente, Ansichten. Hanover: Postskriptum, 1997.<br />


Stark, Franz. Bestandsverzeichnis. Nachtrag 1987.<br />

Hanover: Stadtbibliothek, 1987.<br />

Steinitz, Kate. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A Portrait from Life. With<br />

Collision, A Science-Fiction Opera Libretto in Banalities,<br />

by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Kate Trauman Steinitz, and Other<br />

Writings. Trans. Robert Bartlett Haas. Introduction by<br />

John Coplans and Walter Hopps. Berkeley: University of<br />

California Press, 1968.<br />

Themerson, Stefan. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in England. London:<br />

Gaberbocchus, 1958.<br />

Von der Horst, Frauke. “Anna Blume ‘gut aufgehoben’:<br />

A Semiotic Interpretation of Works by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.”<br />

PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1995.<br />

Webster, Gwendolen. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Merz</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A<br />

Biographical Study. Cardiff: University of Wales Press,<br />

1997.<br />

—. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong>bau.” PhD diss., Open<br />

University, Milton Keynes, England, 2007.<br />

Wiesing, Lambert. Stil statt Wahrheit: <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> und<br />

Ludwig Wittgenstein über ästhetische Lebensformen.<br />

Munich: W. Fink, 1991.<br />

Monographic Exhibition Catalogues<br />

Masterpieces by Great Masters: Also Paintings and<br />

Sculpture by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Introduction by Herbert<br />

Read. London: Modern Art Gallery, 1944.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Text by Naum Gabo. New York:<br />

Pinacotheca, 1948.<br />

Sidney Janis Presents an Exhibition of Collage, Painting,<br />

Relief and Sculpture by <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Text by Tristan Tzara.<br />

New York: Sidney Janis Gallery; Chicago: Arts Club of<br />

Chicago, 1952.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Collages. Text by Hans Bolliger. Paris:<br />

Berggruen, 1954.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Hanover: Kestner-Gesellschaft, 1956.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: 1887—1948. London: Lord’s Gallery, 1958.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Pasadena, CA: Pasadena Art Museum,<br />

1962.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1963.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in the Lake District. Kendal, England:<br />

Abbot Hall Art Gallery, 1964.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Retrospective. University of California,<br />

Los Angeles, 1965.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A Retrospective Exhibition. Dallas:<br />

Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1965.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Düsseldorf: Stadtische Kunsthalle<br />

Düsseldorf, 1971.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Cologne: Galerie Gmurzynska, 1978.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Exile: The Late Work, 1937—1948/<strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> im Exil: Das Spätwerk, 1937—1948. London:<br />

Marlborough Fine Art, 1981.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Tokyo: Seibu Museum of Art, 1983.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Die späten Werke. Ed. Siegfried Gohr.<br />

Cologne: Museum LudwigKöln, 1985.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> 1887—1948. Ausstellung zum 99.<br />

Geburtstag. Ed. Joachim Buchner and Norbert Nobis.<br />

Hanover: Sprengel Museum Hannover; Berlin: Propyläen,<br />

1986.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Ed. Serge Lemoine and Didier Semin.<br />

In Spanish with English summary. Valencia, Spain: IVAM<br />

Centre Julio González, 1995.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Nederland: <strong>Merz</strong>, De Stijl and Holland<br />

Dada. Ed. Meta Knol. In Dutch/English. Heerlen,<br />

Netherlands: Stadsgalerij Heerlen; Zwolle: Waanders<br />

Uitgevers, 1997.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: I Is Style. Ed. Siegfried Gohr and Gunda<br />

Luyken on behalf of Rudi Fuchs. Amsterdam: Stedelijk<br />

Museum; Rotterdam: NAI Publishers, 2000.<br />

In the Beginning Was <strong>Merz</strong>: From <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

to the Present Day. Ed. Susanne Meyer-Büser and<br />

Karin Orchard. Hanover: Sprengel Museum Hannover;<br />

Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2000.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>, Ed. Ingried Brugger, Siegfried Gohr, and<br />

Gunda Luyken. Vienna: Kunstforum Wien; Salzburg:<br />

Jung und Jung, 2002.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: <strong>Merz</strong>—A Total Vision of the World.<br />

Basel: Museum Tinguely; Bern: Benteli, 2004.<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> Arp. Ed. Hartwig Fischer. Basel:<br />

Kunstmuseum Basel; Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2004.<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>gebiete: <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> und seine Freunde. Ed.<br />

Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz. Hanover: Sprengel<br />

Museum Hannover; Cologne: Dumont, 2006.<br />



Collage/Collages from Cubism to New Dada. Ed. Maria<br />

Mimita Lamberti and Maria Grazia Messina. In Italian.<br />

Turin: Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea<br />

Torino. In English. Milan: Elekta, 2007<br />

L’esprit de Ia lettre. Paris: Maison de Victor Hugo, 2007.<br />

Living in the Material World: “Things” in Art of the<br />

Twentieth Century and Beyond. Tokyo: National Art<br />

Center, 2007.<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Norway. Ed. Karin Orchard.<br />

Høvikodden, Norway: Henie Onstad Kunstsenter;<br />

Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2009.<br />

Further Reading<br />

Abstrakte und surrealistische Malerei und Plastik. Exh.<br />

cat. Zurich: Kunsthaus Zürich, 1929.<br />

Behne, Adolf. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.” Der Cicerone 12, no. 10<br />

(May 1920): 416.<br />

Brookes, Fred. “<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ <strong>Merz</strong>barn.” Studio<br />

International 117, no. 911 (May 1969): 224—27.<br />

Cardinal, Roger. “Collecting and Collage-making: The<br />

Case of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.” In Roger Cardinal and John<br />

Elsner, The Cultures of Collecting, 68-96, 277—79.<br />

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.<br />

Cubism and Abstract Art. Text by Alfred Barr, Jr. Exh. cat.<br />

New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936.<br />

Dada 1916—I923. Exh. cat. New York: Sidney Janis<br />

Gallery, 1953.<br />

DADA: Zurich Berlin Hannover Cologne New York Paris.<br />

Ed. Leah Dickerman. Exh. cat. Washington, DC: National<br />

Gallery of Art in association with D.A.P., 2005.<br />

Dickerman, Leah. “<strong>Merz</strong> and Memory: On <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>.” In The Dada Seminars, 103—25. CASVA<br />

Seminar Papers, 1. Ed. Leah Dickerman and Matthew S.<br />

Witkovsky. Washington, DC: Center for Advanced Study<br />

in the Visual Arts, 2005.<br />

Dickson, Rachel, and Sarah MacDougall. “Artists in<br />

Exile in Britain c. 1933—45.” In Forced Journeys: Artists<br />

in Exile in Britain c. 1933—45, 18-49. London: Ben Uri<br />

Gallery and London Jewish Museum of Art, 2009.<br />

Die abstrakten Hannover—Internationale Avantgarde<br />

1927—1935. Exh. cat. Sprengel Museum Hannover;<br />

Ludwigshafen. Germany: Wilhelm-Hack-Museum;<br />

Ludwigshafen and Hanover: Josef Grütter, 1987.<br />

Die zwanziger Jahre in Hannover: Bildende Kunst,<br />

Literatur, Theater, Tanz, Architektur 1916—1933. Exh. cat.<br />

Hanover: Kunstverein Hannover, 1962.<br />

Dietrich, Dorothea, “The Fragment Reframed. <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s <strong>Merz</strong>-column.” Assemblage: A Critical<br />

Journal of Architecture and Design Culture 14 (Apr.<br />

1991): 82-92.<br />

Dreier, Katherine S. Modern Art. New York: Société<br />

Anonyme and Museum of Modern Art, 1926; reprint,<br />

New York, 1972.<br />

—. Western Art and the New Era: An Introduction to<br />

Modern Art. New York: Brentano’s, 1923.<br />

Einstein, Carl, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts. Berlin:<br />

Propyläen, 1931; reprint, Berlin: Fannei and Walz, 1996.<br />

Elderfield, John. “The Early Work of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,”<br />

Artforum 10, no. 3 (Nov. 1971): 54—67.<br />

—. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ Last <strong>Merz</strong>bau,” Artforum 8, no. 2<br />

(Oct. 1969): 56—64.<br />

—. “On a <strong>Merz</strong>-Gesamtwerk.” Art International 21, no. 6<br />

(Dec. 1977): 19—26.<br />

—. “Private Objects: The Sculpture of <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,”<br />

Artforum 12, no. 1 (Sep. 1973): 45—54.<br />

Exhibition of Twentieth-Century German Art. Exh. cat.<br />

London: New Burlington Galleries, 1938.<br />

Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. Text by Alfred Barr, Jr.<br />

Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936.<br />

Germundson, Curt. “Montage and Totality: <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’s Relationship to ‘Tradition’ and ‘Avant-garde’.”<br />

In Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde, 156—<br />

83. Avant-Garde Critical Studies, 18. Ed. Dafydd Jones.<br />

Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.<br />

Giedion-Welcker, Carola. “<strong>Schwitters</strong>; Or the Allusions of<br />

the Imagination” Magazine of Art 41, no. 6 (Oct. 1948):<br />

218—21.<br />

Greenberg, Clement. In “Art.” Nation 167, nos. 21, 27<br />

(Nov.1948): 612—14. Reprinted as “Review of the<br />

Exhibition Collage, 259—63. In Clement Greenberg.<br />

The Collected Essays and Criticism. Ed. John O’Brian.<br />

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.<br />

Herbert, Roland L., Eleanor S. Apter, and Elise K. Kenney.<br />


The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale<br />

University: A Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, CT: Yale<br />

University Press, 1984.<br />

An International Exhibition Illustrating the Most Recent<br />

Development in Abstract Art. Exh. cat. Buffalo, NY:<br />

Albright Art Gallery, 1931.<br />

An International Exhibition of Modern Art, Assembled by<br />

the Société Anonyme. Exh. cat. Brooklyn, NY: Société<br />

Anonyme and Brooklyn Museum, 1926.<br />

Janis, Harriet, and Rudi Blesh. Collage: Personalities,<br />

Concepts, Techniques. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1962.<br />

Katenhusen, Ines. Kunst und Politik: Hannovers<br />

Auseinandersetzungen mit der Moderne in der Weimarer<br />

Republik. Hannoversche Studien: Schriftenreihe des<br />

Stadtarchivs Hannover, 5. Ed. Klaus Mlynek and Karljosef<br />

Kreter. Hanover: Hahn, 1998.<br />

King, Antoinette. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s Cherry Picture:<br />

Material Change and an Ethical Problem.” In Essays on<br />

Assemblage, 31—41. Studies in Modern Art, ed. John<br />

Elderfeld, 2. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992.<br />

Kuspit, Donald. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: When Collage Was<br />

Young.” C Magazine, no. 7 (Fall 1985): 50—55. Reprinted<br />

in Donald Kuspit, The New Subjectivism: Art in the 1980s,<br />

57—66. Ann Arbor, Ml: UMI Research Press, 1988.<br />

Lach, Friedhelm. “<strong>Schwitters</strong>: Performance Notes,” 39—<br />

45. In Stephen C. Foster. Dada/ Dimensions. Ann Arbor,<br />

Ml: UMI Research Press, 1985.<br />

McBride, Patrizia. “The Game of Meaning: Collage,<br />

Montage, and Parody in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’s <strong>Merz</strong>.”<br />

Modernism/Modernity 14, no. 2 (Apr. 2007): 249—72.<br />

Mehring, Walter. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> im ‘Sturm’.” Der<br />

Cicerone 11, no. 14 (July 1919): 462.<br />

Mesens, E. L. T. “A Tribute to <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.” Art News<br />

and Review 10, no. 19 (1958): 5—7.<br />

Nebel, Adolf Behne. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.” Der Cicerone 12,<br />

no. 10 (May 1920): 416.<br />

Nebel, Otto. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.” <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Book 4<br />

of Sturm Bilderbüch. Berlin: Sturm, [1920], 1-2.<br />

Nil, Annegreth. “Weimar Politics and the Theme of Love<br />

in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>’ Das Bäumerbild.” Dada Surrealism,<br />

no. 13 (1984): 17—36.<br />

Orchard, Karin. “Cicero, the Roman Hitler: <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>’ Verhältnis zum Nationalsozialismus.” In<br />

Curiosa Poliphili. Festgabe für Horst Bredekamp zum<br />

60. Geburtstag, 154—161. Ed. Nicole Hegener, Claudia<br />

Lichte, and Bettina Marten. Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, 2007.<br />

Osswald-Hoffmann, Cornelia. Zauber...und<br />

Zeigeräume: Raumgestaltungen der 20er und 30er<br />

Jahre. Die “<strong>Merz</strong>bauten” des <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> und<br />

der “Prounenraum” sowie die Räumlichkeiten der<br />

Abstrakten des El Lissitzky. Munich: Akademischer,<br />

2003.<br />

Ran, Faye. A History of Installation Art and the<br />

Development of New Art Forms: Technology and the<br />

Hermeneutics of Time and Space in Modern and<br />

Postmodern Art from Cubism to Installation. New York:<br />

Peter Lang, 2009.<br />

Retiz, Leonard, “<strong>Schwitters</strong> and the Literary Tradition.”<br />

German Life and Letters 27 (1973—74): 303—15.<br />

Schmidt, Paul Ferdinand. Die Kunst der Gegenwart. Vol.<br />

6 of Die Sechs Bücher der Kunst. Berlin: Sturm, [1922].<br />

Schulz, Isabel. “The ‘Brother of <strong>Merz</strong>’ —Ernst and <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>.” In Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Norway: Photographs<br />

1930—1960, 202—7. Ed. <strong>Kurt</strong> und Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong><br />

Stiftung. Exh. cat. Hanover: Sprengel Museum Hannover;<br />

Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2005.<br />

—, ed. Der Nachlass von <strong>Kurt</strong> und Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

Hanover: <strong>Kurt</strong> und Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong> Stiftung, 2002.<br />

—. “Geklebte Malerei—Die Collagen von <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>.” In CollageWelten 1: Das Experiment—Zur<br />

Collage im 20. Jahrhundert, 109—15. Ed. Burkhard<br />

Leismann. Exh. cat. Ahlen: Kunst-Museum Ahlen;<br />

Bramsche: Rasch, 2001.<br />

Seitz, William Chapin. The Art of Assemblage. Exh. cat.<br />

New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1961.<br />

Steel, David A. “DADA—ADAD. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Poetry.<br />

Collage, Typography and the Advert.” Word & Image 6.<br />

no. 2 (Apr.—June 1990): 198—209.<br />

Stokes, Charlotte, and Stephen C. Foster, eds. Dada:<br />

Cologne—Hanover. Vol. 3 of Crisis and the Arts: The<br />

History of Dada. New York: G. K. Hall; London: Prentice<br />

Hall International, 1997.<br />

te Heesen, Anke. Der Zeitungsausschnitt: Ein Papierobjekt<br />

der Moderne. Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2006.<br />

Typographie kann unter Umständen Kunst sein, vols.<br />



1, 3, and 4. Ed. Perdita Lottner. Exh. cats. Hanover:<br />

Sprengel Museum Hannover, 1990.<br />

Umland, Anne, Adrian Sudhalter, and Scott Gerson.<br />

Dada in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art,<br />

275—99. Studies in Modern Art, 9. New York: Museum<br />

of Modern Art, 2008.<br />

Dillon, Brian. “Species of Spaces: Art, Architecture<br />

and Environment.” In Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on<br />

Architecture, 29—37. Exh. cat. London: Hayward Gallery,<br />

2008.<br />

—. “Dada-Hanover.” In Dada and the Press, 293—349.<br />

Ed. Harriett Watts and Stephen C. Foster. Vol. 9 of Crisis<br />

and the Arts: The History of Dada. New York: G. K. Hall;<br />

London: Prentice Hall International, 2004.<br />

—. “<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> and Katherine Dreier.” German Life<br />

and Letters 52, no. 4 (Oct. 1999): 443-56.<br />


Important group exhibitions in Europe and the United<br />

States held during <strong>Schwitters</strong> lifetime may be found in<br />

the Chronology. Exhibitions are listed in chronological<br />

order.<br />

“Collages by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” The Phillips Gallery,<br />

Washington, D.C., 1957<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Lord’s Gallery, London, 1958<br />

[Unknown title], Galerie Goyert, Cologne, 1919<br />

“Der Sturm. 76. Ausstellung. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, M.<br />

Langenstrass-Uhlig,” Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, July 1919<br />

Galerie Herbert Cramer, Frankfurt, 1920<br />

“Der Sturm. 96. Ausstellung. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. <strong>Merz</strong>bilder,<br />

<strong>Merz</strong>zeichnungen. Gesamtschau,” Galerie Der Sturm,<br />

Berlin, April 1921<br />

“Der Sturm. 138. Ausstellung. Otto Nebel. <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. Gesamtschau,” Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin,<br />

February 1925<br />

“Grosse <strong>Merz</strong>ausstellung 1927.” The following venues<br />

have been verified: Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden<br />

in the Neues Museum and Wiesbadener Gesellschaft für<br />

Bildende Kunst, Wiesbaden; Städtische Gemäldegalerie,<br />

Bochum, Germany; Ruhmeshalle, Barmen, Germany,<br />

1927<br />

“Sonderausstellung <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Kunstverein für<br />

Böhmen, Prague, 1927<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” [?] Galerie Blomquist, Oslo, 1934<br />

“Paintings and Sculpture by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” The<br />

Modern Art Gallery. London, December 1944<br />

“Gedächtnisausstellung <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Galerie d’Art<br />

Moderne Basel, 1948<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” The Pinacotheca, New York, 1948<br />

“Collage, Painting, Relief and Sculpture by <strong>Schwitters</strong>,”<br />

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York; The Arts Club of Chicago,<br />

1952<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Collages,” Berggruen Gallery, Paris,<br />

1954<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Fifty-Seven Collages,” Sidney Janis<br />

Gallery, New York, 1956<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover;<br />

Kunsthalle Bern (together with Hans Arp); Stedelijk<br />

Museum, Amsterdam; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brüssel;<br />

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lüttich, Germany, 1956<br />

“Seventy-Five Collages by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Sidney Janis<br />

Gallery, New York, 1959<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> 1887—1948,” Cambridge Arts Council<br />

Gallery, 1959; Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea,<br />

England; Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, England; Leicester<br />

Museum and Art Gallery, England; Herbert Temporary<br />

Art Gallery, Coventry, England; Glasgow University Print<br />

Room, Scotland, 1960<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. 1887—1948,” Minami Gallery, Tokyo,<br />

1960<br />

“XXX Biennale Internazionale d’Arte. Sonderausstellung<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” La Biennale di Venezia, 1960<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> Sonderausstellung,” VI Bienal de São<br />

Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 1961<br />

“Fifty Collages by <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Sidney Janis Gallery, New<br />

York, 1962<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> MERZ <strong>Schwitters</strong>. 1887-1948, Retrospektivt/<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>/<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. 1887—1948/<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>.<br />

1887-1948. Schilderijen, collages, sculpturen, tekeningen/<br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong>. Mostra retrospettiva,” Konstsalongen<br />

Samlaren im Konstnärshuset, Stockholm; Statens<br />

Museum for Kunst und Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen,<br />

1962; Marlborough Fine Art, London; Wallraf-Richartz-<br />

Museum und Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 1963;<br />

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Toninelli<br />

Arte Moderna, Milan; Marlborough Galleria d’Arte,<br />

Rome, 1964<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum,<br />

San Antonio, Texas; Pasadena Art Museum, California;<br />

The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire;<br />

The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1962;<br />

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; J. B. Speed Art<br />

Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, 1963<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in the Lake District,” Abbot Hall Art<br />

Gallery, Kendal, England, 1964<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. ‘Aphorismer,’ 1918—1947. Collage och<br />

relief, Konstsalongen Samlaren,” Stockholm, 1965<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Retrospective,” University of California<br />

at Los Angeles; Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York;<br />



The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri;<br />

Art Gallery of Toronto, 1965<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: A Retrospective Exhibition,” Dallas<br />

Museum of Fine Arts, 1965; San Francisco Museum of<br />

Art; City Art Museum of Saint Louis, 1966<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf;<br />

Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart;<br />

Kunsthalle Basel; Kunstverein in Hamburg, 1971<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 1978<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Exile: The Late Work 1937—1948,”<br />

Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1981<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in England,” Abbot Hall Art Gallery,<br />

Kendal, England, 1982<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” The Museum of Modern Art, Seibu<br />

Takanawa, Karuizawa, Japan; The Seibu Museum of Art,<br />

Tokyo, 1983; Seibu Hall, Seibu Department Stores, Otsu,<br />

Japan 1984<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Die späten Werke,” Museum Ludwig,<br />

Cologne, 1985<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” The Museum of Modern Art, New<br />

York, 1985; Tate Gallery, London; Sprengel Museum<br />

Hannover, 1986<br />

“Der Typograph <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Stadtbibliothek<br />

Hannover, 1987<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée<br />

national d’art moderne, Paris, 1994; IVAM Centre Julio<br />

González, Valencia, Spain; Musée de Grenoble, France,<br />

1995<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico<br />

City, 2003<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> (1887—1948). Collages, Paintings,<br />

Drawings, Objects, Ephemera,” Ubu Gallery, New York,<br />

2003<br />

“I Build My Time.’ <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Ambleside,” Armitt<br />

Museum and Library, Ambleside, England, 2003<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. <strong>Merz</strong>—ein Gesamtweltbild,” Museum<br />

Tinguely, Basel, 2004<br />

“<strong>Schwitters</strong> Arp,” Kunstmuseum Basel, 2004<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> 1887—1948. O artista MERZ,”<br />

Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; Museu Oscar<br />

Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil, 2007<br />

“<strong>Merz</strong>gebiete. <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> und seine Freunde/<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> en de avant-garde,” Sprengel Museum<br />

Hannover, 2006; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen,<br />

Rotterdam, 2007<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Norway,” Henie Onstad Kunstsenter,<br />

Høvikodden, Oslo, 2009<br />

Selected Bibliography and Solo Exhibitions first published in<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>: Color and Collage, edited by Isabel Schulz<br />

(Houston: Menil Collection, 2010).<br />

© 2010 Menil Foundation, Inc., Houston, reprinted with<br />

permission.<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> in Nederland. <strong>Merz</strong>, De Stijl + Holland<br />

Dada,” Stadsgalerij Heerlen, The Netherlands, 1997<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Eine Retrospektive/<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Ich<br />

ist Stil/l Is Style/Ik is stijl,” Museum der bildenden Künste<br />

Leipzig, Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2000<br />

“Aller Anfang ist <strong>Merz</strong>. Von <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong> bis<br />

heute,” Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hanover, 2000;<br />

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Haus<br />

der Kunst, Munich, 2001<br />

“<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>. Collages, dipinti e sculture 1914—<br />

1947,” Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, 2001<br />

“<strong>Schwitters</strong>,” Kunstforum Wien, Vienna, 2002<br />



June 12 - September 30, <strong>2016</strong><br />

Photo credits<br />

As stated in the corresponding photo caption<br />

All works by <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, El Lissitzky, Ad Reinhardt, Louise Nevelson,<br />

Lyonel Feininger © <strong>2016</strong>, ProLitteris, Zurich<br />

Editors<br />

Krystyna Gmurzynska<br />

Mathias Rastorfer<br />

Research and Coordination<br />

Lisi Linster, Melanie Pfeiffer<br />

Design Coordination<br />

Verena Andric<br />

Following Texts:<br />

<strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, MERZ; i (a manifesto); Anna Blossom has wheels and Werner Schmalenbach, <strong>Kurt</strong><br />

<strong>Schwitters</strong> previously published in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Galerie Gmurzynska, Grand Palais, Paris 1980<br />

Ernst <strong>Schwitters</strong>, <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, as writer, poet and lecturer previously published in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>,<br />

Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne 1978<br />

Some documentary images were previously published in <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne<br />

1978 and <strong>Kurt</strong> <strong>Schwitters</strong>, Galerie Gmurzynska, Grand Palais, Paris 1980<br />

Translators<br />

(amongst others)<br />

Michael Eldred<br />

Simone Kaiser<br />

Maria Schneeweiss<br />

Designed and printed by<br />

Grafiche Step, Parma, Italy<br />

ISBN<br />

3-905792-33-8<br />

978-3-905792-33-1<br />

Publication © Galerie Gmurzynska <strong>2016</strong><br />

galerie gmurzynska zurich<br />

Paradeplatz 2 · 8001 Zurich · Switzerland<br />

Phone +41 (44) 226 70 70 · Fax +41 (44) 226 70 90<br />

www.gmurzynska.com · galerie@gmurzynska.com<br />

galerie gmurzynska st. moritz<br />

Via Serlas 22 · 7500 St. Moritz · Switzerland<br />

Phone +41 (81) 833 36 51 · Fax +41 (81) 833 36 58<br />

www.gmurzynska.com · galerie@gmurzynska.com<br />

galerie gmurzynska zug<br />

Vorstadt 14 · 6300 Zug · Switzerland<br />

Phone +41 (41) 710 25 02 · Fax +41 (41) 710 26 75<br />

www.gmurzynska.com · galerie@gmurzynska.com<br />



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