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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.



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.

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KURT

SCHWIT

TERS

EXIBITION DESIGN BY

ZAHA HADDID

CABARET VOLTAIRE MERZ

EXHIBITION DESIGN BY

ZAHA HADID

ZURICH

GALERIE GMURZYNSKA


KURT

SCHWITTERS

Volume I


KURT

SCHWIT

TERS

galerie gmurzynska

20th century masters since 1965

w w w · g m u r z y n s k a · c o m


Kurt Schwitters. MERZ

June 12th to September 30th 2016

Exhibition architecture by

Zaha Hadid

In collaboration with

Cabaret Voltaire,

Adrian Notz

Celebrating 100 years of

Dada Zurich

Presented at the original location

of the first DADA exhibition


“In part spurred by Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm, [Jasper] Johns

made a point of studying Schwitters’s work in the collection of

the Museum of Modern Art. In many ways, Johns suggested,

Schwitters was the first Dada figure to have significant impact

on his thinking, preceding even Duchamp.”

Leah Dickerman, the MoMA Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture, („Schwitters Fec.,” in

Isabel Schulz (ed.), Kurt Schwitters. Color and Collage, The Menil Collection, Yale University Press, New

Haven and London 2010, p. 88.

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

by Kurt Schwitters. Galerie Gmurzynska’s continued fascination with Schwitters dates

back 45 years, when in 1971 Antonina Gmurzynska organized her first in depth survey of

the German Avant-Garde, featuring an impressive selection of Schwitters’ works. Over

the years the relationship with Kurt Schwitters’ son, Ernst Schwitters, became a close

friendship and large-scale one-man exhibitions of Kurt Schwitters’ oeuvre would follow

throughout the history of the gallery up to this date. A particular highlight was the 1980

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

substantial retrospective by the artist had been shown in France.

With Kurt Schwitters MERZ we sought to expand this history and transport it to the

21 st century. This major retrospective exhibition brings together a unique selection of

seventy works across all media; including key works of each period, many of which have

been especially loaned from significant collections.

Presented in a fully transformed gallery space designed by the late Pritzker Price winning

architect Zaha Hadid, this collaboration resulted from the idea of an architectural homage

by Zaha Hadid to the famous ‘Merzbau’ of Kurt Schwitters.

With Galerie Gmurzynska’s unique Zurich location in the same building complex where

100 years ago the first DADA exhibition took place, celebrating this centennial, the

retrospective is realized in curatorial collaboration with the Cabaret Voltaire, where the

DADA movement originated in 1916.

An exhibition of this scale owes its existence to many individuals and institutions. We

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

retrospective.


The project was only made possible by an extraordinary partnership with late Zaha Hadid

and Zaha Hadid Architects, who have allowed us to reimagine the legendary ‘Merzbau’

Gesamtkunstwerk as part of this retrospective timely presented for the Dada centennial

in Zurich. We are therefore deeply thankful to Patrik Schumacher, the visionary torch

bearer of Zaha Hadid Architects, Maha Kutay, Woody Yao, Melodie Leung and Filipa

Gomes to name but a few.

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

created texts exclusively for this publication, acting as true collaborators in delineating new

approaches to see Schwitters’ multifaceted oeuvre and revealing his great importance

spanning an inexhaustible array of genres and media. We extend special thanks to

Norman Rosenthal, Flavin Judd, Adrian Notz of Cabaret Voltaire, Prof. Dr. Sigfried Gohr,

Dr. Jonathan Fineberg and Dr. Karin Orchard.

We are extremely grateful to Damien Hirst for his exclusively insightful interview

underlining the absolute importance of Kurt Schwitters as a game changer of 20 th century

art and his enduring influence on all contemporary art today.

For her relentless help and all the supportive information about the connections of

Malevich and Schwitters we are very grateful to Jewgenija Petrova, Deputy Director of

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

Orchard and Dr. Isabel Schulz, Sprengel Museum Hannover, for their continuous help

with all the comprehensive and extremely important research facilitating the overarching

number of image requests.

In their essential assistance for the catalog providing saliently scarce documents and

images our greatest debt must be to Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung, Hanover;

Bauhaus-Archiv Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin; Graphische Sammlung der ETH Zürich;

Tate, London; Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript

Library, New Haven; RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis, Den Haag;

Historic England Archive, Swinden; National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh; Hammer

Museum, Los Angeles and the Menil Foundation, Houston.

We are also extremely grateful to all the private and institutional lenders, without their

support this exhibition would not have been possible.

Krystyna Gmurzynska & Mathias Rastorfer


SUMMARY

10 MERZ (Extract from “ARARAT” December 19, 1920)

Kurt Schwitters

14 i (A Manifesto), Sturm, Vol. 13, No. 5, 1922

Kurt Schwitters

16 Anna Blossom has Wheels

Kurt Schwitters (1942)

18 Kurt Schwitters photo album

32 Kurt Schwitters, as writer, poet and lecturer

Ernst Schwitters (1958)

40 Kurt Schwitters

Werner Schmalenbach (1980)

46 Introduction to the life and work of Kurt Schwitters

Siegfried Gohr (2016)

56 The consequence of Dada: MERZ

Adrian Notz (2016)

76 Schwitters: Tending the Enchanted Garden

Jonathan Fineberg (2016)

88 Kurt Schwitters: A genius in friendship

Siegfried Gohr (2016)

100 Kurt Schwitters: Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

110 Kurt Schwitters & Kazimir Malevich

120 The Eloquence of Waste

Kurt Schwitters’ work and its reception in America

Karin Orchard (2000)

138 How to look on Modern Art in America

Ad Reinhardt (1961)

140 Kurt Schwitters: I urgently recommend that everybody

buy their Christmas presents now

Norman Rosenthal (2016)

148 Norman Rosenthal in conversation with Damien Hirst (2016)

154 Double Bladed Axe

Flavin Judd (2016)

159 Chronology

167 Selected Bibliography

173 Solo Exhibitions


MERZ

(EXTRACT FROM “ARARAT” DECEMBER 19, 1920)

Kurt Schwitters

10


One could make up a catechism of means of expression, were it not pointless, as pointless as

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

distinct meaning. Every combination of lines, colours and shapes expresses a distinct meaning.

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

cannot render the meaning of a picture in words, just as one cannot paint the meaning of a word,

the word ‘and’, for example.

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

Every attempt to depict natural forms detracts from the power of consistency in working out the

expression. I rejected any reproduction of natural forms and painted only using pictorial forms.

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

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

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

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

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

on which I draw, I do not know for what purpose.

The material is as unimportant as I am. What matters is the shaping of it. Because the material

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

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

juxtaposing colour with colour, line with line, form against form etc. I can also match material

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

artistic creation “Merz”.

The word “Merz” had no meaning when I invented it. Now it has the meaning I have given it. The

meaning of the term “Merz” changes with the changing consciousness of those who continue to

work within the meaning of the term.

Merz demands freedom from any restriction for the process of artistic creation. Freedom is not

unbridled licence, but the outcome of a strict artistic discipline. Merz also implies tolerance

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

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

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

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

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

are letters, syllables, words, sentences. Evaluation of these ingredients against one another creates

poetry. The sense is only important where it is evaluated as one more factor.

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

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

11


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

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

only Core Dadaists, the Shell-Dadaists under their leader Huelsenbeck shelled themselves off

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

accompaniment of loud howling, singing of the Marseillaise, and the dispensing of kicks by the

elbows, a tactic Huelsenbeck employs to this day. Dadaism under Huelsenbeck became a political

affair. The well-known Manifesto of the Dadaist Revolutionary Central Committee of Germany

demands the introduction of extreme Communism as a Dadaist requirement. Huelsenbeck in his

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

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

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

flogging.” In the introduction to the recently published Dada Almanac Huelsenbeck writes: “Dada

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

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

I must just mention that such views are foreign to Merz. On principle Merz works for art alone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

as art itself. Merz, too, aspires to art and is against kitsch, even deliberate kitsch on principle,

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

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

vigorously rejects the inconsequential and dilettantish views on art of Herr Richard Huelsenbeck,

while giving official recognition to the above-mentioned views of Tristan Tzara.

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

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

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

Drawings on the same cover show a windmill, a head, a locomotive going backwards, and a man

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

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

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

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

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

I have sculpted as long as I have painted. At present l am doing Merz sculptures: a fun gallows

and a cult pump. Merz sculptures, like Merz pictures, are assembled out of a variety of materials.

They are intended as all-round sculptures and be viewed from any angle.

12


Merz House was my first piece of Merz architecture. Spengemann writes about it in Zweeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have stuck together paintings and drawings from which sentences can be read. I have nailed

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

This was done in order to blur the boundaries of the art forms.

MERZ by Kurt Schwitters

13


i

(A MANIFESTO)

Kurt Schwitters (1922)

Any child todays knows what Merz is. But what is? i is the middle vowel

of the alphabet and the sign for Merz’ grasping of artistic form, taken to

its highest degree. Merz makes use of large ready-made complexes to

form a work of art. These materials shorten the distance from intuition to

the realisation of an artistic idea, reducing loss by friction. i reduces this

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

comprehends the work of art in nature. The act of creation means here the

recognition of rhythm and expression in a part of nature. Thus there is no

loss through friction; no distractions can occur during the creative act.

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

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

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

work of art from unformed natural material than to put together according

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

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

easily found, since not every piece of nature is artistically formed. Thus i is

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

grasp that?

Der Sturm Volume 13, number 5, 1922

14


15

Kurt Schwitters (ed.), Merz 2. Nummer /i/, Merzverlag, Hanover April 1923


ANNA BLOSSOM HAS WHEELS

Kurt Schwitters (1942)

O Thou, beloved of my twenty seven senses, I love thine!

Thou thee thee thine, I thine, thou mine. – we?

That belongs (by the side) not here!

Who art Thou, uncounted woman? Thou art – art Thou –

People say, Thou werst, -

Let them say, they don’t know, how the churchtower stands.

You wearest your head on your feet and wanderst on your hands,

On thy hands wanderst Thou.

Hallo thy red dress, clashed in white folds,

Red I love Anna Blossom, red I love Thine!

Thou Thee Thee Thine, I Thine, Thou mine, – we?

That belongs (by the side) in the cold glow.

Red Blossom, red Anna Blossom, how say the people?

Price question:

1. Anna Blossom has wheels.

2. Anna Blossom is red.

3. What colours are the wheels?

Blue is the colour of thy yellow hair.

Red is the whirl of thy green wheels.

Thou simple maiden in everyday-dress,

Thou dear green animal, I love Thine!

Thou Thee Thee Thine, I Thine, Thou mine – we?

That belongs (by the side) in the glow box.

Anna Blossom, Anna, A—N—N—A

I trickle your name.

Thy name drops like soft tallow.

Does thou know it, Anna, does thou already know it?

One can also read thee from behind,

And thou, thou most glorious of all,

Thou art from the back, as from the front:

A—N—N—A

Tallow trickles to strike over my back.

Anna Blossom,

Thou drippes animal,

I – Love – Thine!

16


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Kurt Schwitters. Anna Blume. Dichtungen (Silbergäule), Paul Steegemann Verlag, Hanover 1919


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KURT SCHWITTERS

P H O T O A L B U M

Some pages from Schwitters’ family

photo album, photographed and pasted

by Kurt Schwitters

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Page from Schwitters’ family album: Kurt Schwitters reciting the Ursonate,

photographed by Ernst Schwitters

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KURT

SCHWITTERS

AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER

Ernst Schwitters (1958)

32

Kurt Schwitters,

Ernst Schwitters in Lysaker, 1937.

© bpk / Sprengel Museum Hannover /

Kurt Schwitters


Almost all the pioneers of modern art of the

late, nineteen tens, the ‘Great Twenties’, and

the early thirties tried to achieve ‘Universal

Art’. Few only reached such a degree of

versatility as did Kurt Schwitters.

Born June 20th, 1887 in Hannover,

Germany, in the ‘Golden Age’ of business

and bourgeoisie, Kurt Schwitters had a

conventional background and upbringing.

At high school he was a brilliant pupil,

particularly in mathematics! In drawing —

art appreciation did not, as yet, exist in school

terminology — he was not above normal but

he had already made up his mind.

After his matriculation in 1908 he attended

the Arts and Craft School at Hannover for

a year, then studied at the Academy of Art

in Dresden from 1909—1914, with one

intermediate guest-year at the Academy of

Berlin.

His studies were interrupted by World

War One, and — in his own words —

he “gallantly fought on all fronts of the

Waterloo Place”, Hannover’s exercising

ground. He succeeded in making so much

of a fool of himself and everybody else, that,

to the “military mind”, he seemed mildly

“touched”, and was, henceforth, released

from military duty. Instead he was drafted to

draw machines till the end of the war.

Kurt Schwitters hated the war and the false

ideals it fought for. When peace, at last,

came, the revolutionary search for a better

future, for truer ideals, for a strong, functional

culture inspired him immensely, and from the

very start he was in the forefront of cultural

development.

In 1918 he rounded off his interrupted

studies in painting and drawing by a year

of architectural studies at the Technical High

School at Hannover. “How”, he said, “I will

have to ‘unlearn’ and start working!”

Already in 1917 his first abstract pictures

had been painted. 1918 saw the birth of his

later so famous technique of collage, which

he called “MERZ” (and, incidentally, of my

own self.—)

MERZ-collages were stuck, nailed, in

fact built of a large variety of hitherto —

for purposes of creating art — unlikely

bits of refuse, used as splotches of colours,

movement, form, in completely abstract

compositions. “Nothing is too Iowly to be

used as factors in a composition, in fact, age

and signs of wear induce their own patina

of beauty.”

I believe, it is true to say, that my father

saw the great beauty of weariness, tiredness,

ruin, which surrounded him everywhere

after the war, and of the inherent qualities

of these characteristics, to rebuild a better,

sounder more honest culture. Beyond this, no

“symbolism” should be read into his work as

a painter. He created for the sake of beauty.

He made pure compositions.

However, a parallel developed in his

writing, and, particularly during the first,

dadaistic period, there was a great similarity,

as far as concerns the use of apparently and

conventionally useless bits of ‘rubbish’: bits

of advertising, proverbs etc., sentences, cut

into nonsense, all recombined into a new

composition. But — in this dadaistic writing,

there definitely was a deeper meaning,

however ‘nonsensical’ it appeares at first

sight.

As much of it is bound to geographical

localities and to its particular time, it is

33


KURT SCHWITTERS AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER · by Ernst Schwitters

34

sometimes difficult for ‘outsiders’ to read

sense into the apparent nonsense. But the

general aim of my father’s early dadaistic

writing is, to utterly destruct, by ridiculing

and by subtle sarcasm, the false and hollow

sentiment of decadent bourgeois culture,

thus ‘plowing the ground’, as it were, for the

seeds of a sounder culture. To achieve this,

Kurt Schwitters often used the very same false

sentiments of bourgeoisie, but so interspersed

with hilarious nonsense, that the hollowness

was clearly exposed. Yet, the average

bourgeois was so foxed by this method, that

he simply declared Kurt Schwitters “mad”!

— A wealth of this writing exists. It was

published as books by the Hannovarian

publisher Paul Stegemann, and appeared

in the avantgardistic magazine Der Sturm,

Berlin, as well as in a great variety of similar

cultural magazines throughout Europe, and,

finally, in Kurt Schwitters’ own magazine

MERZ, all in those ‘revolutionary’ years

1918 to approximately 1923.

The poem An Anna Blume (To Eve

Blossom) can safely be said to having

been the most successful and, to date, most

well-known work of this period of Kurt

Schwitters’ literary work. It was the highlight

of my father’s traditional ‘MERZ-evenings’

— lecture- and recital-evenings — at his

home in Hannover, regularly attended by

Hannover’s ‘intelligencia’, and by artists

and art-interested people from all over the

world. Eventually, in 1927, the Süddeutscher

Rundfunk (the southern German Broadcasting

Co.) had my father recite this poem and

his equally famous Sonate in Urlauten in

Frankfurt a/M, and recordings were made

simultaneously. 1

The original recording by my

father, recorded here, starts off the present

l/p record.

An Anna Blume is a conventional

bourgeois love declaration, of course, so

subtly is this done, that it simply exposes

the hollowness, and forces us smile at

our own futility.

During these turbulent years of cultural

development Kurt Schwitters came into

contact with, and eventually collaborated

closely with many of the leading Dadaists as

Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, Theo van Doesburg,

Raoul Hausmann and others. When a section

of the Dadaists, with Richard Huelsenbeck

in the lead, took a pro-communist political

turn, Kurt Schwitters called a definite stop. In

the famous Manifest Proletkunst (Manifesto

Proletarian Art), signed by Arp, my father,

Cristoph Spengemann and Tzara, these

leading Dadaists clearly state, that art

cannot, by definition, be political.

“If a politician creates art, he is not a

politician any more, but an artist, without

relation to any particular ‘class’. Art is not

created for or by any particular ‘class’. It is

above such matters of moment.” Conversely:

if art has a political tendency, it is not art

any more, but political propaganda! How

the lurid, clear logic of this manifest must

have shocked all those good people, who felt

so secure in their belief, that the Dadaists,

and with them Kurt Schwitters, simply were

“madmen”! And how it shocked into violent

aggressiveness those Dadaists of the time,

who were unable to separate Socialism from

the honest search for a new culture and

cutural expression! —

But the time had come, to end subtle

destruction, and to rebuild instead. In a more


‘constructivist’ period, which, also in Kurt

Schwitters’ collages, painting and sculptures,

extends from about 1923 to about 1928,

he slowly, but with great consequence and

concentration, builds up a totally abstract

‘sound-poem’, the famous Sonate in Urlauten

(Sonate in Primeval Sounds), the second

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

1921, when, during a lecture tour to Prague,

Kurt Schwitters, for the first time, heard

Raoul Hausmann’s sound-poem fmsbw. He

immediately recognized the potentialities of

this new form of expression, and he recited it

constantly, during his lectures, as “A portrait

of Raoul Hausmann”.

Over the years the Sonata grew, both in

volume and variation, until it had little or no

resemblance to Raoul Hausmann’s original

poem. It was no more a poem, in fact, but

music — spoken by mouth! The original

fmsbw had long since become “fümms

böwötää zääuu — rögiff — kwiiee!”, and

was merely part of one of the many themes

of the Sonata, now. My father’s lively interest

in music helped him a lot, here.

I shall never forget those many ‘MERZevenings’,

where, as a four-, five-, six-yearold,

I used to have my regular place in the

centre of the front-row of seats, directly

opposite my father, marvelling openmouthed

at him. —

It was during these evenings, that the

Sonata grew. It never was read off a

manuscript, although, in its various stages of

development, it had been published in artmagazines

everywhere. But my father knew

it by heart, and preferred to improvise the

recital, as this gave him the chance to develop

it continuously. Thus a great many people

became witnesses of the slow development

of this unique piece of — shall we say —

‘music’ and/ or abstract poetry.

Kurt Schwitters had realised all along,

that a phonetic way of noting down the

Sonata was essential, if it should not die

with him. Ordinary notes, as used for music,

would not do here. With each successive

publication he improved on the form of

notation, and finally, in 1932, the Sonate in

Urlauten was published as his last number of

the MERZ magazine, no. 24. But, although

this is undoubtedly the most phonetic way

of notation to date, it is virtually impossible

to recite it correctly, simply by reading it. A

prime necessity is, that one has heard Kurt

Schwitters recite it as often as possible.

This is the reason why, ‘under pressure

from all sides’, I have finally agreed to try

to recite it as best I can. I am fully aware,

that my recital can, in no way, be compared

with my father’s. But then, I am only reciting,

not creating. I must not improvise! Moreover,

I have a different voice, particularly in

volume! Even though, as a lecturer, l am

quite used to speak concise, and to ‘cover’ a

large audience.

But you try to do it better! — There is, at

least, one point I have in favour of all others:

I have got the Sonate in Urlauten — so to

say — with my ‘mother’s milk’. I have heard

it at least 200—300 times! I have closely

followed it’s development. I have immensely

admired it, as I have admired my father. I

believe, I shall never forget the intonation

and pronunciation of it, as I also would never

be able to forget, how to walk! Anyhow, it is

the best I can do. —

Concurrent with the development of the

35


KURT SCHWITTERS AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER · by Ernst Schwitters

36


Sonata and after the Dadaists period, Kurt

Schwitters wrote numerous poems of a style,

slightly reminiscent of Morgenstern: rhythmic,

humorous, and sometimes ironical, but always

understanding, positive, friendly. Also his

well-known ‘Grotesques’ developed in these

years: 1923—1933. Some were humorous,

some outright sarcastic, particularly when

they criticised certain unhealthy aspects of

contemporary life and thinking, like militarism,

hero-worship, etc.

A very typical side of his literary work during

this time were his dialectic grotesques. They

usually developed out of some mild irritation

over a very talkative person. The most wellknown

ones are undoubtedly Der Schirm (The

umbrella), Schacko (The name of a pet parrot),

Main näiääs Hutt (My new hat, Hungarian-

German accent. The ‘original’ is Prof. Breuer

of the Bauhaus, a friend of my father’s), Die

Amerikanerin (The American Lady) and the

hilarious Kleines Gedicht für große Stotterer

(A little poem for great stutterers).There is

one thing in common with all these works,

as also with the poems and the Sonata: they

developed slowly, improvised, as they were,

during Kurt Schwitters’ MERZ lectures, and are

very dependant on a correct, but very specific

intonation and pronounciation. Usually,

they were first written down after years of

improvised recitation, when my father felt sure

of the final form. Some were, unfortunately

never written down at all, and only an all too

vague memory of them remains in my ears.

The problem of a phonetic way of noting

down the intonation and pronunciation of

my father’s literary work has baffled him

throughout his life, and, finding no solution,

many later works have, unfortunately, never

appeared in print at all. Fortunately, they exist

as manuscripts in his hand, and, I believe,

l am still able to recite them as close to the

original as is humanly possible. Eventually,

they have to be recorded, at least on tape.

1933 and the advent of Hitler almost

brought the end of Kurt Schwitters’ litterary

work. He could, of course, not any more

publicize anything in Germany. In 1934 his

many earlier, published works were amongst

those, destroyed during the Autodafee. In

January 1937 he finally fled from Germany

and lived and worked in his home in Lysaker,

near Oslo, Norway. But, although he had

lived in Norway for longer and longer

periods every year, since he first visited that

beautiful country in 1929, he never learned

Norwegian so fluently as to be able to write

in Norwegian. Only very few Norwegian

poems exist in manuscript, one of them —

Vamos — (the name of a dog) a wonderful

sound-poem, even for those who do not

understand Norwegian, although the content

of the poem, too, is very touching.

Then the Nazis invaded Norway, too, on

April 9th 1940, and we both left the country

for England. My father spoke English since

his high school days, but, to write poetry or

even prose in a ‘learned’ language is quite a

different thing to speaking it, even relatively

fluently. However, he did write a number of

English poems, which appear concurrently in

a little booklet: published by my authority by

the Gaber Bochus Press.

37

Ernst Schwitters, Photograph of Kurt Schwitters in a boat at the foot of a glacier, 1935

© Tate, London 2015


KURT SCHWITTERS AS WRITER, POET AND LECTURER · by Ernst Schwitters

38


Ernst Schwitters,

Photograph of Kurt Schwitters

painting near Djupvassjytta,

Norway, 1933

© Tate, London 2015

39


WERNER SCHMALENBACH

KURT

S C H W I T T E R S

(1980)

!

40

When Kurt Schwitters died in exile in England early in1948, there were few in

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

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

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

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

People mainly recalled the former enfant terrible, the many turbulent scenes and highspirited

escapades with which this man had alarmed good citizens of his birthplace.

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

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

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 Schwitters Exhibition held in the spring

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

Schwitters himself, and thereafter shown in the public galleries of Amsterdam, Brussels

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

away in unopened cases somewhere near Oslo ever since Schwitters’ emigration, for the

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

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

time, but never regarded as an outstanding figure of modern art. Now Schwitters’ name

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

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

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

considerable artists of his time.

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

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

reaction against Abstract Expressionism – with such artists as Robert Rauschenberg

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

called itself “Nouveau Réalisme” and also harked back to Dada. Everywhere collage

and montage were making a comeback, scrap materials were invading the art scene; it

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

Abstract Expressonists, but the choice and juxtaposition of all possible and impossible

everyday objects and waste materials; and new – old – names were appearing in the

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

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

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

Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters.

Duchamp and Schwitters: without those two, both of whom had stopped working

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

1950 could be written.

It was mainly the early, Dada-orientated Schwitters who influenced and entranced the

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

collages of the Twenties – MERZ pictures, as Schwitters called them – with their decayed

ingredients, their flaunted disorder and their secret order, and their expressive intensity,

which was decidedly left over from the Expressionism which Schwitters had briefly breezed

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

their brilliant play between wilfulness and will, accident and law, form and its dissolution.

With all this Schwitters entered deeply into the consciousness of contemporary artists. Any

mention of Schwitters usually referred to this early ‘classical’ phase of his work.

41!


KURT S C H W I T T E R S · by Werner Schmalenbach

!

42

El Lissitzky, Kurt Schwitters, 1924

Gelatin silver printphotograph, 11.43 x 10.16cm

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


As the world changed, as the way of looking changed, so did the view of Schwitters

work – or rather, it expanded. Increasingly Schwitters’ contribution to the Constructivist

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

contribution was only valid where it was not a question of pure Constructivism or strictly

geometric art, in other words, where Schwitters could remain himself. To this scintillating,

vividly alive, essentially unorthodox and above all humorous spirit the dogma of the

right angle must have seemed a starvation diet. Schwitters did enter into the Geometric

Abstractions and Constructivism of his Friends – van Doesburg, Lissitzky, Moholy-

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

transmuted these into something completely different: montages rather than constructions,

assemblages of raw materials rather than artefacts; a few pieces of driftwood found on the

North Sea shore rather than clean units of construction. The constructive had to embrace

the elements of destruction, decay and accident, nor did Schwitters think it sacrilege to

deviate from the right angle. Thus there were controversial elements, where others clung

to dogma: intuition instead of planned construction, invention rather than gospel. Yet

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

Constructivist trends were surfacing everywhere during the Sixties, naturally enough in

this context, too, Schwitters’ name was retrospectively established.

But what about the later

Schwitters? The one who

gradually grew away from his

homeland, who ultimately,

after spending several months

of every year in Norway, never

returned to Hitler’s Germany

again, but lived out the last few

years of his life - 1940—1948 –

as best he could in England,

cut off both in space and

time from that international

avant-garde with which he

had once felt so completely

at home. This late work, like

the late works of many artists,

tended to be dismissed with a

shrug. The collages might be

accepted, but hardly the larger

works, of which he did many

Ernst Schwitters, Unsere Insel (Island of Hjertøya where

Kurt and Ernst Schwitters lived), undated

43!


KURT S C H W I T T E R S · by Werner Schmalenbach

in England. People deplored that the collages were colourful, less witty, less pointed,

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

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

article felt very much the same when arranging the Schwitters Retrospective in Hanover

in 1956, and when writing the long monograph on the artist which was published in

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

of equal importance to the earlier.

!

44

Once again this change of opinion coincided with a general change in visual focus,

presumably influenced by new developments in the field of contemporary art. A new

movement was emerging, which, whatever view one might take of it, imperceptibly

modified and transformed vision. Heralded by artistic events of the Fifties – in that

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

movement developed which has been termed ‘Arte povera’. Schwitters’ work, with its

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

applies more specifically to the late works. There the poverty-stricken materials are

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

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

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

the purpose of these works to give the spectator aesthetic pleasure. The works have lost

their musical quality, certainly, but they seem to have gained in humanity. Casualness,

shabbiness, insignificance: all these mark the late works even more than the earlier,

since the qualities are no longer displayed as an amusing stylistic invention, but as the

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

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

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

attitude. This foreshortening of the distance between art and life, which became so

prevalent in the Sixties and Seventies, probably contributed as much as the rise of ‘Arte

povera’ to the rediscovery and revaluation of the later Schwitters. The early works, with

their great artistic confidence and their seductive charm, were now confronted by the

late work, with its decrepitude, its melancholy, a self-confidence no longer unshaken.

There might still be outrageous new departures and daring innovations, but they were

not supported by the general trend of the time or the former fruitful companionship of

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

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

climate of opinion could this work make its full effect: today!

Schwitters, when he first made his mark immediately after the First World War,

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


45!

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

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

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

form alone.

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

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

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

The tenor of his art became one of resignation, the drive of inspiration more laboured.

The pictures, the assemblages, the collages grew more sombre, and, perhaps because of

his own suffering, more humanly touching. Even the large MERZ pictures of the early

Twenties had already been essentially serious: there was a lifelong constant of seriousness

in Schwitters’ art. Conversely, the constant element of playfulness persisted, in spite of

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

play until Death comes for us.”

Schwitters’ art until around 1930 was

in the highest degree a contemporary, and

contemporarily aware, art. It was supremely

up-to-date, both in its Dadaist and then in

its (more or less) Constructivist phase. Such

contemporary relevance in youth may be

essential to, but can never be a guarantee

of, survival. In this appreciation, written

more than 30 years after Schwitters’ death,

the survival, the posthumous influence

of Schwitters’ work, has been linked

with ‘contemporary’ trends: with Neo-

Dadaism, Neo-Constructivism and Arte

povera. Beyond its works in its own time,

it has once more been linked with an era.

However, it is important to recognise that

Kurt Schwitters was one of those artists

who transcend historical interest and

survive beyond their own time through

sheer intrinsic quality.

Dr Elmer Belt,

Photograph of Kurt Schwitters in Norway, 1939

© Tate, London 2015


t

46

INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE

AND WORK OF

KURT

SCHWITTERS

SIEGFRIED GOHR (2016)

Kurt Schwitters, Photograph of Kurt und Ernst Schwitters, ca. 1919

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


47

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INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE AND WORK OF KURT SCHWITTERS · by Siegfried Gohr

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When the Dada movement arose in Zurich, Berlin and Cologne in 1916,

Kurt Schwitters was still a member of the avant-garde. After a traditional training

in painting in Dresden he had returned to his hometown of Hanover. Within this

context his work enjoyed a certain recognition, but the First World War broke out

and, despite his epilepsy, Schwitters was conscripted in 1917 as a draughtsman.

Already during his Dresden period he had a relationship with Helma Fischer, whom

he married in 1915. In 1918 their son, Ernst, was born.


After his initial experience with modern art in Hanover, it was only through

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

with the avant-garde. There, after the war, Schwitters saw works by Marc Chagall,

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

of the young man from Hanover who painted in an idiom of expressionism, futurism

and cubism. Schwitters remained in Hanover at Waldhausenstr. 5, where his family

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

with his previous styles and began to glue and assemble collages and material

images. The first Merzbild came about, which contained the meaningless fragment

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

world war had resulted in Germany as the loser which, however, also opened up

new opportunities, because the Kaiser had fled to the Netherlands. However, the

post-war period also brought with it upheaval, revolution, violence and insecurity

in every respect. Schwitters felt the situation for himself as liberating. The war’s end

coincided with the discovery of his own path. He flung himself into activities of all

kinds: artist, advertising graphic artist, lecturer, poet, writer, organizer, publisher.


Whereas after the First World War, Dada artists moved toward Surrealism,

Schwitters remained true to his own Merz cosmos. “Merz and Dada are related

to each other through opposition,” he wrote. Nevertheless he was constantly put

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

other group of artists. He had a particular dislike for the politically oriented Berlin

Dadaism under the self-proclaimed leadership of Richard Huelsenbeck. Despite the

differences, it nevertheless remains sensible to locate Schwitters’ art in a proximity

to Dada. His personality had a structure suiting Dada before he was able to get to

know Dada at all; he was a Dadaist by nature.


To establish his artistic cosmos, Schwitters employed two innovations that had

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


49

t

Kurt Schwitters,

Hanover 1927

the material image. What came about through his hands, however, was far removed

from Parisian works because Schwitters’ preferred material was waste consisting

of scraps of paper that he collected somewhere or other, and bits of objects he

found. He carefully cleaned both, preserving the material in his sheer inexhaustible

store until the right opportunity came along. Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, among

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

came from the world of the café. Newspaper headlines, names of drinks, concert

announcements and similar crop up, that is, fragments from the close milieu of Parisian

bohemian life. Particularly Picasso found many a witty constellation, e.g. allusions

to the fairer sex with double entendre, but political, social or historical elements are

lacking. The cubists remained strongly committed to their abstract, stylistic research.

By comparison, Schwitters’ collages possess a downright realistic character. The

natural Dadaist element resided in Schwitters’ method of combining everything with

everything, of admitting and balancing opposites. Something banal could become

the most significant element, and conversely. Merz took in each and every thing,

ultimately, perhaps the entire world. What found its way into his compositions was

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

composition. Merz was a ferment that could permeate anything at all: advertising,

the theatrical stage, a fantastic architecture such as the Merzbau, or literature.


In 1919 the publishing house of Paul Steegemann in Hanover published Anna

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


INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE AND WORK OF KURT SCHWITTERS · by Siegfried Gohr

t

50

to the artist, the poet and man of letters, Schwitters, stepped onto the public stage.

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

hostile and deprecatory reactions to his art, Schwitters did not allow himself to be

deterred, insisting on his Merz method, apparently unshaken. During the 1920s,

despite all resistance, he became well-known and admired, but was also ridiculed and

insulted. The acme of his activities was the ‘Dada campaign’ through the Netherlands

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

He published literary works such as Auguste Bolte elsewhere. A total of 21 Merz

periodicals appeared in his publishing house between 1923 and 1932, when the

Ursonate appeared in Jan Tschichold’s typography. Schwitters earned his living also as

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

settlement in Karlsruhe. These works show the temporary influence of Dutch

and Russian constructivism. In the Netherlands in 1917, the association of artists,

De Stijl, had been founded under the theoretical leadership of Theo van Doesburg.

During the 1920s, Schwitters sought contact. Schwitters approached the austere,

sparing art of the Dutch, which comprised also architecture and everyday design. Of

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

his ‘constructivism’ remains individual, and he always holds in store surprising turns

and details. Apart from that, Schwitters combined colours very idiosyncratically, far

removed from colleagues such as Piet Mondrian or Bart van der Leck. Apart from

trips, lectures, correspondence, contacts, there remained in the background as a

constant his work on the Merzbau, whose initial traces lead back to the year 1923;

a ‘column’ had arisen. Ultimately, the architecture, the grottoes, the concentrations

of material proliferated throughout the house at Waldhausenstr. 5 so that in the end,

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

1943, the building, including the Merzbau, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb.

Three further Merzbau which Schwitters erected during exile in Norway and Britain

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

tragically, apart from a few fragments, nothing has remained.


Although Schwitters had had several stays in Norway starting in 1929, he did

not consider emigrating. However, when he received news in 1939 that the Gestapo

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

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

the compulsory measures taken against modern artists and their works reached

their crescendo with the project, Degenerate Art, which resulted in the defamatory

Kurt Merz Schwitters, Auguste Bolte, Verlag Der Sturm, Berlin 1923


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INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE AND WORK OF KURT SCHWITTERS · by Siegfried Gohr

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52

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

that subsequently toured throughout Germany. Schwitters soon became aware that

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

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

of his earlier activities, such as the Netherlands and Switzerland, offered scarcely any

opportunities for having any resonance for his work. Helma Schwitters remained in

Hanover, looking after the house. What had caused consternation among visitors to

his exhibition in Hildesheim already in 1922 — namely, that Schwitters was working

simultaneously both realistically and on Merz — became a vital necessity for him in

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

to tourists in Norway, however, with only moderate success. Realistic work represents

a significant portion of his entire oeuvre which raises it above the status of mere

bread-and-butter work. Orientation in Norway, of course, was difficult, and even

a continuation of his artistic path was unclear. Collages came about continually; in

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

of colour and flowing forms, but also nourished by recollections of his constructivist

works after 1923. However, he returned to the material image into which organic

found pieces such as algae, mussels, bark, etc. increasingly found their way.


Schwitters incorporated everything into his work that defined his life-world.

Although he had nothing to do with traditional historical painting, the history of his

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

Kurt Schwitters,

Norway 1933

advertising, place names, wood, plaster, metal, wheels, bits of nature, and a lot more

besides. His Merz periodicals as well were a mirror of the artistic strivings during the

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


53

look down upon the apparent nonsense in his works and poems; it reflects the errings

and confusions of an entire period. The collision of work and reality, however, does

not end negatively, but in a very idiosyncratic, new interpretation of what art could

still be at all under the given historical conditions.

t


For three years he lived with constant worries about a work permit and

livelihood. After the German army invaded, he had to flee, which he succeeded in

doing in dramatic circumstances, to Scotland. He boarded the last ship to depart

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

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

once again in exile in a foreign country. Just as little as in Norway were there

any prospects of artistic success and recognition. Initially Schwitters remained in

London where, as previously, he continued to collect the discarded remainders of

civilization, ‘deformulating’ them and transforming them into Merz art. His works no

longer had the constructivist background as in the 1920s, or the affinity to nature as

in Norway. He increasingly selected a large urban iconography. Over everything,

Kurt Schwitters

(looking at a

daisy?), undated

© Tate, London

2015


INTRODUCTION TO THE LIFE AND WORK OF KURT SCHWITTERS · by Siegfried Gohr

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54

however, hung anxiety about the war and the aerial attacks. Schwitters therefore

moved to the Lake District where nature received him hospitably. Landscapes and

floral pieces came about besides portraits, collages and material images. Here his

almost romantic inclination toward nature became apparent which hitherto had not

played any decisive role in his oeuvre.


The only exhibition that took place in Britain during his lifetime was in 1944.

It included more than 30 new works and, despite an essay by Herbert Read, an

important art historian and critic, there was no sustained resonance. Schwitters the

artist practically had ceased to exist in the public arena since the 1930s. In the

United States there were individual attempts to arouse interest which, however, only

bore fruit after the war. Although his health worsened progressively due to cardiac

asthma, a stroke and eyesight problems that severely impaired his life, Schwitters

created new works. Particularly touching are those works in which autobiographical

motifs are legible. A collage from 1947 bears the title, A Finished Poet. Although the

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

parallel to Schwitters is obvious. Shelley, too, was forced by English society to leave

the country. He died in Italy. Despite all the demonstrative persistence, Schwitters was

all too aware of his tragic situation. There were phases of despair and depression;

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

continually recurred. Happily, with Edith Thomas, whom he called Wantee, in 1941

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

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

the telegram in 1944 with news that Helma had died of cancer, Schwitters’ past in

Hanover disappeared once and for all.


The generation of artists who were reorienting

themselves since the late 1950s took up very

different impulses from Schwitters’ oeuvre, for

post-war abstraction had exhausted itself, and the

gesture of the artist who captured psychic and

physical energies on the canvas had rigidified. The

rediscovery of Dada gained stimuli mainly from New

York where the artist, Robert Motherwell, edited an

anthology in 1951, The Dada Painters and Poets.

Kurt Schwitters, 1940s


55

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Ernst Schwitters,

Kurt Schwitters,

Norway 1933


The book’s fourth chapter is devoted to SchwittersMerz art. On the one hand,

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

relationship between the art work and reality changed not only via this path. The art

was to be short-circuited with the world, an aim which Schwitters had anticipated

with his comprehensive Merz concept. In contrast to Marcel Duchamp, Schwitters

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

stance toward historical reality. Realism understood primarily as a stance and not

as a style — that was Kurt Schwitters’ cause. Duchamp’s search for the spirit of

art, his irony, his periods of ‘silence’ and his dandyism were on another planet of

modern art that orbited about itself. What the young American artists were able to

take up from Schwitters was not limited to collage technique, for it had been used by

many predecessors. What counted was the relation to the present itself in works that

were apparently eccentric. Schwitters had employed advertising and public-domain

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

what seemed suitable to him. Even then he was a realist when he was not painting

realistically, for which reason the apparent contradiction in the blocks of works is

ameliorated. Not the technique, but the attitude was the message.


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

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


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The consequence of DADA:

To Anna Blume

MERZ

Adrian Notz (2016)

Merz theory:

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Use of all kind of material for artistic work

Playing off these materials against each other

Imperative claim to autonomy for art (pure art) 1

Kurt Schwitters, Die Blume Anna. Die neue Anna Blume. Eine Gedichtsammlung aus den Jahren 1918-1922,

Der Sturm Verlag, Berlin 1923


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t

The beginning of Merz theory can be traced back to the origin of the so-called Merzbild

of 1919, a collage on which Schwitters glued, between abstract shapes, the word MERZ that

he had cut out of an advertisement of the KOMMERZ and PRIVATBANK 2 . This is where

Schwitters came upon the word Merz. At the beginning of the evolution of Merz as a theory,

though, there is a woman: Anna Blume. It

is her who stimulates Merz and in the first

Merzgedicht (Merzpoem), she stands at

the beginning of an evolution. The great

yearning and wonderfully playful, tender

declaration of love, that the “I” in An

Anna Blume (To Anna Blume) professes,

is already dissolved a few pages later in

the 8 th Merzgedicht, in an execution of

oneself. One realizes that Anna Blume

will never be reached, as she merely is

an illusion, a creation that stems from

the longing imagination of the “I”. This

realization, that a fictitious entity is able to

create a real yearning, triggers an equally

real self-dissolution, which finds its poetic

expression in the 8 th Merzgedicht with

its trivial title Die Zwiebel (The Onion):

“It was a very momentous day, the day

on which I was to be slaughtered.” 3 This

“I” is being killed and slaughtered in Die

Zwiebel, and describes all incidents as an

observer of his own slaughter, but from

a subjective point of view. It reaches a

point where the king – a princess makes

an appearance as well, she even sings

Kurt Schwitters’ workers’ song 4 – drinks

from the blood of the slaughtered, which

turns out to be corrosive to an extent as

it poisons and eventually kills him. After that, the slaughtered is being put back together, the

blood infused, the inner organs placed in his body and finally the split skull is being closed up

The consequence of DADÁ MERZ · by Adrian Notz

Kurt Schwitters, Memoiren Anna Blumes in Bleie. Eine leichtfassliche Methode zur Entfernung

des Wahnsinns für Jedermann, Walter Heinrich Verlag, Freiburg (Baden) 1922

1

MERZ 20: Kurt Schwitters catalogue, 1927

2

Ibid. p. 99

3

Die Zwiebel, ibid., p. 16

4

Cf. Ibid., p. 19, also published in Sturm Bilderbücher, IV, Kurt Schwitters, Berlin 1920, p. 4


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again, so that he can be brought back to life. The princess begs the formerly slaughtered for

help in order to bring the king back to life, but he decides the king stay dead. He kills the king

by means of his own slaughter; not only does he leave him lying dead, but he also orders that

two yellow candles be inserted in the holes in the king’s gut and that they be lit, whereupon the

king – given the corrosive blood of the slaughtered – explodes. “The people called out a rousing

hip-hip-hurray on my behalf” 5 .

Following the torn king, Schwitters continues the scent of death in Das Verwesungswesen

(The Nature of Decay) 6 and he refers to Anna Blume directly: “Trumpet climb Anna Blume

elephant.” “You. – I cannot withhold the great walk from you either” 7 . After slaughtering himself

and murdering the king, Schwitters turns towards Anna Blume and covers her with the scent

of death by pointing out that Anna Blume and Arnold Böcklin have the same initials, creating

an immediate memento mori of Arnold Böcklin. Thus, in the Merzgedicht 9, Anna Blume’s

execution is demanded 8 . Schwitters does not execute her himself, but lets her die poetically, as

“Die Hinrichtung” (The Execution) ends with: “Poor legs lower bodies. Anna Blume greens the

withering.” 9

Regicide Schwitters soars from this low point, this withered, upsetting situation, and

launches the Merzbühne (Merzstage). After the bitter loss of the love of his life and of himself,

the Merzbühne now serves as a radiant, defying Bachelor Machine, and which he leans upon in

a combative way and full of a visionary zest of action, calling all stages of the world in order to

enforce the Merzbühne. 10

MERZBÜHNE

What Merzbühne demands is “the general equality of all materials, equality between perfect

human, idiot, whistling wire gauze and idea pump”. The claim for equality of all materials

culminates in the proposition that anything can be used for Merz. People even transform into

Merz and begin to speak in reasonable sentences. While Schwitters sticks to more specific

materials and describes how these become Merz or are merzed, he merges the standardization

of interior design and the formation of time using a human being as material. He already

anticipates a Merzgesamtkunstwerk (total synthesis of Merz art) that we cannot create, but

which arises without the help of an author or individual. Merzgesamtkunstwerk is bigger than

man, it affects the whole. Merzgesamtkunstwerk becomes a materialized idea, almost as if the

material got out of control in all its dimensions and was formed by Merz.

Schwitters started Merz in a very promising way. With Merz in his pocket, he discovers Anna

5

Die Zwiebel, ibid., pp. 26-276 Das Verwesungswesen, ibid., p. 27

7

Ibid.

8

Ibid., p. 28

9

Ibid., p. 28

10

“AN ALLE BÜHNEN DER WELT”, ibid., pp. 31-35


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Blume and wants to love and unite Merz with Anna Blume. After the loss and reconstruction of

his self and the mourning over the withered Anna Blume, he needs a new location for Merz: the

stage. Thus, he can use acting in order to hide his loss and to stage himself as a big Zampano.

He claims another, a new stage, as the conventional stages of the world are unsuitable for

Schwitters: too small, too rigid. Schwitters claims a stage that allows for the Gesamtkunstwerk

to be achieved. On and with Merzbühne, everything becomes material, even people and also

Schwitters. The transition he has gone through with Anna Blume and his slaughter turned him

to artistic material of Merz.

With Anna Blume, Schwitters makes a poetically fictitious link, similar to many great

thinkers, artists and poets who take compensation as a stimulus for their work, i.e. the

compensation for the loss of a woman. They try to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, to launch an

ultimate artistic gesture with the help of yearning as obsessive motor.

MEASURING AND ADJUSTING

Anna Blume Dichtungen (Anna Blume Poetries) contains the core idea and all essential

elements of Merz. Schwitters discovers Merz in the Merzbild and, with Anna Blume, contributes

to its expression and form. Anna Blume is a thought and an intellectual fact come to life, whose

consequence and logic Schwitters now pursues. After this initial experience, Schwitters climbs

Mount Ararat, the mountain situated in the east of Turkey where Noah’s Arch supposedly had

stranded, with Merz and publishes a text holding six pages in Der Ararat – Glossen/Skizzen

und Notizen zur Neuen Kunst (2 nd year, no. 1. 1921) (The Ararat – Commentaries/Sketches and

Notes on New Art). In this text, he first explains thoroughly the meaning of academic art. 11 The

very detailed paragraph, which gives a very exhaustive and pedagogical account of the process

as well as optimization possibilities of painting after nature, ends with: “This is academy!” 12

He goes on to explain why this long and boring paragraph is necessary: “[…] to show that

it is a labor of patience, that it can be learned, that it rests essentially on measurement and

adjusting and provides no food for artistic creation.” 13 However, Schwitters also gains knowledge

from the academic process, i.e. that measuring and adjusting visual objects with one another

is the purpose of art. 14 Measuring and adjusting is a core element of the Merz idea. Schwitters

often talks about playing off materials against each other. This reflection about the exact artistic

process and about what art could be leads him to yet another realization: “Even striving for

expression in a piece of art seems to be injurious for art. Art is a primordial concept, exalted

like the godhead, inexplicable as life, indefinable and without purpose.” 15

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

11

Ibid., p. 3

12

Ibid., p. 4

13

Ibid., p. 4

14

Ibid., p. 4

15

Ibid., p. 5


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Schwitters painted pictures in accordance with his impressions (of nature) which gave

them an expression. The so-called artistic expression is the transmission of a merely subjective

impression. The artists of that period who were devoted to ‘New Art’, such as Schwitters’ friend

Jean Arp, however, aimed at producing art preferably without subjective or personal expression.

For art exists without the artist, it exists as primordial concept. Schwitters consistently progresses

with this approach and not only does he declare himself unessential, but also the material which

is used to create art. What is essential, however, is the artistic and formative process, which, in

accordance with Merz theory, he finds in the measuring and adjusting of different materials. 16

ARTISTIC LOGIC

One year later, Schwitters publishes the “Tran No. 22” in Der Sturm (13. Jahr, no. 5,

1922). “Tran” is a collection of Merzpoems, published as a direct and personal answer to

critics of his artistic work from 1919 to 1924 that had appeared in various magazines. Tran No.

22 titled Tragödie (tragedy), an answer to the critique written by Dr. phil. et med. Weygandt,

contains insertions and advertising slogans that also advertise Merz. One of them – “Klebekraft

(Adhesive force) protected by law, in powdered form, can glue leather, cloth, cardboard, etc.;

1st quality; (very ropy) abundant.” – Schwitters merzes him in his critique: “If phil. is referring

to art history, then Mister Weygandt disarmed himself with this academic title. Adhesive force,

very ropy, these terms do not apply to the art historian.” 17 The art historian could be seen as

rather dull or reserved, unable to connect people with his analyses and words and, hence, has

to rely on the authority of his academic titles in order to attract the demure attention of the

reader. He seems to succeed, although the critic adorns himself with labels, which he can only

live up to with deception, but not with the actual discipline, the subject he pretends to write

about: “You trust in the belief in authority among the German people and you write a seemingly

scientific article for the people, but not for science.” 18 Schwitters comes to this conclusion not

only because he has more knowledge of art theory, but also because he assumes that the art

historian uses the wrong system, the wrong logic for his interpretation of art. Thus, Schwitters

puts the essential issue of esthetic theory and art theory in a nutshell. The critic applies a

‘mind driven logic’ to the interpretation of pieces of art. He tries to understand the piece, to

examine its comprehensibility, as if the work of art were trying to tell us something that could

be justified with rational logic. The mind, however, is one means to experience and form the

world. Schwitters contrasts mind driven logic with artistic logic. A piece of art, art itself, follows

the artistic logic. Critics and art scholars search for the ‘meaning’ of an artist’s work and wish

16

Ibid., p. 4

17

“Tran No. 22”, ibid., p. 74

18

Ibid., p. 77


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The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

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Kurt Schwitters, Merz 21. Eine kleine Sammlung von Merz-Dichtungen aller Art. Erstes Veilchen Heft, Merzverlag, Hanover 1931


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to explain the art to the viewer, who, apparently, is unable to look and see just as well. They

try to classify the piece of art in art history through their critique and their analysis and

behave as historians in the history of art. This interfered massively with Schwitters’ point

of view, which is why he poured ‘train oil’ over the critics. History was not supposed to be

miswritten, i.e. written by people who do not really contribute to it. In terms of Merz, which

not only dissolves, but always forms and puts things in order, too, Schwitters demonstrates

in his own way of writing how one can talk and write about art, i.e. with the poetic artistic

logic of Merz. When it comes to the understanding of his art, Schwitters awards their own

intelligence and quick-wittedness to the viewers, which shall not be polluted by the critic. It

is only the naive and authentic view on art that makes it possible to perceive art. The mind

makes it difficult to understand art. Art is grasped holistically, not only with the mind, but

also sensuously, emotionally and intuitively. Understanding through one’s mind often comes

last. With artistically driven logic, Schwitters pleads for the emotional, sensuous and intuitive,

and even for the sudden understanding of art. 19

SPECIFIC FORM i

Schwitters applies this understanding of art not only passively to the comprehension and

perception of art, i.e. receptive-esthetically, but also actively, i.e. productive-esthetically, to the

creation of art, to the artist. Tran No. 22 is followed by i (Ein Manifest) (A Manifest) 20 , which

replenishes Merz with the radical specific form i. “In order to shorten the way from intuition

to visualization of the artistic idea as much as possible, so friction will not cause a lot of heat

losses. i equates this way to zero. Idea, material and work of art are identical. i grasps the work

of art in its natural state. I demand i, but not as only form of art, but as specific form.” 21

One is tempted to understand i as a specific form that cannot actually be formed or as a

gesture that cannot be performed, but serves as a vision one aims at. Luckily, Schwitters brings

the art critics back from this abstract or even metaphysical idea to the solid ground of artistic

logic. i means taking something directly from nature and displaying it as work of art. A few years

later, Schwitters sums up i once again in Merz 20, this time with a certain amount of reserve and

finds a simple explanation as to how he designed an i-drawing: “Please let me make this clear,

an i-drawing can be a scrap of paper cut off from a misprinted scrap of paper, which I did not

change afterwards, which is supposed to be composition, clear expression without any blame. 22

19

Ibid., p. 77

20

Ibid., p. 80

21

i (Ein Manifest), ibid., p. 80

22

Merz drawings and i-drawings”, in Merz 20, Kurt Schwitters catalogue, 1927, p. 102


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A radical act, whose radical nature we can hardly grasp today. The formerly radical gestures

by Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp, who primarily focused on the selection of an object,

a material, or even on an extract of nature as essential part of their artistic act, expanded the

concept of art – canonized up to this point – in such a way that they seem natural today.

i is the direct integration of the living environment into art. i does not only select, but

it claims part of everyday life as art. Of course, this part has to hold its ground, this is the

complexity Schwitters talks about when he says that “it requires a much greater ability to cut

out a piece of art of a non-formed nature than to assemble a piece of art from random material

following one’s own artistic law”. 23 Within this active and passive assertion lies the combination

of intuition, material and piece of art, which is identified with i. The specific i-form separates art

from the piece of art and defines art as an independent entity. “Thus, i is a specific form. But it

is necessary to be consistent for once. Will an art critic be able to comprehend this?” 24

The arising of an i-artwork seems to be as simple as the letter i. Only a lower case letter i, an

“up-down-up and a dot on top”. It arises from itself, just as the Merzgesamtkunstwerk will arise

one day. The creation of an i-artwork might not be impossible as with the Merzgesamtkunstwerk,

but still rather complex and difficult. Hence, i is just a specific form, a “décadence” 25 of the

comprehensive Merz. By “décadence”, Schwitters means that i is just a small example of a Merz

operation. In its simplicity, it is a decay, a downfall of Merz.

Although i is inferior to Merz, it has a transhistorical dimension with regard to human

action. In Merz 7 in 1924, Schwitters describes i as an original process of man, which had

always been practiced, and therefore, he encourages the use of i until today, so it be practiced in

urban life, just as it had been striven for in ancient cultures of all times. He uses the décadence

of Merz 2 to introduce i into everyday life, in order to turn one’s modest and humble attention

also on the insignificant. 26 With i, Schwitters attempts to introduce an equality of things, “even

more so, as the overall artistic impact only results from the comparison of the insignificant with

the significant.” 27 In this equality, the highest goal is unity, which we attain through decision

and selection, that is through i. 28

THE ARTIST OF i

Although art-historical writings like to tie Merz to Schwitters, it is, if we take Schwitters

seriously, a principle that isn’t tied to him but available to anyone who wishes to configurate and

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

23

“i (Ein Manifest)”, in Der Sturm, 13. Jahr, no 5, 1922, p. 80

24

Ibid., p. 80

25

“i”, in MERZ 2: Nummer i, no 2, 1923, p. 21

26

Ibid., p. 66

27

Ibid., p. 66

28

Ibid., p. 66


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Kurt Schwitters (ed.), Merz 1. Holland DADA, Kurt Schwitters, Hanover 1923


tt65

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

Kurt Schwitters, Die Kathedrale: 8 Lithos von Kurt Schwitters (Silbergäule), Paul Steegemann Verlag, Hanover 1920


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work with it. Merz is to be understood as power, as an energy that everyone should make use

of in order to free himself or herself and make art. “Merz stands for the freedom of all fetters,

for the sake of artistic creation. Freedom is not lack of restraint, but the product of strict artistic

discipline. Merz also means tolerance towards any artistically motivated limitation.” 29 With this

definition of Merz, Schwitters enters in a metaphysical zone of freedom and tolerance, while

pointing out that freedom can only be achieved through outmost artistic discipline. The work

of art might be separated from personal expression, however the artist and thus the author Kurt

Schwitters remain nonetheless important. The artist functions as a mediator vis-à-vis art, as

an almost magical transformer who makes something art through his own recognition: “What

is important for i is that it is not something for me, but through me, albeit the others made it,

through my recognition, through me branding it as a work of art, through my recognition.” 30

Not only is the artistic act a selection, but also recognition and claim. With his claim, the artist

makes something art and remains present as auctorial subject: “I am the artist of i” 31 . Schwitters

printed this sentence in Merz 2 in large letters in order to give them more weight. He refutes

the danger that through this supposedly simple act, everyone can become an artist—which we

already see in the simple act of “grasping from nature”—using a quote by Alois Schenzinger.

“Only the beholder makes a work of art a work of art.” 32 Picking up the notion of artistic logic

visible in a work of art from Tran No. 22, we can sharpen this point further. Schwitters states

that one is supposed to see the artistic logic in a work of art, something which even the simple

man can do. However only the artist is capable of seeing this artistic logic in nature since they

have practice in artistic discipline. The beholder of the environment must be an artist in order

to be capable of recognizing art in it. 33 By the means of i, the artist communicates art to the

beholder in an unmediated way. 34

STYLE OF OUR TIME

After Schwitters had initiated the Merzidee with Anna Blume, based on his first Merzbild

in 1919, it was published in different publications and shared in the form of Merz- and i-poems

and drawings, he presented his own platform for Merz in 1923, the Merz Heft (Merz magazine),

issued four times a year. The first issue, entitled MERZ 1: Holland Dada, introduces the new

magazine and deals with Dadaism in the Netherlands. 35

Interestingly, Schwitters uses Dada to further sharpen the Merzidee despite entertaining critical

or even hostile sentiments towards Dada. In Ararat, he distinguishes “Kern- und Huelsendada”

29

Ibid., p. 5

30

“i”, in MERZ 2: Nummer i, no. 2, 1923, p. 17

31

Ibid., p. 17

32

Ibid., p. 18

33

Ibid., p. 18

34

Ibid., p. 19

35

MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hanover, p. 1


67 tt

(core Dada and Huelsendada). 36 Huelsendada is, of course, a direct allusion to Richard

Huelsenbeck, who, in his function as chairman of the ‘Zentralrat des Deutschen Dadismus’, had

rejected Schwitters’ application to join the Club Dada, although the other Zentralrat members

such as Raoul Hausmann were not opposed to Schwitters joining. This is Schwitters’ retaliation.

He describes Huelsendada as an empty hull which is no longer art, but a politically-oriented

version that only makes noise. Schwitters, naturally, sees himself closer to core Dada and

maintains a close artistic friendship with its artists. 37

The inclusion of Dada in the definition of Merz needs to be understood in direct relation

to the Merzidee, with Merz being first and foremost a uniting and structuring principle. Thus

Schwitters connects Merz with Dada and establishes a very clear relationship between the two,

being, by the way, the author of one of the best paintings of Dadaism. Among the Dada artists,

only Hugo Ball remains on a par with him in terms of understanding and executing Dada in

such an illuminating manner. While Hugo Ball represents the beginning of Dada and took notes

of his anticipations of Dada’s first mythical steps, Schwitters stands on its other end and extracts

in retrospect the essence of the Dada movement. They resemble each other as they were located

on the edge of Dada: Hugo Ball brought Dada to life and Kurt Schwitters elevated Dada to the

next level: Merz.

Immediately following Dada’s burial, brought about by Tristan Tzara in September of

1922 in Weimar, Schwitters leaves for the Netherlands to introduce Dada there, together with

Theo van Doesburg and Petro van Doesburg, Nelly van Doesburg’s pseudonym in the Dada

circle. Between January 10 and February 14, 1923, they organized eight Dada soirées and

Dada matinées in different places in the West of the Netherlands, in cities such as Amsterdam,

Haarlem or Leiden. The first Merzheft feeds on the enthusiasm triggered by the adventures

they lived in the Netherlands. The adrenaline released there is more than apparent in the first

Merzheft, which was published as early as Fall 1923, according to the date on its cover.

In the first sentences about the Dada experience in the Netherlands, Schwitters points out

that Dada had spread in an impressive triumph in the Netherlands. The audience immediately

embraced Dada and started to scream, whisper, sing, cry and rant. Schwitters is surprised how

fast the Dutch audience showed support for Dada. At the same time, he distances himself in

a self-ironic and critical way from this global success, calling the Doesburgs and himself the

Dadaistic house chapel. 38 They had awakened the sleeping Dadaism of the masses 39 and he

finds that the era of the present is Dada, nothing but Dada. He speaks of a Dadaneuzeit (Dada

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

36

Merz”, in Der Ararat – Glossen/Skizzen und Notizen zur Neuen Kunst, 2. Jahr, no. 1, 1921, p. 5

37

Ibid., p. 6

38

MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no.1 (1923), Hanover, p. 3

39

Ibid., p. 4


68

Kurt Schwitters (ed.), Merz 4. Banalitäten, Merzverlag, Hanover 1923

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t

Modern Age), succeeding the classical Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the

Biedermeier period. 40

Thus he comes to the conclusion that Dada is the style of our time, which is in fact lacking

style. 41 In other words: Dada is just as nonsensical as the times we live in are insane. In the

Netherlands, Schwitters and the Doesburgs went through a shock therapy, since they held a

mirror up to the time that is Dada, as if they wanted to fight fire with fire, in order to achieve a

style 42 ; they did it out of love for the style. 43

The audience they encountered in the Netherlands offered resistance against their actions

and events. There was a dissonance between the Dada they presented to the audience and the

Dada the public embraced and called for. The audience saw Dada as shenanigans, as something

absurdly funny, while they were fighting for the style on the stage and took Dada seriously. They

committed to the serious mission of making the world a better place with Dada and introducing

style into the times they lived in. Enthusiastic but ignorant, the audience’s resistance was

encouragement to continue Dada’s advancement and to throw it into their faces. It is comforting

to know that even back then, they had to struggle with that dilemma and be faced, as it happens

in all times, with a seemingly sophisticated civilized man who recognizes how stupid he can be,

and how stupid he is at the bottom of his soul. For Schwitters, the stupidity displayed by the

audience was an enormous success, as for once, the civilized man might realize that his grand

culture wasn’t as grand as it looked. 44 To come to this conclusion, the audience first needs the

ability to develop self-awareness.

DELIBERATE NON-ART

In Merz 4, Schwitters publishes four texts entitled Banalitäten (banalities). In the first two

texts, he points out banalities by quoting different Dadaists and writers, among them Goethe

and Schiller. In Banalitäten 3 and Banalitäten 4, he still reflects the Dada Holland tour, though

it is already July 1923. He acknowledges that the activities on the tour were not always of an

artistic nature, for example when they excited and inspired the audience in such a way so that

it would succumb to the transformed Dadaism and calm down again. Their actions were not

artistic, but Dadaistic. In Merz 2, Dadaism was defined as a life movement, Dada as the face of

the time they lived in and the Dadaist as a mirror carrier. 45 The Banalitäten in Merz 4 continued

this train of thought and put Dada in proximity of ordinariness. For banality is the detecting of

an inartistic complex in an inartistic world. Banality is the creation of a Dada work out of the

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

40

Ibid., p. 5

41

“dada complet”, ibid., p. 5

42

Ibid., p. 7

43

Ibid., p. 7

44

Ibid., p. 7

45

“Banalitäten 3”, in MERZ 4: Banalitäten, no. 4, p. 40


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inartistic complex through limitation. In this definition, banality resembles the i work of art.

The crucial difference is, however, that banality is “deliberate non-art”, while i is deliberate art.

It is not the i principle the Dadaists commit to, but banality. 46

Banalitäten 3 is contrasted with a dada complet 1, expressing the i aspect that in banalities,

art is involved in a complementary way. Again, these Dada banalities cannot be detected or

created by just anyone either. Only the most skilled artist is able to create Dada, because only

he can assess what art is. In other words, in order to make deliberate non-art, one has to know

what art is. Just as Merz is complementary to Dada, i is complementary to banalities. 47

This realization leads Schwitters to a conclusive relationship between Dada and Merz:

“While Dadaism only points to opposites, Merz resolves them by giving them values within a

work of art. Pure Merz is pure art, pure Dadaism is non-art; in both cases deliberately so.” 48

EASING OF THE TIME

Merz and the so-called Urdada, primeval Dada, which Schwitters calls Dadaism, are

complementary and consequently linked with each other. They contrast with a Dada that

the dumb audience can embrace and create. This incomplete Dada destroys the artistic form

through random succession, meaning that there are only a few truly capable artists who may

create Dadaistic works in a consequent manner. 49 The core Dadaists can be included among

those, while the Huelsendadas belong rather to the category of the dumb masses.

Schwitters’ understanding of Dada grows more and more ambivalent. The categorization

of core Dada and Huelsendada is a provisional periphrasis. Whenever he considers something

as Dada, Schwitters counts himself among the core Dadas. It becomes Dada through him. Just

as an object of nature becomes art, following the i principle. This transformation is Dada, or i,

which leads Schwitters to the conclusion: i = dada. If i = dada, then Dada, core Dada that is, is a

décadence of Merz as well. In this process of the core Dadaists, Schwitters considers a valuable

method of distinction which goes as follows: Dadaists create Dada, which reminds us that the

world is Dada. The world is dadaistically dumb, but has the potential to become art with i and

Dada. When Schwitters says that we live in an ‘i-dada-age’, which the Dadaists, through internal

determination, have transformed into a Dada age, he means that Dada allows for the possibility

of changing the world with art. Dada aims at the easing of time, abandoning its status quo and

rigidity, and remodeling it into a Merzgesamtkunstwerk. 50

46

Ibid., p. 41

47

“dada complet 1”, ibid., p. 41

48

“Banalitäten 3”, ibid., p. 40

49

“dada complet 1”, ibid., p. 41

50

Ibid., p. 43


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BATTLE CRY WITH VERVE

Merz 7 features the aggravation of the relationship between Dada and Merz through the

introduction of an accent. This allows Schwitters to untangle the ambivalence of Dada.

At the beginning of the text dada complet 2, Schwitters quotes Merz 4, saying that the consequent

and pure Dadaism is absolute non-art, abstract non-art or abstract anti-art, to be precise. The

notion of abstraction is introduced, and explored, towards the end of dada complet 2. It is through

abstraction, through abstract anti-art that Dada achieves a prophetic dimension of the eternal, of

the future and the transhistorical, a dimension that Schwitters had already attributed to i. 51

A critic, who called Dada a not to be underestimated danger, is the trigger for Schwitters

genius move. He replied that Dadá made a diagnosis and was a remedy for our heavily ill

generation that should not be underestimated. 52 Schwitters uses Dadá with an accent, which

he had already allegedly introduced on December 30, 1923. The accent now allows for three

possibilities of writing Dada and, accordingly, three meanings that may be attributed to it. There

is now dáda, dada or dadá. Schwitters asks the reader to vary the pronunciation of the three

versions: dáda, dada, dadá. Dáda, with the emphasis on the first syllable, he associates with the

intonation common to Saxony and finds it trivial, almost reminiscent of Swiss German, peasant

and rude, as if a men’s club would pronounce dáda. By contrast, dadá, with emphasis on the

second syllable, sounds French, colored with verve and cosmopolitan urbanism, according to

Schwitters. It rather sounds like a question that remains open and suggests that there is more,

it is playful, saucy and witty. While dáda only encourages a short, blunt nod and slumps down

in dull provincial affirmation, dadá lifts up, making the pointer finger and the eyebrows rise,

making one’s spirit bright and awake. Dada finally, sounds indifferent to Schwitters, it sounds

like somebody who doesn’t know what they want. It is very monotonous, almost automatic,

lacking identification or attitude towards the sound of the word. By using dada, the critics display

the same indifference towards Dada as they do towards art. As a proof for how sound is linked

to meaning, Schwitters talks about the dumb masses of the audience they had encountered in

the Netherlands who had enthusiastically cried dáda, dáda, dáda. The audience is confronted

with the moral gravity of our time and now explodes with laughter, it drunkenly-clumsily snorts

with laughter. On the other hand, the dynamic dadá is the battle cry of the Dadaists. The first

Dadaists in Zurich, inspired by francophone influence, had said dadá as well. Dadá is core

Dadá. It is this Dadá that blends with i and is complementary to Merz. Dadá is the abstract antiart.

Schwitters returns to some phrases from Merz 1 and rewrites them: “Our time is called dáda,

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

51

“dada complet 2”, MERZ 7, vol. 2, no. 7, 1924, p. 66

52

Ibid., p. 66


t

72

we live in the age of dada. We experience in the age of dáda, nothing is as characteristic of our

time as dáda. For our culture is dáda.” This means that our time has dully collapsed, expresses

itself only in snorting laughter, and lacks style. Our time lacks vision and attitude. “Dadá is the

commitment to lack of style. Dadá is the style of our time.” Dadá seems to pick up on this time,

to say the same thing, only with a different emphasis. Dadá loosens up the game, rouses, looks

at the things the way they are with verve, intervenes and subsequently opens new dimensions

and adds dynamics into rigid structures. Dadá is the invitation to adopt a Dadá attitude in the

face of the anchorless Dadá time. This is also the conclusion Schwitters reaches, by revisiting

the fear of the critic and explaining why Dadá is dangerous: “dadá is the face of our time, dadá

is the movement that aims at healing the time by providing the diagnosis. This is why dada is a

not to be underestimated danger.” 53

MERZGESAMTKUNSTWERK

It seems as if Schwitters, after he had hit the audience’s nerve of time, also saw the

opportunity to seize this nerve and change the dumb masses. Schwitters believes himself able

to shape the times he lived in with Merz, with the objective of bringing back style. Merz is the

expression of his love for style. Having in mind the dumb civilized man, he affirms that Merz

doesn’t care if there are some who disagree. For Merz and only Merz can transform the world

in its entirety into a giant work of art in a future yet to come. 54

Schwitters has the Merzgesamtkunstwerk constantly on the tip of his tongue: it only needs

to be articulated and leveraged in the right way and at the right moment. But, as it is often the

case with things that we have on the very tip of our tongue, we need to carefully approach them

and encircle them in order for them to take shape.

The Merzbilder (Merz pictures), the art Schwitters makes, are preliminary studies relating

to this transformation and design of the world, as well as to the general style. The Merzbilder

and the means available to him serve as a preparation for his endeavor of remodeling the world

into a work of art. They are futurological research and visionary tests for a time in which style

once again informs our environment. 55

Despite the visionary dimensions of his work, Schwitters remains humble. He links the

Merz theory directly to his actions and suggests that Merz finds its expression not only in

paintings and drawings — in Fine Arts — but also in the other artistic genres such as music,

poetry, dance or theater. With Merz, however, this classification in artistic genres becomes

obsolete, leading Schwitters to conclude that there are no such things as individual arts. They

have been artificially separated from each other, in order for specializations and specialists to

53

Ibid., p. 66

54

MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hannover, p. 8

55

“dada complet”, in MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hannover, p. 9


t

73

t

develop. There is only art. 56 Schwitters’ pleading for the fusion of artistic genres is essentially

a peal against the specialists and in favor of authorities: He pleads for clarity and style, for the

universal work of art, not individualization. Only this universal work of art, Merz, is capable

of changing the world. 57 Schwitters demands authorities that focus on the general picture,

individuals with opinions who inspire us and have style. Those instances, he sees them in Merz,

and he establishes Merz as an authority whose task in the world is to erase oppositions and

distribute emphases. 58 As a result, there no longer is a disparate indifference and we no longer

function on crude opposition. We acquire style by transforming and shaping the time we live in,

and by giving it coherence.

MERZARCHITEKTUR

Schwitters is right in consequently expanding his first visionary tests with the Merzbildern

to architecture, since it shapes the environment of the human beings in a more comprehensive

way than fine arts do. The Merzidee can easily be transferred from Merzbildern to architecture.

Schwitters notes that architecture does not consider actual habitability enough. He claims that

architecture is often too abstract and formal and does not consider that individuals change

a room with their presence. The human being is a disruptive element in architecture. This

is where Merz can help, by ‘merzing’ rooms and spaces and adapting them to the human

being as a dynamically erratic being. 59 Merz renders architecture organic and ergonomic. Merz

galvanizes architecture.

The intense relationship between the human being and space that needs to be created can

be achieved by including the human trace into architecture. 60 This means, including the trace

that the individual leaves in the space and the path he walks in the space. The special structure

and dimension of a room and the function it has to fulfill all determine the trace an individual

can create primarily. This trail is included in the execution of the architecture in the way that

walls, niches, grottos and structures are built. The human being needs to be transformed into

architecture’s active user or architecture needs to adapt to the human as a body in movement.

Schwitter’s explorations on architecture evoke the Merzbühne as a place where the inclusion

of the trail is consistent and deliberate and all materials, even individuals, are involved. This

is what Schwitters implies when he describes the mechanical room as the only consequent

room that may be artistically modeled and still would be inhabitable. 61 Another mechanical

room, apart from the Merzbühne, is the Merzbau. The Merzbau finally is the moment when

the visionary tests of the Merzbilder take the space and transform Schwitters’ workshop and

apartment into a mechanical room. It would be wrong to only consider the Merzbau as a self-

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

56

Ibid., p. 11

57

Cf. “Merz”, in Der Ararat– Glossen/Skizzen und Notizen zur Neuen Kunst, 2. Jahr, no. 1, 1921, pp. 6-7

58

“dada complet”, in MERZ 1: Holland Dada, no. 1 (1923), Hannover, p. 11

59

Ibid., p. 11

60

Ibid., p. 11

61

Ibid., p. 11


t

74

experiment of the Merzarchitektur’s effects. It is also a first step into the direction that leads to

implementing Merz’s task in the world, which is erasing oppositions and distributing emphases.

SPIRITUAL FUNCTIONS OF MAN

With Merz, Kurt Schwitters creates principles and formats that can guide his work and

operations. He applies them to himself and engages them in s serious play. Although these

principles and formats were created by him and for him, they are universal and should be

embraced by every artist, by every individual. Schwitters’ art does not primarily consist of the

works of art themselves, but in the principles he creates and the ideas he puts into the world.

The works of art are a mirror and expression of this art. This is also revealed in Manifest

Proletkunst that Schwitters wrote along with Theo van Doesburg, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and

Christoph Sprengemann on March 6, 1923 in The Hague: “Art is a spiritual function of man,

which aims at freeing him from life’s chaos (tragedy)” 62 .

The manifesto aims at the orchestration of art for political ends. It positions art as an

independent, autonomous and resistant system that neither serves the proletariat nor the

bourgeoisie, and is consequently uncoupled from other systems such as politics, economy,

education, media, religion, law, philosophy or science. As proposed later in the foundations of

systems theory, art, as an autonomous system, also has its own rules it is informed by. 63 Art pursues

a goal of its own, a goal that is independent of the classes of men. It disconnects from thought

of class differences and from the political dialectic on the left and the right and aims at setting

free the creative forces in the individual. The goal to achieve is the mature individual, not the

proletarian or the bourgeois. 64

Manifest Proletkunst is a clear rejection of the political appropriation of art and is applicable

to the entire culture, just as Merz is applicable to the entire world. The art that the manifesto’s

authors strive for is strong enough to influence the entirety of culture and is resistant to

influences by social relations. 65 The art that is being manifested and prepared by the authors

is a Gesamtkunstwerk, which is superior to all labels like Dada or Communist Dictatorship. 66

Manifest Proletkunst prepares its secession from Dada, just as Schwitters had predicted in the

first issue of Merz. Supported by some core Dadaists and backed by the understanding of art

proposed in Manifest Proletkunst, Schwitters is able to rise from Dada and declare Merz the

logical continuation of Dada. After the chaos of Dada, Merz is free to re-establish order and

62

“Manifest Proletkunst”, MERZ 2: Nummer i, no. 2, 1923, p. 24

63

Ibid., p. 24

64

Ibid., p. 25

65

Ibid., p. 25

66

Ibid., p. 25


t

75

t

to inspire the Merzgesamtkunstwerk. On the flip side of the Merz 2 cover—in which Manifest

Proletkunst was published—the objectives of the magazine are listed: Dada—Merz—Style. Motive:

World National Feeling.

From the perspective of its relation to Dada, Merz may be understood as follows: Dada

loosens the paralyzed ordinariness of the Dáda era, allowing i to give access to imagination

again, in order to use it and rise with Merz.

Merz is thus the consequence of Dadá, with its oppositions erased and emphases distributed

by the Merzgesamtkunstwerk in order to give style back to our time.

The consequence of DADA: MERZ · by Adrian Notz

Kurt Schwitters, Käte Steinitz, Theo van Doesburg, Die Scheuche. Märchen, Apossverlag, Hanover 1925


76 l

SCHWITTERS:

Tending the

Enchanted Garden

Jonathan Fineberg (2016)

Kurt Schwitters, L Merzbild L 3 (Das Merzbild),

1919 (Lost)


l

In the political and social chaos of Germany after the Great War, in the bewildering onslaught

of sensory input that had come to define modern life, under the psychic assaults of losing a first

born child and a life-long burden of epilepsy, making art was a force against dissolution for the

artist Kurt Schwitters. “In the war, things were in terrible turmoil,” Schwitters recalled. “What

I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready…

Then suddenly the glorious revolution was upon us… I felt myself freed and had to shout my

jubilation out to the world. Out of parsimony I took whatever I found to do this, because we

were now an impoverished country. One can even shout with refuse, and this is what I did,

nailing and gluing it together… New things had to be made out of the fragments.” 1

The Armistice of November 11 th , 1918 ended World War One. The German military forced

Kaiser Wilhelm to abdicate and in January 1919 they held elections which brought the liberal

Social Democrats to power. But it was an uneasy alliance of old and new, accompanied by

ongoing riots, strikes, assassinations, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the hyperinflation which

created economic havoc in Germany throughout the 1920s.

Yet in 1918, the thirty-one year old Kurt Schwitters lived with his well-to-do parents in the

bourgeois and provincial city of Hanover, as he had all his life and would continue to do until

driven out of the country by the fascists in 1936. He had married his cousin Helma Fischer in

1915, had a son who died only days after birth in September 1916, and two years later had a

second son, Ernst, who remained close to his father throughout their lives. Schwitters’ friend

Käte Steinitz described the odd atmosphere of Hanover at that time: “In fact, there was shooting

in the streets of Hanover in those days. Revolutionists tore the golden epaulets from the uniforms

of high officers. But legend has it that through it all the revolutionists scrupulously observed the

civic regulation: ‘Keep off the grass.’ There was a little bloodshed, to be sure. A workman’s and

soldiers government was established, but the lawns, border, and flower beds remained intact.” 2

Steinitz’s warm recollections of Schwitters also portray his affability and his eccentricity.

“One day I saw Kurt’s bicycle leaning up against the wall of a house in an old part of Hanover…

It was then the best guinea-pig shop in town… I entered the shop because I saw Kurt bent over

the counter. He was negotiating a sale to the shopkeeper of one, two, three, four, five guinea

pigs, which he pulled one by one out of his coat pockets. ‘Helma says we have enough guinea

pigs at home,’ he explained to me, ‘and besides Ernst needs Greek and Roman lead soldiers to

play with.’” 3 He took the proceeds down the street to the

toy shop.

Kurt Schwitters launched his artistic career in 1918-

19, pioneering the assemblage of all manner of nonartistic

refuse, mostly gathered from the streets, with

expressionistically handled passages of painting. In

the same way, he composed stories, plays, and poetry in

disjointed collages of words and fragmentary phrases and

even performed abstract vocal works like his 1919 Sonate

in Urlauten (Sonata in Primal Sounds). “New art forms

out of the remains of a former culture,” 4 he said. “I called

my new manner of working from the principle of using any

material MERZ. That is the second syllable of Kommerz

1

Kurt Schwitters, “Kurt Schwitters,” 1930,

in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische Werk, ed.

Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont, Cologne

1981, p. 335; cited in Dorothea Dietrich,

The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition

and Innovation, Cambridge University Press,

Cambridge 1993, pp. 6-7.

2

Käte Trauman Steinitz, Kurt Schwitters: A

Portrait from Life, University of California Press,

Berkeley and Los Angeles 1968, p. 25.

3

Ibid., 26.

4

Kurt Schwitters, “Daten aus meinem Leben,”

1926 in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,

Cologne 1981, p. 241; cited in John

Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum of

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York

1985, p. 12.

77

SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg


78 l

[Commerce]. It originated from the Merzbild, a picture in which the word MERZ, cut-out and

glued-on from an advertisement for the KOMMERZ- UND PRIVATBANK could be read in

between abstract forms… ” 5

Construction for Noble Ladies, a ‘Merzbild’ of 1919, exemplifies this first group of Merz

painting-assemblages. He arranged everything in a chaotic vortex of pigment and detritus: He

fastened the tin lid of a paint can against the surface in the lower left and a spoked wheel in

the upper right, next to a funnel with its phallic stem projecting straight out of the composition.

He stuck on the remains of a larger, broken wheel at the center, above a receipt for shipping

a bicycle by train. Two halves of a flattened toy train at the bottom and top of the right edge

reinforce the diagonal thrust of a long wooden slat towards the upper right, and all of this

belongs to a seamless and perfectly balanced totality with the other found objects and abstract

forms in wood and metal, modulated by passages of expressionistic brushstrokes in oil paint.

Just below and to the right of the center, and on its side, he placed an oil portrait of a “noble

lady,” 6 anchoring the Futurist dynamism of the composition.

Kurt Schwitters,

Construction for Noble

Ladies, 1919

Cardboard, wood, metal,

and paint,

102.87 x 83.82cm

Los Angeles (CA),

Los Angeles County

Museum

of Art (LACMA)

Purchased with funds

provided by Mr. and Mrs.

Norton Simon,the Junior

Arts Council, Mr. and Mrs.

Frederick R. Weisman,

Mr.and Mrs. Taft Schreiber,

Hans de Schulthess,

Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Janss,

and Mr. and Mrs. Gifford

Phillips

© 2016. Digital Image

Museum Associates/

LACMA/Art Resource NY/

Scala, Florence


l

Like Kandinsky’s abstractions of the earlier teens, which Schwitters knew well, the swirl

of elements in Construction for Noble Ladies destroys all sense of a ground plane while also

dislocating the recognizable objects and images onto a level, semiotic field of abstraction.

In this construction, each element maintains what

Kandinsky called its “inner sound” 7 , an evocative cloud

of association, utterly divorced from any kind of stable

iconography but nevertheless maintaining an intuited

meaning. The fragments in a Merzbild made physical,

and in that sense real, the non-narrative and yet allusive

character of the recognizable images in Kandinsky’s

abstract paintings. The viewer experiences them as a

subjective epiphany, rather than as a linear reading of

content. “Any given abstract painting…is such an infinite

multitude,” Schwitters wrote, that “no theory will ever

manage to wholly comprehend it.” 8

Although the Berlin Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck

took an immediate dislike to Schwitters – derisively

writing that “he lived like a lower middle-class Victorian,”

and calling him “the abstract Spitzweg” 9 – the other Dada

artists in Berlin and Zürich welcomed Schwitters. He

collaborated with Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball, developed

lasting relationships with Raoul Hausmann, Hannah

Höch, Hans Arp as well as with the Russian artists El

Lissitzky and Ivan Puni, the Dutch De Stijl founder Theo

Van Doesburg, the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius,

and the Constructivist László Moholy-Nagy. Although

based in Hanover, he thrust himself to the forefront of

the contemporary avant-garde while at the same time

maintaining his connection to the prewar Expressionism

of Der Sturm. Schwitters was never a Dada artist as

Tristan Tzara described it (at the 1922 Weimar Congress

which Schwitters helped organize): “The beginnings of

Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust,” 10

and “There is a great negative work of destruction to

be accomplished. We must sweep and clean.” 11 Nor was

Schwitters a Constructivist, an Expressionist, an abstract

Cubist, or a Futurist. Yet he was all of these at once. His

was an all inclusive aesthetic of everything. 12

Schwitters swept in all the fragmented pieces of

himself and of everything around him to make it all

whole. Alves Baeselstiel, the protagonist in Schwitters

1919 short story Die Zwiebel [the Onion], narrates his

own dismemberment with objective detachment and then

reassembles himself, righting his parts by his own inner

5

Kurt Schwitters, “Katalog,” 1927, pp.

99-100, in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,

DuMont, Cologne 1981, pp. 252-3;

cited in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters,

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames and

Hudson, New York 1985, pp. 12-13.

6

A portrait of his wife Helma, according

to Gisela Zankl-Wohltat, “Gedanken zum

Frühwerk von Kurt Schwitters,” in Kurt

Schwitters 1887-1948, exhibition catalog,

Sprengel Museum, Hanover 1986, p.

35. Schwitters claimed that there were

seven portraits in this painting in a Letter

to Margaret Miller, December 11, 1946

[in the archives of the Museum of Modern

Art, New York; cited in John Elderfield, Kurt

Schwitters, The Museum of Modern Art &

Thames and Hudson, New York 1985,

p. 56], although no scholar has firmly

identified any of them. Elderfield reports,

based on Maurice Tuchman’s conversation

with an old friend of Ivan Puni [ibid., p.

61.], that one of the “noble ladies” was

Puni’s wife, Kseniya Boguslavskaya.

7

Kandinsky used the term “innere Klang”

or “inner sound” frequently in this way,

as, for example, in Wassily Kandinsky,

On the Spiritual in Art, in Kenneth Lindsay

and Peter Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete

Writings on Art, G. K. Hall, Boston 1982,

p. 218. The Der Sturm Gallery published

Kandinsky’s book Klänge in 1913 and

Schwitters read these books as well

as Kandinsky’s essays the Blaue Reiter

Almanac.

8

Kurt Schwitters, ”Meine Ansicht zum

Bauhaus-Buch 9,” (April 26, 1927), in

Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische Werk,

ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,

Cologne 1981, p. 256; cited in Isabel

Schulz, “Kurt Schwitters: Color and

Collage,” in Kurt Schwitters: Color and

Collage, ed. Isabel Schulz, The Menil

Collection and Yale University Press,

Houston and New Haven 2011, p. 61.

9

Richard Huelsenbeck, “Dada and

Existentialism,” in Willy Verkauf, ed.,

Dada: Monograph of a Movement, 2 nd

ed., Hastings House, New York 1961,

p. 58.

10

Tristan Tzara, “Conference sur Dada,”

Weimar Congress (1922) translated in

Robert Motherwell, Dada: The Painters and

the Poets, MA: G. K. Hall, Boston 1981,

p. 250.

11

Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto” (1918)

translated in Robert Motherwell, Dada: The

Painters and the Poets, MA: G. K. Hall,

Boston 1981, p. 81.

12

No wonder that his closest friend was

Theo van Doesburg – simultaneously

the founder of De Stijl and, under the

pseudonym “Bonset,” a Dadaist.

79 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg


80 l

power. “They started to put me back together. First with a delicate jolt my eyes were reinserted

in their sockets,” 13 Baeselstiel tells us. It is a parable for political reversal but also for the

reorganization of the self (as D. W. Winnicott uses the term) 14 in the artistic project of Kurt

Schwitters.

It was Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm magazine that published Schwitters’ Dada poem

An Anna Blume 15 in August 1919, making Schwitters famous overnight. The poem employs

multiple perspectives, fragments of found text, and absurd images to evoke the disarray of the

narrator’s emotional state but also his detachment in the throes of love. Like the objects in his

Merzbild compositions, Schwitters explained that: “In poetry, words and sentences are nothing

but parts… torn from their former context, dissociated and brought into a new artistic context,

they become formal parts of the poem, nothing more.” 16 For this, he may have found precedent

in Symbolist depaysment, the Futurist manifestos, and zaum, the transrational language of the

Russian avant-garde.

Juxtaposing word clusters as formal elements, Schwitters writes, in Die Zwiebel, for

example: “Anna Blume bathed in lilac blue roses shoots barbs blank abed in a Posturpedic

mattress. (Ripe for plucking, inwardly composed.) Partial explanation misses the point. Then

the butcher took a mighty leap backwards.” 17 The disjunctive scattering of images, actions, and

associations creates a sense of detached remove. He also

13

Kurt Schwitters, “The Onion (Merzpoem

8)”, translated by Peter Wortsman,

Cambridge Literary Review I/3, Easter,

Cambridge 2010, pp. 113.

14

See, for example, D. W. Winnicott,

Playing and Reality, Routledge, London

1971.

15

Kurt Schwitters, “An Anna Blume,”

1919, in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 1,

DuMont, Cologne 1973, pp. 58-63.

16

Kurt Schwitters, “Holland Dada,” 1923,

11; in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,

DuMont, Cologne 1981, p. 134; cited

in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The

Museum of Modern Art & Thames and

Hudson, New York 1985, p. 43. See

also: Kurt Schwitters, “Konsequente

Dichtung (Consistent Poetry),” 1924,

p. 46; in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,

DuMont, Cologne 1981, p. 191; cited

in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The

Museum of Modern Art & Thames and

Hudson, New York 1985, p. 130.

17

Kurt Schwitters, “Die Zwiebel,” 1919,

in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische Werk,

ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 2, DuMont,

Cologne 1974, pp. 26-7; Kurt Schwitters,

“The Onion (Merzpoem 8)”, translated

by Peter Wortsman, Cambridge Literary

Review I/3, Easter, Cambridge 2010,

pp. 114.

18

Kurt Schwitters, “Katalog,” 1927, pp.

99-100; in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5,

DuMont, Cologne 1981, pp. 252-3;

cited in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters,

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames and

Hudson, New York 1985, pp. 12-13.

achieves this in drawings with rubber stamps of words

like “Drucksache” (printed matter), “Die Redaktion” (the

editorial offices), and “Abteilung: Inserate” (Department:

small ads), evoking the world of business transactions

and bureaucratic offices, as does the word “Merz,” from

Kommerz und Privatbank. 18

Schwitters made collages from found typography, as

well, to create his effect. He constructed one example

from 1920, from some forty-five fragments of cut and torn

paper, juxtaposing three styles of calligraphy, each with

distinct associations – Gothic Germanic Frakturschrift;

modern sans-serif lettering, and the artist’s own illegible

handwriting. The appropriated words and phrases –

such as “Entlastungs” (exoneration), “Reichsgerichts-

Prozesse gegen den Staat” (legal proceedings against the

state), “Die Liste der Beschuldigungen findet” (the list of

accusations is found), and “Kriegsschauplatz” (theater of

war) – even seem to suggest a political theme, but he

deliberately avoided a statement or a coherent point of

view. Instead, these words record arbitrarily layered

impressions, spontaneous associations around a starting

point.

Schwitters composed abstract stage compositions

(Merzbühne) modeled on this structural principle too.

“In contrast to drama or opera, all parts of the Merzbühne


l

81 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg

Kurt Schwitters, Abteilung: Inserate, 1919

Stamp ink, collage, pencil und color pencil on paper, 31.5 x 24.5 cm

Kunsthaus Zug, Stiftung Sammlung Kamm


82 l

Kurt Schwitters, Ohne Titel (fec.),

1920

Cut-and-pasted printed paper and

pencil on paper on board,

25.1 x 18.2 cm

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Gift of Marlborough-Gerson Gallery

© 2016.Digital image The Museum

of Modern Art, New York/Scala,

Florence

work are inseparably bound together: it cannot be written, read or listened to, it can only be

experienced in the theater,” he explained. “…Only the Merzbühne is distinguished by the

fusion of all factors into a total work of art… ” 19 This dream of the total work of art (the

Gesamtkunstwerk) is a leitmotif of Symbolism from Wagner’s operas to the art nouveau vue

d’ensemble and it unifies all of Schwitters’ disparate artistic experiments.

My aim is the total work of art, which combines all branches of

art into an artistic unit… First, I combined individual categories

of art. I have pasted together poems from words and sentences

so as to produce a rhythmic design. I have on the other hand

pasted up pictures and drawings so that sentences could be read

in them. I have driven nails into pictures so as to produce a

plastic relief apart from the pictorial quality of the paintings. I

did this so as to efface the boundaries between the arts. 20


l

19

Kurt Schwitters, “Merzbühne,” 1919, p.

3, in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische Werk,

ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,

Cologne 1981, p. 42; cited in John

Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum of

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New

York 1985, p. 107.

20

Kurt Schwitters, “Merz,” Der Ararat,

1920, pp. 6-7, in Kurt Schwitters, Das

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach,

volume 5, DuMont, Cologne 1981, p.

79; cited in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters,

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames

and Hudson, New York 1985, p. 44.

Schwitters’ idea of the Merzbühne is

indebted to Kandinsky’s stage composition

Gelbe Klang, published with his theories in

the Blaue Reiter Almanac 1912.

21

Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art,

McGraw Hill, London and New York

1965, p. 152.

22

See: John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters,

The Museum of Modern Art & Thames and

Hudson, New York 1985, p. 160.

23

Kurt Schwitters, “Ich und meine Ziele,”

1930, 116, in Kurt Schwitters, Das

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach,

volume 5, DuMont, Cologne 1981,

p. 345; cited in John Elderfield, Kurt

Schwitters, The Museum of Modern Art &

Thames and Hudson, New York 1985,

p. 159.

Schwitters came closest to achieving this grand

synthesis in his Merzbau, a perpetually evolving

environment that began around 1923 with a pair of

columnar assemblages in his studio; he called them the

Cathedral of Erotic Misery and the Column of Life. These

grew to encompass the entire room, then several rooms,

with a proliferating warren of little shrines and space

defining architectural structures. As he finished each part,

new additions would swallow it up, in layer upon layer,

with new construction. Sliding doors opened to hidden

grottos, and passages to the interior offered glimpses of the

deeper strata of content, as though the viewer was peering

into a shop window. Caves and tableaux mushroomed in

the relatively formless core of collected debris, souvenirs,

postcards of places, photographs of people, emotionally

charged symbols of fantasies, all freely appropriated and

conglomerated. Gradually, an outer shell enveloped the

expressionist core; this he rigorously constructed in clear

architectural forms of plaster and wood and painted white

with just a few color accents. The core, in turn, receded

further and further into inaccessible private spaces like

Freud’s description of the unconscious. Sometimes

Schwitters even literally plastered over sections with the contents still intact.

“He cut off a lock of my hair and put it in my hole,” Hans Richter reported. “A thick pencil,

filched from Mies van der Rohe’s drawing-board, lay in his cavity. In others’ there were a piece

of a shoelace, a half-smoked cigarette, a nail paring, a piece of tie (Doesburg), a broken pen.” 21

Sophie Taeuber came to stay with Schwitters and awoke to find her bra had disappeared into a

cave dedicated to her; Moholy-Nagy lost his socks. 22 Schwitters himself described The Big Love

Grotto in the style of one of his poems, inserting “live” elements morphed in the retelling from

the inanimate dolls and objects in the construction:

A wide outside stair leads to it, underneath which stands the

female lavatory attendant of life in a long narrow corridor with

scattered camel dung. Two children greet us and step into life;

owing to damage only part of a mother and child remain. Shiny

and broken objects set the mood. In the middle a couple is

embracing: he has no head, she no arms; between his legs he is

holding a huge blank cartridge. The big twisted-around child’s

head with the syphilitic eyes is warning the embracing couple

to be careful. This is disturbing, but there is reassurance in the

little bottle of my own urine in which immortelles [long-lasting

flower arrangements placed on graves] are suspended. 23

83 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg


84 l

In 1927, the artist Rudolf Jahns entered and “experienced a strange, enrapturing feeling.” 24

Käte Steinitz wrote of her visits: “In each cave was a sediment of impressions and emotions,

with significant literary and symbolic allusions.” 25 Schwitters noted that:

Each grotto takes its character from some principal components.

There is the Nibelungen Hoard with the glittering treasure; the

Kyffhäuser with the stone table; the Goethe Grotto with one of

Goethe’s legs as a relic and a lot of pencils worn down to stubs;

… the Sex-Crime Cavern with an abominably mutilated corpse

of an unfortunate young girl, painted tomato-red, and splendid

votive offerings; the Ruhr district with authentic brown coal

and authentic gas coke; an art exhibition with paintings and

sculptures by Michelangelo and myself being viewed by a dog

on a leash;…the brothel with the 3-legged lady made by Hannah

Höch; and the great Grotto of Love. 26

When Sophie Küppers and El Lissitzky (her future

husband) saw the Merzbau, she said she was “unable

to draw the line between originality and madness.” 27

It positively repulsed the museum director Alexander

Dorner, who otherwise championed Schwitters’ work. He

said the “free expression of the socially uncontrolled self

had here bridged the gap between sanity and madness…

It was a kind of fecal smearing – a sick and sickening

relapse into the social irresponsibility of the infant who

plays with trash and filth.” 28 Thus even a sophisticated

observer like Dorner, found the autobiographical,

sexual, and sadistic content of the Merzbau shockingly

transgressive, still more so for being hidden beneath

and contrasted with the geometric, Constructivist purity.

Schwitters wanted to express everything that impinged

on his consciousness (or unconscious) over the thirteen

years (1923-36) of making this total environment. 29

The Merzbau gave form to and purged its content.

“Art is a spiritual function of man, which aims at freeing

him from life’s chaos (tragedy).” 30 That “tragedy” is the

unspeakable revelation of the unconscious that repelled

Dorner precisely because he understood it. At the same

time, it drew Schwitters inexorably because it was the

disorganizing force that he needed to overcome in order

to bring coherence to his own sense of self. Certainly the

times were disorienting and Schwitters said that “what we

express in our works is…the spirit of our times, dictated

24

Rudolf Jahn cited in Dietmar Elger, “Zur

Entstehung des Merzhaus,” in Michael

Erlhoff ed., Kurt Schwitters Almanach, 1982,

Postskriptum/Kulturamt der Stadt Hannover,

Hanover 1982, pp. 34-5; cited in John

Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum of

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York

1985, p. 154.

25

Käte Trauman Steinitz, Kurt Schwitters: A

Portrait from Life, University of California Press,

Berkeley and Los Angeles 1968, p. 91; cited

in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum

of Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New

York 1985, p. 160.

26

Kurt Schwitters, “Ich und meine Ziele,”

1930, pp. 115-116, in Kurt Schwitters, Das

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume

5, DuMont, Cologne 1981, pp. 344-345;

cited in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The

Museum of Modern Art & Thames and Hudson,

New York 1985, p. 161.

27

Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, El Lissitzky: Life,

Letters, Texts, Thames & Hudson, London and

New York 1968, p. 36.

28

Alexander Dorner, quoted in Samuel

Cauman, The Living Museum: Experiences

of an Art Historian and Museum Director,

Alexander Dorner, New York University

Press, New York 1958, p. 36; cited in John

Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum of

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York

1985, p. 162.

29

Kurt Schwitters, “Ich und meine Ziele,”

1930, p. 5; in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,

Cologne 1981, p. 343; cited in John

Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum of

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York

1985, p. 165.

30

Kurt Schwitters, “Manifest Prolitkunst,”

1923, p. 5; in Kurt Schwitters, Das literarische

Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, volume 5, DuMont,

Cologne 1981, p. 143; cited in John

Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, The Museum of

Modern Art & Thames and Hudson, New York

1985, p. 42.


l

by the times themselves.” 31 But the disorienting invasions of his epilepsy also informed his

methods. By his own account, the first onset occurred when he was fourteen, after some local

boys destroyed a garden which he had carefully created – with roses, strawberries, a manmade

hill, and an artificial pond. After this event, he took ill for two years and it was at this time,

he said, that he found his love of art. 32 When he emerged as a mature artist in 1918 it was

with a turn to abstraction and he titled his first abstraction, Der verwunschene Garten [The

Enchanted Garden].

We can’t know how the epilepsy felt to Schwitters,

but Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s portrait of his own epilepsy,

couched in his character Prince Myshkin in The Idiot,

offers a telling insight. “He felt in a very curious

condition to-day,” Dostoyevsky wrote, “a condition

similar to that which had preceded his fits in bygone

years. He remembered that at such times he had been

particularly absent, and could not discriminate between

objects and persons even if he concentrated special

attention upon them.” 33 In the aftermath of epileptic

seizures, they leave a state of disorientation as the brain

recovers. 34 The attacks must have been disorganizing 35

for Schwitters too. Could his detachment with regard to

his materials and his project of reorganizing fragmentary

experience have been a symbolic reordering informed,

at least in part, by his epilepsy? 36

The aim of Dada was “a great negative work of

destruction” as Tristan Tzara announced at the 1922

conference he organized with Schwitters in Weimar. It

was motivated, Tzara said, from the sense of dissolution

in society after the War: “Honor, country, morality,

family, art, religion, liberty, fraternity had once

answered to human needs. Now nothing remains of

them but a skeleton of conventions…” 37 But instead of

taking up a political agenda, as the Berlin Dadaists had

done, Schwitters looked inward, seeking psychological

integrity. “I had all my parts back together again with

just a few things missing,” Baeselstiel reports at the

end of Die Zwiebel. But it was not without costs. Some

“shreds of my physical self stayed stuck to the knife.” 38

Under the pressure of Nazi persecution, Schwitters

fled to Norway in January of 1937 and when the Nazis

invaded Norway in April of 1940, Schwitters and his

son narrowly escaped to England. He had to leave the

Merzbau behind. He also left Helma who stayed in

Hanover to manage the four houses which provided the

31

Kurt Schwitters, “Ich und meine

Ziele,” 1930, p. 5; in Kurt Schwitters,

Das literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm

Lach, volume 5, DuMont, Cologne

1981, p. 346.

32

Kurt Schwitters, “Kurt Schwitters:

Herkunft, Werden und Entfaltung,”

1920/21, in Kurt Schwitters, Das

literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach,

volume 5, DuMont, Cologne 1981,

p. 83.

33

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot,

trans. Frederick Whishaw, Vizetelly &

Co., London 1887, p. 179.

34

Epileptic seizures result from

abnormal hyperactivity in cortical

nerve cells in an area of the brain. It

takes time to recover normal function

after a seizure, producing what is

called a “postictal state” that may

involve confusion, depression, anxiety,

and obsessive–compulsive behavior.

Spatial orientation, emotional

restraint, and the connecting of short

term and long term memory may be

affected depending on where in the

brain the trauma occurs. Impaired

speech may occur temporarily if the

medial region of the left temporal

lobe is involved, as Mo Costandi

[“Diagnosing Dostoyevsky’s Epilepsy”

https://neurophilosophy.wordpress.

com/2007/04/16/diagnosingdostoyevskys-epilepsy/]

suggests with

regard to Dostoyesvky’s seizures.

35

Gwendolen Webster provides

a vivid description of his seizures

but it isn’t clear on what evidence

she based her description. See:

Gwendolen Webster, Kurt Merz

Schwitters: a biographical study,

University of Wales Press, Cardiff

1997), p. 7.

36

There is evidence in the medical

literature that seizure disorders can

predispose certain individuals to

dissociative dysfunction.

37

Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto”

(1918) translated in Robert

Motherwell, Dada: The Painters and

the Poets, MA: G. K. Hall, Boston

1981, p. 81.

38

Kurt Schwitters, “The Onion

(Merzpoem 8)” translated by Peter

Wortsman, Cambridge Literary Review

I/3, Easter, Cambridge 2010, pp.

113-14.

85 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg


Kurt Schwitters, Die frühlingstür, 1938

Assemblage, 87.8 x 72 cm

Galerie Gmurzynska

86 l

family income. She died of cancer in 1944 and the income was lost. He soon found a new

companion, Edith Thompson whom he nicknamed “Wantee,” and in 1945 they moved to the

Lake District in the northwest of England where he died three years later of heart failure.

Despite poverty and failing health Schwitters nevertheless embarked on a majestic late style in

Norway, as in the great Merzbild of 1938 Die frühlingstür (The Spring Door). In it, the space opens

up, as if the expanse of the bucolic Norwegian landscape liberated him from the congested urban

compositions done in Germany. In contrast to the concentrated energy of colliding orthogonals in

Construction for Noble Ladies, the freer, sweeping curves of Die frühlingstür, translucently painted

like gestures color mist in the air, open out to the surrounding space. Even the three dimensional

objects in Die frühlingstür seem to float weightlessly outward to the edges and beyond.

Abstract physical forms project even further, as if flying out of the composition, in the


l

Kurt Schwitters, Pollfoss, 1947

Oil and chalk on panel laid down on the artist’s mount, 17.2 x 17.2 cm

Galerie Gmurzynska

Surrealist Relief of 1943 and Heavy Relief of 1945, made in London. Then in the last two years

of his life Schwitters was remarkably productive making collages and beginning the construction

of a new Merzbau in the countryside – a “Merzbarn,” as he called it. These last years extend

the blossoming of the late style that first emerged in Norway as if the beautiful lakes and rugged

mountains of the Lake District reminded him of the beauty of nature in Norway and formed

a continuum with it in this thoughts. He even titled a little painting of 1947 Pollfoss – made

in England but titled after a secluded inn by a waterfall and fishing streams near the fjords of

Norway. Pollfoss is a tiny, remarkably free, sketchlike work with a gentle openness, in lyrical

clouds of color. Was it advanced age and experience that brought Schwitters to the calmer unity

in himself that we feel in Pollfoss? Or perhaps the expansiveness of nature that brought the

discernable inner peace that defines these late works?

87 SCHWITTERS: Tending the Enchanted Garden · by Jonathan Fineberg


88

Kurt Schwitters

Siegfried Gohr (2016)

A genius in friendship

Photograph of Kurt Schwitters, Käte Steinitz, Nelly van Doesburg,

Theo van Doesburg, Hans Nitzschke,

Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, in the studio of

Vordemberge-Gildewart, Hanover 1923

© RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, Archive of Theo and

Nelly van Doesburg (0408)


Kurt Schwitters, who knew a lot of people and whom many of his acquaintances have described, was a

multifaceted personality which, in view of his life’s work as an artist and poet, scarcely comes as a surprise.

His companion, Hannah Höch, said: “It is not at all possible to approach in a few words such a complicated and

contradictory person like Schwitters. An artist through and through, obsessed with art, uninhibited in the use of

his artistic means like no other in his time. And, along with that, his bourgeois, even petit-bourgeois shell was

nevertheless genuine.” This can be supplemented by a description from Marguerite Hagenbach, the later wife

of Arp: “Hans said to me that Schwitters was one of his best friends, a great poet, but a little crazy. After the

Urlaut-Sonate that Schwitters had brilliantly recited [in Basel], he came to me and said, ‘It seems to me that

89


Kurt Schwitters: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr

90

Kurt Schwitters, GäsTebuch FÜR Die mERzausstellunG, 1922

Visitors’ book, pencil, colored pencil on cardboard (cover) and paper

Exhibition MERZ Ausstellung. Gemälde und Zeichnungen von Kurt Schwitters (Anna Blume), Roemer-Museum,

Hildesheim 1922

© 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

man, but a little crazy.’”

91

This anecdote can be fathomed in many directions, but what the epithet “crazy” means, which Schwitters

and Arp mutually attributed to each other, has the important connotation that here it is a matter of persons who

possessed an artistic core that did not allow itself to be pushed aside and ‘deranged’, for which reason they

could be regarded from the outside as crazy.

A further motif can already be read from the sparse lines, namely, that of a friendship among artists. When,

as a consequence of the French Revolution, the ties of artists to the state and church became increasingly

loosened, artists sought a new exchange and a protection that often was only possible through friendships or

associations of artists. The German Nazarenes in Rome around 1800 marked a beginning. Innumerable further

unions followed. In the 20th century not only the element of friendship formed the ground for cohesion, but also

an artistic mission, an idea, a shared artistic or social project. Schwitters stimulated such unions, but he also

profited from initiatives emanating from others.

After friendly connections in his home-town of Hanover when he was still painting in a traditional way,

contact with the avant-garde in Berlin came about. One of the significant motors of the new art there was

Herwarth Walden with his gallery, Der Sturm. Here Schwitters exhibited for the first time in 1918. Walden was

active internationally, his artists coming not only from Germany. In the summer of 1919 Schwitters achieved a

breakthrough when he showed at Walden’s gallery the first Merz paintings, his completely individual version of

Dadaism. But Walden organized not only exhibitions, but also discussion evenings with talks, publishing also

a periodical and running a publishing house. Schwitters began to publish his first poems, not only in Walden’s

periodical, but also in the publishing house of Paul Steegemann in Hanover; here the anthology Anna Blume

appeared.

Schwitters remained restlessly active not only as an artist, but organized, starting in the 1920s, also

discussion evenings where he presented his own texts. Often, however, he planned these soirees not by himself,

for instance, on a trip to Prague in 1921. His wife, Helma Schwitters, also attended, as well as Raoul Hausmann

and Hannah Höch. The evenings were clearly successful, to which not least of all Schwitters’ personal charm

contributed. This was followed in 1922/23 by the legendary ‘Dada campaign’ in the Netherlands during which

numerous towns were visited. Schwitters, Theo van Doesburg and Vilmos Huzár took part. This enterprise

drew a lot of attention. For Schwitters, not only the event was important, but also the possibility of enlarging

his network. Scarcely any artist of his generation made and cultivated friendships so consciously, sought

out acquaintances, always guided by the striving to incorporate artists and people into his career who had

understanding for the avant-garde or were themselves engaged in artistic developments on the front line. The

episode about how Schwitters won over Raoul Hausmann is particularly telling. The whole thing took place in

1918 or 1919 in Café des Westens in Berlin. Schwitters went up to Hausmann and introduced himself which,

however, did not have any great effect. Then he said, “I am a painter; I nail my paintings”. Now the other became

curious and a lifelong friendship and collaboration resulted. Schwitters even tried from England to renew the

contract with the friend in order to realize their common newspaper project, PIN. However, it never came about.

Among all his friends, Hans Arp had a special place. They met for the first time in 1918 in Café des

Westens in Berlin. Arp was working in a style that he had developed from cubism. Under his influence Schwitters

glued some abstract collages in 1918, of which one is called Hans, thus representing an homage to his friend


Kurt Schwitters: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr

92

“Porträt Herwarth Walden”, poem by Kurt Schwitters in Herwarth

Walden (ed.), Der Sturm, Zehnter Jahrgang, Achtes Heft, Der Sturm

Verlag, Hanover 1919


93

Photograph of Helma Schwitters, Nelly van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, Theo van Doesburg, in the apartment of

the architect Jan Wils, Den Haag 1923 (Dada Tournée)

© RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, Archive of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg (0408)

who showed him the way out of expressionism and futurism. The two artists had much in common, so that

the contact remained even when Schwitters was in exile in Norway. Both were poets of stature, both used

to employ irony and humour also in their works. In the structure of their personalities, they were completely

independent individuals who did not stick to convention. Despite all appearances to the contrary, both had

strong ties with nature. Alfred Döblin, looking on Schwitters from the outside, wrote in 1919: “I have never seen

any painter worship nature so intensively. He will not admit it to me. But that doesn’t mean anything.” Visits

by Schwitters to Basel and Meudon near Paris consolidated the friendship with Arp, and there were common

works time and again. Here an affinity of intellect manifested itself that had deep roots.

It was above all the letters and postcards through which Schwitters built up and cultivated his network

of contacts. In 1920 he exhibited in Dresden together with Oskar Schlemmer and Willi Baumeister, in the


94

Kurt Schwitters (ed.), Merz 6. Jmitatoren watch step!, Merzverlag, Hanover 1923


Postcard Kurt and Helma

Schwitters to Theo and Nelly van

Doesburg

© RKD – Netherlands Institute for

Art History, Archive of Theo and

Nelly van Doesburg (0408)

95 Kurt Schwitters: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr


96

aftermath writing several postcards to Schlemmer, whose work he obviously valued highly. However, there was

no closer collaboration. But because Schwitters maintained close relations with the Bauhaus in Weimar, he was

to encounter Schlemmer there again. The school published portfolios of graphic works and Bauhaus books. The

third portfolio to appear had the title, German Artists. The ten participants included also Schwitters. However,

with regard to the planned Merz book in the Bauhaus books series, this never got beyond an announcement.

After Schwitters had held his first soiree in 1921, he used every opportunity for public appearances. Therefore

he was to be heard also at the Bauhaus in 1925 and 1926. He adapted a well-known saying from choral

societies to the Bauhaus: “For where there is a Bauhaus, there is where you can settle; evil people do not know

anything about squares!” Already in 1929, the founder of the Weimar School, Walter Gropius, commissioned

him to graphically design all the printed material for the Dammerstock Settlement in Karlsruhe. Friendships

were formed during this period as a matter of course. Among these, however, one needs to be particularly

underscored, namely, the friendship with Dr Walter Dexel who was active in Jena as the director of the

Kunstverein. Not only letters and postcards were exchanged with him and his family, but personal visits were

also arranged. Dexel was, properly speaking, an academic art historian, but switched to curating exhibitions,

setting up a noteworthy program in Jena over the years. Apart from that, he was active as an artist. His

hallmark was geometrically formed glass panels. Schwitters obviously felt a great affinity to Dexel’s efforts

which is clearly expressed in the extant correspondence. Viewed from today, the avant-garde scene at the

time was relatively compact so that everybody could know everybody else if they wanted to. Apart from that,

the Bauhaus represented a platform on which the international avant-garde could meet and exchange views.

Such an opportunity was provided, for instance, by the Dada Meeting in Weimar in 1922 where an impressive

number of artists got together.

A special feature of Schwitters’ public appearances, apart from official appearances with readings,

performances, recitations of the Ursonate, etc, consisted in his spontaneous, puzzling character that broke

through all conventions. One day in May 1926, Schwitters came upon Leon Trotsky, his wife and secretary

in a restaurant on the banks of the Havel River. He went up to his table, recited the scherzo of the Ursonate,

and declared that his poetry was the Permanent Revolution. Thereupon something unheard of happened, for

Trotsky, somewhat hesitantly at first, recited the scherzo together with Schwitters. It was a sign of an immediate

mutual understanding.

Before Schwitters finally went into exile in Norway on 2 January 1937, it was the Netherlands and

Switzerland that he visited repeatedly and to where his contacts of friendships led. After the ‘Dada campaign’,

Schwitters travelled almost every year to the Netherlands. There were many different reasons for this. On one

hand, he gave talks; on the other, in 1925 he took part in exhibitions in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. One year

later he spent holidays with Helma and his son, Ernst, on the Dutch coast in Kijkduin. Articles by Schwitters

often appeared in Dutch avant-garde publications. Up until 1936 when he travelled through the country for the

last time, he had left behind traces as an artist, poet and writer. His friendship with the mathematician, Hans

Freudenthal, and his wife, Susanne, in Amsterdam kept its significance alongside the professional connections

with the art world. Schwitters had got to know the couple in Norway in 1934. This was followed by several visits

to the Freudenthals in Amsterdam. Hans wrote several important mathematical books, but he was particularly

interested in the didactics of science, that is, in the question as to how mathematics lessons were ‘realistically’

to be designed. It can only be surmised what he and Schwitters talked about. But did not Schwitters’ public

engagement have traits of a bizarre, didactic effort to win over the public to the avant-garde and educate it?


97

Kurt Schwitters: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr

Kurt Schwitters, Merz 7. Merz ist Form. Formen heißt entformeln, Merzverlang, Hanover 1924


Kurt Schwitters: A genius in friendship · by Siegfried Gohr

98

It was similar with his trips to Switzerland. However, initially there were obstacles to visiting Switzerland

because in 1923 the Swiss consul in Bremen denied Schwitters a visa. The reason? Schwitters’ presence in

Zurich was not necessary and not desired. Only in 1929 did Schwitters really come to Switzerland to recite

poetry together with Arp. It was the married couple, Siegfried Giedeon and Carola Giedeon-Welcker, who

initially effectively supported and advanced Schwitters in Switzerland, remarkably, also Schwitters the wordartist.

James Joyce was several times a guest in the couple’s home, which presupposed an understanding

for the new language of modern literature. In Switzerland Hans Arp remained a continual point of reference

because he often spent time there. A climax for Schwitters’ public resonance in Switzerland is doubtlessly

represented by a discussion evening on 1 December 1935 at the home of the collector couple, Annie and

Oskar Müller-Widmann. The acquaintance with these avant-garde collectors who had built a modern house in

the Basel suburb of Bruderholz in 1934, was mediated by Jan Tschichold who had emigrated to Basel in 1933

for political reasons. Not Zurich, but the city on the bend in the Rhine attracted Schwitters, for the museums

and the modern architecture there interested him lastingly. Apart from that, his art found more sympathetic

understanding there. Therefore, the evening of 1 December 1935 in Bruderholz remained unforgettable for

him as the conclusion of the period of his life before going into exile. From Norway Schwitters wrote on 17

December 1939, that is, shortly after the Second World War had broken out, to Annie Müller-Widmann: “I would

so much like to come to you once again, and it would have to be peace, sunshine and spring, and all our good

friends would have to be there. That would be a foretaste of paradise.”

How much Schwitters suffered from the situation can be measured by how much previously he had been

an artist under way, a restless person who could set up anywhere. He always had his material, that is, the

ingredients for his collages, with him so that new works could be made anywhere.

During the years in Norway he made acquaintances in his own way, and even won friends, but there

was no scene and no audience for modern art. Therefore Schwitters was isolated in this regard. After he

had narrowly escaped to Scotland in 1940, he was compelled to spend seventeen months in the Hutchinson

Camp on the Isle of Man. As oppressive as this situation was, he nevertheless met other internees from

the German cultural scene: writers, artists, intellectuals, musicians, actors, scientists. The emigrants made a

virtue of necessity by organizing talks and theatre performances. Because Schwitters was sought after as a

portrait painter, he had some income and was able to buy his way out of the usual camp duties. He shared his

room with the social philosopher, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, the offspring of a painter family with connections to the

Düsseldorf Art Academy. The social philosopher had analyzed especially political, economic and social relations

in the Weimar Republic in order to theoretically understand the rise of fascism. Schwitters dedicated one of

his most impressive portraits to his roommate. Sitting with his pipe in his mouth, his gaze directed straight out

of the picture, Sohn-Rethel is characterized as someone reflecting from a distance, which is how Schwitters

had got to know him. The two had shared topics to speak about on the basis of their experiences during the

Weimar Republic.

Once Schwitters had been released from internment, he first went to London where he met a young

woman, Edith Thomas, whom he called Wantee, probably derived from, “[Do you] want tea?” He felt this new

partner to be an angel whom his wife, Helma, had sent. Wantee cared for and protected the sick and frail man

until his death in 1948. She was the last in a long series of lovers whom Schwitters had been able to win over —

with charm, wit and adoration: Käte Steinitz, Grete Dexel, Hannah Höch, Nelly van Doesburg, Katherine S. Dreier,

and many others. The women played a significant role not only in Schwitters’ life, but also in his work. One of the

most beautiful early assemblages was given the title, Construction for Noble Ladies (1919). The artist had named


the Merzbau in Waldhausenstraße 5 in Hanover Cathedral of Erotic Misery. Among the numerous caves and

grottoes there were two that Hannah Höch was able to set up herself, namely: the Goethe Grotto and the Brothel

with a Lady with Three Legs were her own work, surely a proof of special appreciation. One cave was dedicated

to his wife, Helma, an admirable person without whose understanding and patience Schwitters would never have

been able to cope with his career that brought him into the foremost rank of artists of his generation. Picasso

and Matisse, Beckmann and Kokoschka continually chose their own women and others for motifs for their work.

Because of Schwitters’ different method of working, this is not so obvious with him, but as an undercurrent, the

erotic or friendly energies can always be discerned. Thus Schwitters created not only a cosmos of works called

Merz, but also a cosmos of people who gave him a hold and closeness in his restlessness.

99

Epilogue

It has often been reported how persistently Schwitters insisted on exchanging works with friends. A

consequence of this were the many dedications that can be found handwritten on the lower edge of the works.

A further result was the Merz collection. Today 54 works can still be documented, frequently from artists

who are today famous. A series of works vanished in the Merzbau, being burnt along with it. The group of

works must therefore originally have been much more extensive. As a ‘private museum’, the Merz collection

mirrored Schwitters’ biography, at the same time including a significant selection from the creative work of

modern artists. From this angle, the Merzbau can also be regarded as an artists’ museum, complemented by

such works which Schwitters otherwise kept with him.

Photograph of Käte Steinitz, Theo van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, and Nelly van Doesburg, 1930s

© Tate, London 2015


100

Kurt Schwitters: Guestbook of

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


101


102

Kurt Schwitters: Guestbook of

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


103


104

Kurt Schwitters: Guestbook of

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


105


106

Kurt Schwitters: Guestbook of

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


107


108

Kurt Schwitters: Guestbook of

the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Guestbook of the Ernst and Käte Steinitz family, 1920-1961

Kladde, 28 x 23,5 cm

Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover

© Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Herling/Gwose/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover


109


Kurt Schwitters & Kazimir Malevich

110

On the 10th May 1927 Kazimir Malevich wrote a letter, from Berlin,

addressing Kurt Schwitters. Two versions exist of this letter. One

manuscript is in the Bauhaus-Archive in the Museum für Gestaltung

in Berlin (Inv. n. 2848). The transcript is published in I. A. Vakar, T.

H. Mihienko’s Малевич о себе. Современники о Малевиче. Письма.

Документы. Воспоминания. Критика, том I (RA, Moscow 2004, pp.

189-191), as well as in English translation in Irina A. Vakar and Tatiana

N. Mikhienko’s Kazimir Malevich. Letters and Documents, vol. 1 (Tate

Publishing, London 2015, pp. 202-204).

The second manuscript, a shortened version, can be found in the Stedelijk

Museum in Amsterdam, which was reproduced in English in Troels

Anderen’s K. S. Malevich. The Artist, Infinity, Suprematism – unpublished

writings 1913-33, vol IV (Borgens Forlag, Amsterdam 1978, pp. 160-162).

It remains unclear if the letter was translated into German and sent to the

addressee.

In Malevich’s letter he references Schwitters’ essay “Mein Merz = Meine

Monstra Merz = Jahrmarktvorbild im Sturm”, which was published in the


111

journal Der Sturm (Monatsschrift, 17. Jahrgang, Der Sturm Verlag, Berlin

October 1926, pp. 106-107). In this essay Schwitters names Malevich as an

artist who inspired him.

In response, Malevich discusses elements raised in Schwitters’ writing, i.e.

the meaning of art and if Constructivism can be considered art, which are

coincidentally topics that occupied Malevich since 1910.

There is no evidence to suggest that Schwitters and Malevich were

personally acquainted. However, we do know that Schwitters was interested

in Malevich’s work. The periodical Merz 8/9 (Merzverlag, Hanover 1924),

published by Schwitters in cooperation with El Lissitzky, pictures Malevich’s

Black Square with commentary.

In SchwittersMerzbau, in which he dedicated grottos to different artists, a

space was devoted to Malevich in celebration of his work.

The long-distance friendship between Malevich and Schwitters was most

likely initiated by El Lissitzky.

p. 112-113 Letter from Kazimir Malevich to Kurt Schwitters, 10 May 1927, Berlin

Inv. No. 2848

Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.


112

Kurt Schwitters & Kazimir Malevich


113


Kurt Schwitters & Kazimir Malevich

114

To Kurt Schwitters

From Kazimir Malewicz

Having read your article in the journal Der Sturm of October 1926, I see that you are an advocate of Art, but

you write in such a tone that it seems like a voice crying in the wilderness, as if the entire field were already

overgrown with Constructivism, and neither Art nor artist were visible behind this overgrowth. But despite all

this, you still make so bold as to call yourself an artist. At the very time when Constructivism (Constructure) is

already becoming an unremarkable phenomenon, at the very time when the banner of Art is beginning to be

raised and the artist is liberated from enslavement to ideas holding sway over his sensations and, strange as it

might seem, given the fact that painters were the first to shrug off objectness from the shoulders of art, and were

the first to start rocking, striking anew at representation, while the architects, who, it would seem, had gained a

firm hold exclusively on expedient forms, who maintained and continue even now to maintain the reason for the

manifestation of forms from the functional side, which in turn flows from the idea, turn up in the ranks of the front

of art, as such.

It must indeed be acknowledged: that Art is still in a period of crisis, Constructivism is not completely cured,

Art in our day is suffering a severe case of it, but it is my diagnosis nonetheless that it will prevail, for man will

still remain man and the machine will not possess him, and it will not turn him into a mechanical automaton,

since he has made the machine to liberate his movements for more important matters. That is already enough for

Constructivism not to become the apotheosis of life, but only Art.

Man will never throw himself into the slot of an automated machine, like a coin, in order to receive in exchange

a dead piece of cardboard for his fare, or a five-kopeck stamp. Because he has constructed it to carry out dead

functions, for which mechanical movements exist. Man, by contrast, has reserved for himself live functions and live

movements. Hence Constructivism can never kill Art, but the automaton has triumphed over the Constructivists.

Contemporary artists who have transformed themselves into Constructivists under the influence of “expedient

technology” have renounced Art, wishing to serve life and provide it in time with a perfected economic “kitchenbedroom”

or “kitchen-automobile,” they are saw blades, that is, something even life is reluctant to accept.

The Constructivists viewed contemporary man as a contemporary automaton, they adopted the automaton as

the image of man. Thus, unwittingly they themselves became automatons, with a purpose and the image of a

purpose—and it’s the purpose that was their automaton. Hence they suffer from visions of purpose-images and from

a change in conceptions, therefore they suffer too from a mania for overcoming the economic purposes of squalid

life. They themselves don’t know that the construction for them serves only as a method of crawling out of those

nooks and crannies into which life has thrust them.

But since this is their purpose and image, obviously they will never crawl out, for to crawl out from under purpose

and image, that is, to triumph over its realization, means to enter objectlessness.

The new artists, being revolutionaries in spirit, were carried away by contemporary

changes in political and economic human relations, as a result they introduce new achievements in Art as a new

technical means of expressing political and economic

relations, instead of revealing Art as such, liberating it from this or that ideology, and

creating an Art that is really new in form, they engaged in illustration, representation

(at a time when it would have been more essential to go to the barricades not with

canvases, but with a more expressive instrument).

This is one instance, in another case part of the artists of the new Art went to work

constructing various types of expedient objects, and in this instance, such artists rejected Art and ceased to be


115

artists. In the wake of this confusion of concepts the spirit, the strength were also directed, not to a new form of

Art, but to the form that had been before, that is, illustrating and serving ideologies. Hence the new artists begin to

overlook Art.

The late 19th century and early 20th century were noted for a supreme event in Art. This event was noteworthy

because it led to objectlessness, it freed itself from ideological tenants who are like hermit crabs, who crawl into

beautiful shells and turn them into utilitarian, expedient living quarters. Moreover, they even propose that if the

hermit crab didn’t exist, then the shell wouldn’t exist either, and with their ideology they prove that the shell was

the result of its [the crab’s] functions, of its life.

The shell itself also became convinced of this ideology and gave itself up to be eaten, from which the ideological

crab only grew stronger in fat and body and made itself beautiful with [the shell’s] Art. Just so will the artists be

eaten by the ideologues.

Look at the hermit crab, sitting on the mother-of-pearl shell, and you will see that a harmonious connection

between its image? [sic] and the image of the shell does not exist. So too in Art there is no harmony between the

tavern of life and Art.

Religion and the State are sometimes connected, sometimes they don’t understand each other and part ways,

essentially this is one and the same thing, it is only a difference in methods of attaining a goodly kingdom in

heaven or on earth.

The same with Science-Technology, in developing means of communications, the train, the auto, the airplane, the

radio, and so on, for the most rapid achievement of the goal and the image of the idea, in like manner it does not

achieve it. This has already been proven by the historical movement of materialism and Religionism.

We have only to mention the fact that thousands of engineers with millions of workers and peasants to this day

have not been able to build anything permanent or unchanging, whereas the artist, with a simple bristle brush or

chisel has made things that have worked permanently and in like manner throughout all ages.

Artists long ago triumphed over space and time, and image and idea, without weapons, power, gases, and

dynamite. Everything else is merely breaking down an open door.

What’s more, artists long ago destroyed “thought,” something that has not been achieved despite all the efforts of

high-minded people to create a particular form of life. After all, every State or religion system (so-called order)

strives to establish a single, unchanging thinking, and how similar are the religious commandments:

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

“Thou shalt have no other thinking but mine,” says the State idea.

Anyone who thinks otherwise will be punished.

Thus, Comrade Schwitters, artists have long ago come to the watch-tower of rest

and objectlessness, and the hermit crab to this day has not found his abode, he has built nothing, nothing

comfortable, nothing utilitarian, but in order not to fail completely, he passes himself off as a genius of the

ideological future, since he can offer nothing in the present, and wishing to be conscientious, he says right off the

bat, “I promise nothing in the present, only in the future,” but even so he ate up the shell today. Artists offer a

thing of today, for it is in all things today, of today (Praezens [sic]).

Kazimir Malevich

Berlin 1o May 1917

This English translation is published in Kazimir Malevich: Letters, Documents, Memoirs, Criticism Volume 1

(Tate Publishing, 2015) and is reproduced by permission of the Tate Trustees.


Kurt Schwitters & Kazimir Malevich

116

El Lissitzky, Kurt Schwitters (eds.),

Merz 8/9, Merzverlag, Hanover 1924,

cover and page reproducing Malevich’s

Black Square


p. 117-119 cover and two pages by Kurt Schwitters, “Mein Merz und Meine Monstre Merz

Muster Messe im Sturm”, in Herwarth Walden (ed.), Der Sturm, Monatsschrift, 17. Jahrgang,

Der Sturm Verlag, Berlin October 1926

117


118

Kurt Schwitters & Kazimir Malevich


119


120

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

KARIN ORCHARD (2000)

THE ELOQUENCE

OF WASTE

KURT SCHWITTERS’ WORK AND ITS

RECEPTION IN AMERICA


“I think I could do well in the USA.”

(Letter from Kurt Schwitters to Helma

Schwitters, 11 June 1941)

Last year in the May issue of the American

art journal Artnews, when the journal’s editors

together with critics and curators listed “the

century’s 25 most influential artists” Kurt

Schwitters was not amongst those chosen.

Instead the list named artists such as Max

Ernst, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans,

Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko and

Marcel Duchamp. Despite this “relative

absence of Kurt Schwitters” 1 in the late 20th

century, in the 1950s and 60s he had been

hailed along with Marcel Duchamp as a hero

of Modernism and as a role model for avantgarde

artists in the post-war period.

In order to analyse the response amongst

artists in the USA to Kurt Schwitters’ work,

and its influence on the next generation, it is

necessary to establish what artists, critics and

curators living there could have known of his

work. We have to ask which works from which

periods of his career could be seen in the

original, which of his theoretical and literary

texts were available in English translations,

how was he presented in publications and

exhibition catalogues, in which contexts,

in what kind of galleries, museums and

exhibitions was he present? Since Schwitters,

to his regret, never visited the United States,

he did not have the opportunity to promote

his work there personally nor to captivate

audiences there with his skills as a speaker

and performer. If he had been able to fulfil

his plans to go the United States or even to

emigrate there, his impact would no doubt

have been that much greater, for he generally

made a memorable impression with his

pleasing, humorous yet eccentric personality.

Schwitters’ contacts with the USA went

back to 1920, the year after he had started

to work on his so-called ‘Merz’ collage

technique. The initiative came from the

American collector Katherine S. Dreier, who

was looking for new artists and ideas for the

Société Anonyme, which she had founded with

Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray in New York.

In her search she travelled through Europe,

assiduously making new contacts. 2 It was in

Herwarth Walden’s Sturm gallery in Berlin,

that she first encountered the nailed and

glued pictures by Schwitters that were causing

a scandal at the time. Convinced of their

quality, from then on she showed Schwitters

work almost every year in the exhibitions

of the Société Anonyme which also used to

tour throughout the United States. The most

important of these exhibitions was certainly

the International Exhibition of Modern Art in

the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1926. 3

Since the legendary Armory Show in New York

in 1913, there had been no comparable major

exhibition of international contemporary art

in the United States. Katherine S. Dreier

had asked Schwitters and his wife Helma to

assist in the selection process, particularly

for the Constructivist section. They both

enthusiastically threw themselves into this

task and acted as European agents for the

Société Anonyme. In 1931 Schwitters was

even appointed an Honorary President of the

society. In the Brooklyn exhibition there was

a total of eleven works by Kurt Schwitters on

show.

Over the years Katherine S. Dreier

purchased a large number of works by Kurt

Schwitters from all the different stages in his

career, both for her private collection and for

the collection of the Société Anonyme. This

1

Rudi Fuchs, Conflicts with Modernism or the Absence of Kurt

Schwitters/Konflikte mit dem Modernismus oder die Abwesenheit

von Kurt Schwitters, Bern and Berlin 1991.

2

See Gwendolen Webster, ‘Kurt Schwitters and Katherine Dreier’,

in: German Life and Letters, vol. 52, no. 4, 1999, pp. 443–456.

3

See Ruth L. Bohan, The Société Anonyme’s Brooklyn Exhibition.

Katherine Dreier and Modernism in Amerika, Ann Arbor 1982, pp.

47f., 55.

121


THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

122

Katherine S. Dreier, Constantin Aladjalov, International Exhibition of Modern Art, Societe Anonyme,

Brooklyn Museum, New York 1926


Letter from Kurt Schwitters

to Katherine S. Dreier, 6 October 1947

Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme

archive. Yale Collection of American Literature,

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

123


124

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

became partly accessible to the general public

when Dreier gave it to the Yale University

Art Museum in 1941. After her death in

1952, Marcel Duchamp was named as the

administrator of the private collection left

in her estate. He donated nineteen works

by Schwitters to the Museum of Modern Art

(MoMA) in New York, another eleven went to

the collection in Yale University Art Museum,

three to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

in New York, one Merz picture and one collage

to the Phillips Collection and two works to

the American University in Washington. But

Katherine S. Dreier’s support for Schwitters

did not stop at the purchase of works of art for

her collection; she also smoothed the path for

purchases by other leading private American

collections and assisted the artist and his

family financially during the difficult years of

his exile. She did not meet him face to face

until 1926 when she visited him in Hanover.

There was a second meeting in 1929; once

again they met in Hanover, this time together

with Duchamp. There is no detailed record of

this meeting, and we can only speculate as to

how this single encounter between these two

protagonists of Modernism may have gone.

Schwitters felt greatly flattered by the interest

Katherine S. Dreier took in him, particularly

since this committed collector offered him a

good chance of becoming better known in the

USA. Yet Dreier found it difficult to interest a

wider public in Schwitters’ art. In her speech

at the first one-man show of Schwitters’ work

in New York in the Pinacotheca Gallery in

1948, she was very open: “It has taken a long

time for the American public to respond to the

Schwitters though we had shown them already

in 1920. I had thought that the response

would come as quickly as did that of Klee, not

realising that Schwitters was far more difficult

for the average person to understand because

he was purely the painter and there was no

approach through the intellect which Klee

reached through his whimsical delineation

of ideas. This all happened 27 years ago and

except for a few lovers of the rare quality

of Schwitters’ ‘Merz’ collages, he remained

almost unknown in this country”. 4 But by his

first one-man show on American soil at the

latest, Schwitters was recognised as a leading

protagonist of abstract modernism.

Again through Dreier, in 1935 contact

was made with the newly founded Museum

of Modern Art in New York, which was

– alongside the Société Anonyme – the

most important institution for modern art.

On Dreier’s suggestion, the director of the

Museum, Alfred Barr, visited Schwitters in

Hanover, and bought one picture that year

and two the following year for the Museum

of Modern Art collection. 5 In the extremely

influential exhibitions put on by MoMA in

1936, Cubism and Abstract Art 6 and Fantastic

Art, Dada, Surrealism 7 there were collages

by Schwitters and Merz pictures, as well as

photographs of the Merzbau on display and

illustrated in the catalogue. The catalogue

essay in the shape of an introduction to Dada

by Georges Hugnet devoted a whole section

to Schwitters.

The regard that those responsible at

the Museum of Modern Art had for Kurt

Schwitters and his work is evident from the

fact that they awarded him a Fellowship

as a means of supporting him in his work

on a third Merzbau. Since 1946 Schwitters,

4

Katherine S. Dreier, unpublished manuscript (carbon copy), Kurt

Schwitters Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover

5

Reichardt-Schwertschlag Der We˝ihnachtsmann, 1922, Collage,

18.7 x 15.2 cm; Mz. 379. Potsdamer, 1922, Collage 17.9 x 14.4 cm;

Zeichnung A 2 Haus. (Hansi), 1918, Collage, 17.9 x 14.5 cm.

6

The works exhibited were Strahlen Welt Merzbild 31B, 1920, and

Merzkonstruktion (above), 1921, as well as four collages from 1921

to 1926, both assemblages were illustrated in the catalogue.

7

The exhibits included Strahlen Welt Merzbild 31B, 1920, three

collages from 1920 to 1922 and nine photographs of the Merzbau;

the Merz picture and two photographs of the Merzbau were illustrated

in the catalogue.


together with Alfred Barr and the curator

Margaret Miller, had been working on plans

to complete earlier Merzbaus; initially the

idea was to rebuild and restore the Merzbau

in Hanover that had been destroyed in 1943

during the war; later on discussions turned

to the question of completing the Haus am

Bakken, the Norwegian Merzbau in Lysaker

near Oslo which Schwitters had had to

abandon when he fled the country. However,

the wholesale destruction of the Hanover

Merzbau and Schwitters’ precarious state of

health meant that neither of these was a viable

possibility. By this time the artist was already

living in the Lake District, which led him to

consider undertaking a new Merz project in a

barn in Elterwater near Ambleside. The first

instalment of the Fellowship of a thousand

dollars arrived punctually in June 1947 on his

60th birthday, and he started immediately on

his Merzbarn. Yet this project, too, was never

to be finished since Schwitters died early the

following year.

In 1946, Schwitters also discussed

other projects besides the Merzbau with the

Museum of Modern Art: these included a

one-man show, another planned project was

his participation in an international group

show focusing on collage, which was initially

intended for summer 1947. However, both

shows were repeatedly postponed – and in

the end Schwitters’ first one-man show in

MoMA did not take place until 1985. During

the earlier discussion period, Schwitters had

already selected 39 recent collages and sent

them to New York in four groups. 8 Some of

these were shown in the major exhibition

Collage which finally took place from 21

September until 5 December 1948, after

Schwitters’ death. Nineteen collages by

Schwitters were shown, eight from 1946/47.

Besides Picasso with twenty works and Max

Ernst with twelve collages, Schwitters was one

of the few artists in this influential exhibition

whose work was shown in any great numbers. 9

This in itself bears witness to the recognition

he enjoyed at MoMA as a pioneer of the art

of collage. In the short introduction to the

list of exhibits, his Merz art is described as

being “distinct from the anti-aesthetic and

political directness of the Dada movement

in Germany” – a distinction that was to be

very important for the subsequent reception

of his work. Although Schwitters’ œuvre has

frequently been labelled as Dada, the qualities

of his more aesthetic approach had in fact

been recognised early on.

The exhibition was very positively

received and reviewed. The most influential

critic and promoter of the emergent Abstract

Expressionism, Clement Greenberg, wrote that

Schwitters and Hans Arp – even if at a “certain

distance” – could be seen to be following in

the footsteps of Picasso and Braque, the “great

masters of collage”. 10 Greenberg’s estimation

of the significance of collage resulted in a farreaching

reassessment of this technique: “The

medium of collage has played a crucial role in

the painting and sculpture of the 20th century,

and it is the most trenchant and direct key to

the aesthetics of genuine modern art.” 11

Since the planned one-man show of Kurt

Schwitters’ work in MoMA did not come to

fruition, credit for putting on the first solo

presentation of his work in the USA goes to

a commercial gallery. At the same time, the

8

Lists from the estate in the Kurt Schwitters Archive in the

Sprengel Museum Hannover.

9

According to the hectographed exhibition list 102 works were

shown. There was no catalogue, although there was evidently a plan

to publish one, see the letter from Margaret Miller to

Kurt Schwitters, 29 November 1946, copy in the Kurt Schwitters

Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover.

10

Clement Greenberg, untitled, in the column ‘Art’, in: The Nation

167, no. 21, 27 November 1948, pp. 612ff., reprinted in: idem, The

Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. by John O’Brian, Chicago and

London, 1986, pp. 259–263, here p. 262.

11

Ibid., p. 259.

125


126

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

Exhibition catalogue

for Kurt Schwitters

at The Pinacotheca, New York,

January-February 1948

(front cover, text by Naum Gabo)

© Tate, London 2016


exhibition in the Pinacotheca Gallery in New

York also became, by force of circumstances,

a memorial exhibition, since it opened on

19 January 1948 shortly after the death of

the artist. This exhibition had also been

planned during Schwitters’ lifetime and he

had partly selected the works himself. Once

again, it was Katherine S. Dreier who had

introduced the gallerist Rose Fried to the

work of the German Merz artist and who also

supported the exhibition by lending works.

Schwitters and Rose Fried had enjoyed a

lively correspondance since late 1946 and

were both enthused by their shared plans for

an exhibition. In order to set this exhibition

apart from the Collage exhibition which was

scheduled to take place at the same time in

MoMA, Schwitters suggested showing Merz

pictures and sculptures as well as collages. 12

In the end the exhibition contained collages

and constructions, mainly from 1946/47, with

26 entries in the catalogue.

Even before the exhibition had opened

Rose Fried was already able to sell works,

with the result that she asked Schwitters

and Katherine S. Dreier to send more

works. 13 From a commercial point of view the

exhibition turned out to be a disaster, because

while it was running only another two works

were sold. But over time the situation changed

and in October 1948 Rose Fried wrote to the

artist’s son, Ernst Schwitters, asking for more

works, since “there is growing interest in

them and I would like to put on an exhibition

again this year, if possible”. 14 The opening of

a second one-man show with the title Small

Group of Collages by Kurt Schwitters was,

however, delayed until 1953. In 1954 and

1956 Rose Fried showed his work in group

shows, amongst others in her important

International Collage Exhibition, which took

place in spring 1956, and with eighty-five

selected works traced the development of

collage from the beginnings of Modernism

right up to contemporary works by artists such

as Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner and Anne

Ryan, to name just a few of the American

participants.

During the war and in the immediate postwar

period, the reception of Kurt Schwitters

art reached one of its early highpoints. New

York became a focal point for the avantgarde

in art, and the Merz artist played an

important part in this as an inspiration and

role-model. His increasing renown coincided

with the emergence of an independent art

scene and new artistic tendencies in the USA,

the so-called New York School, Abstract

Expressionism and Neo-Dada. There was even

a suggestion that the new movement should

be called Neo-Merz instead of Neo-Dada. 15

Robert Motherwell is regarded as

one of the leading exponents of Abstract

Expressionism. His early works had been

included alongside Schwitters’ works in the

aforementioned exhibition Collage in MoMA

in 1948, as well as in the collage exhibition

that Rose Fried put on in her gallery in 1956.

However, the exhibition which had originally

sparked off his interest in this medium

had taken place much earlier. In 1942,

Motherwell had met the American collector

12

Letter from Kurt Schwitters to Rose Fried, 25 January 1947,

Archives of American Art, Rose Fried Gallery Papers, microfilm no.

2206.

13

Letter from Rose Fried to Kurt Schwitters, 27 May 1947, Kurt

Schwitters Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover. Amongst

other things she sold a collage to a “young artist”, see letter from

Rose Fried to Katherine S. Dreier, 25 March 1947, Yale University,

The Beinicke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Box

29, Folder 838. Unfortunately it is not possible to say who this artist

might have been.

14

Letter from Rose Fried to Ernst Schwitters, 31 October 1948,

Kurt Schwitters Archive in the Sprengel Museum Hannover.

15

Irving Sandler, ‘Ash can revisited’, in: Art International IV, no. 8,

1060, p. 29, as quoted in: Maria Müller, Aspekte der Dada-Rezeption,

1950–1966, Essen 1987, p. 86.

127


THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

128

Private view invitation to the

Collage exhibition held at The

Museum of Modern Art, 1948

(front cover, inside and back

cover)

© Tate, London 2015


and gallerist Peggy Guggenheim, who had

owned one of Schwitters’ larger works since

1940 – his assemblage Maraak Var I of

1930 – and who had already exhibited five

collages by Schwitters as long ago as 1938 in

London, in the Collage exhibition in her first

gallery, the Guggenheim Jeune. 16 Motherwell

must certainly have been able to study her

collection in detail, particularly since he later

advised Peggy Guggenheim on art matters. In

October 1942 she had opened her legendary

Art of the Century Gallery in New York,

and was planning the major international

Exhibition of Collage for the following year,

which was to include artists such as Picasso,

Matisse and – of course – Schwitters. In

addition this was to be the first overview

exhibition of collage in the United States. The

young American artists Robert Motherwell,

Jackson Pollock and William Baziotos were

also invited to contribute collages to this

exhibition. All three were a little hesitant at

first, since they had never made any collages

before, and Motherwell and Pollock decided

to carry out their first experiments in Pollock’s

studio. This proved to be a crucial experience

in Motherwell’s development and from that

point onwards, collage played a major part in

his œuvre. 17

Robert Motherwell was not only

recognised as an artist but also made a

name for himself as a leading critic and art

historian, and as such he was responsible for

The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology,

which is still the standard work in English

on the Dada movement. It first appeared in

1951 and quickly became a kind of bible

for all those who were interested in Dada at

the time. One might even go so far as to say

that it was this publication that first aroused

any real enthusiasm amongst artists and

critics for Dada. 18 Motherwell was the first to

introduce a wider English-speaking public

and above all a large number of artists and

critics to Schwitters’ work and theory. In his

introduction to the anthology, and similarly in

the annotated bibliography by the librarian at

MoMA, Bernard Karpel, Schwitters occupies

more space than any other artist. A whole

chapter is given over to an English translation

of Schwitters’ programmatic text Merz of

1920, in which he formulated his Merz theory

for the first time. Another chapter contains

Schwitters’ text on ‘Theo van Doesburg and

Dada’, and in Georges Hugnet’s essay on the

history of the Dada movement Schwitters

again occupies a prominent position: “It

was Schwitters who gave Dada its final

impetus”. 19 The basic artistic approach that

Hugnet identified in Schwitters, struck a

nerve amongst the younger generation of

American artists: “Walking along the street,

he would pick up a piece of string, a fragment

of glass, the scattered princes of the waste

land, the elements of these infinitely inspiring

landscapes. At home, heaps of wooden junk,

tufts of horsehair, old rags, broken and

unrecognisable objects, provided him with

clippings from life and poetry, and constituted

his reserves. With these witnesses taken from

16

The Surrealist painter Roland Penrose acted as advisor for the

exhibition. He and the art-critic Herbert Read, who also knew

Peggy Guggenheim very well and helped her when she was planning

her museum, had been the main organisers of the Exhibition of

Twentieth Century German Art in the New Burlington Galleries

in London, in which Schwitters was represented and which Peggy

Guggenheim certainly saw. Herbert Read was one of the few who

stood up for Schwitters in England and had written an essay for the

Schwitters’ first one-man show in Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery

in London in 1944. The close friendship between Peggy Guggenheim

and Nelly van Doesburg provided another chance to become

acquainted with Schwitters’ work, in that Nelly van Doesburg had

long been a friend of Kurt Schwitters and owned numerous collages

by him; a further chance was through the Belgian Surrealist E. L.

T. Mesens, who had been a friend of Schwitters since 1927. With

his London Gallery Mesens was Peggy Guggenheim’s neighbour

in Cork Street and presented Schwitters’ second one-man show in

England in his gallery in 1950.

17

See H. H. Arnason, ‘On Robert Motherwell and his Early Work’,

in: Art International X, no. 1, 1966, pp. 17–35, here p. 23.

18

For instance Barbara Rose, ‘Dada Then and Now’, in:

Art International VII, no. 1, 1963, pp. 22–28, here p. 28.

19

Georges Hugnet, ‘The Dada Spirit in Painting’, in: Robert

Motherwell, The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, New York

1951, p. 162.

129


130

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

the earth, he constructed sculptures and

objects which are among the most disturbing

products of his time. To the principle of the

object, he added a respect for life in the

form of dirt and putrefaction. […] Schwitters

suggested the irrational tastes that we know

from our dreams: spontaneity and the

acceptance of chance without choice.” 20

Apart from Motherwell’s anthology, at

that time there were scarcely any Englishlanguage

publications on Kurt Schwitters

or translations of his texts. Carola Giedion-

Welcker’s essay on Schwitters, which first

appeared in Weltwoche in 1947, and which was

published in the Magazine of Art as an obituary

in October 1948 with the title, ‘Schwitters:

or the Allusions of the Imagination’, was the

first extended, copiously illustrated text on

Schwitters to become available in the Englishspeaking

world. In addition there was also the

small pamphlet-catalogue produced for the

exhibition in the Pinacotheca Gallery in 1948,

with texts by Katherine S. Dreier, Naum Gabo

and Charmion Wiegand.

20

Ibid., pp. 163f. The text had been previously published in a very

slightly different version in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition

catalogue, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, 1936.

21

On Anne Ryan see: Anne Ryan Collages, Brooklyn Museum,

New York, 1974; Donald Windham, ‘Anne Ryan and her collages’,

in: Artnews, 73, no. 5, 1974, pp. 76–78; Anne Ryan. Collages from

Three Museums, Washburn Gallery, New York, 1991.

22

As quoted in: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection, Walker

Art Center, Minneapolis, 1990, p. 447.

23

Lee Hall, Betty Parsons. Artist, Dealer, Collector, New York 1991,

pp. 182f.

24

Laura de Coppet and Alan Jones, The Art Dealers, New York

1984, p. 23.

25

Peter Watson, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Castelli & Co. Der Aufstieg

des internationalen Kunstmarkts, Düsseldorf and elsewhere 1993,

p. 346.

26

On the history of the gallery see: Three Generations of Twentieth-Century

Art. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection of the

Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modem Art, New York 1972,

pp. 210–230.

Even if the gallerist Rose Fried was

more of an enthusiastic, idealistic art-lover

than a successful business woman and artdealer,

nevertheless her exhibition made a

major impression on the New York public

and, as we know, on at least one artist: Anne

Ryan. 21 Born in New Jersey in 1889, Anne

Ryan was already 58 years old when she first

came into contact with Kurt Schwitters’ art.

As a self-taught artist it had been some time

before she started to explore print techniques,

especially wood-cuts. She moved in artistic

circles and knew Jackson Pollock, Barnet

Newman and Hans Hofmann, who supported

her in her work. However, she only arrived at

her own language of forms – which brought

her overnight recognition amongst the New

York avant-garde – after she had visited the

Schwitters exhibition in Rose Fried’s gallery.

Her daughter remembers that first visit to

the gallery: “Mother went from one collage

to another in a passion of delight. She knew

instantly and completely that she had found

her métier. And she was practically exalted.

She had a great capacity for joy but I never

saw her so consumed by it […] We went

home and before she put water on for supper,

she was at her work table making collages.

During the following weeks she visited the

Fried Gallery a couple of times […].” 22 In the

six years until her death in 1954, Anne Ryan

worked exclusively on collages. Her works

were valued highly, yet her success is largely

forgotten today. These small-format works,

mainly in fabric and paper, display a fine

feeling for materials combined with a sense

of structure and pictorial composition; they

show the influence of Cubism, of Paul Klee

and – above all – of Kurt Schwitters.

In the early to mid-1950s, there were

at least four exhibitions of Ryan’s collages

in the influential Betty Parsons Gallery in

New York: three one-woman shows (1950,

1954 and 1955) and a joint show with Lee

Krasner (1953). 23 The Betty Parsons Gallery

was one of the few galleries in New York to

specialise exclusively in contemporary art.

Parsons had good contacts amongst important


collectors and leading institutions for modern

art such as the Museum of Modern Art. She

was much respected by artists, particularly

since she was a working artist herself. Yet, just

like Rose Fried’s gallery, the Betty Parsons

Gallery never had the same commercial

success as the comparable galleries owned

by Sam Kootz, Leo Castelli and Sidney Janis.

Betty Parsons, looking back, commented that

when she opened her gallery in 1946, of the

fifteen or so galleries in New York at the time,

only three or four specialised exclusively in

contemporary art. 24 At the time in New York

there were only around fifty professional

artists, everyone knew everyone and they were

on familiar terms with one another. 25 People

talked about art with the European émigrés

amongst their numbers, and visited the few

exhibitions that showed the new, radical

works of the avant-garde. Kurt Schwitters was

by no means unknown in these circles.

In September 1948, Sidney Janis

opened his gallery space at 15 East 57th

Street – directly opposite the Betty Parsons

Gallery. 26 Thanks to the triumphant progress

of Abstract Expressionism Sidney Janis

established himself as an extremely successful

gallerist and art-dealer, since early on he had

managed to entice the most promising young

artists away from Betty Parsons, including

Jackson Pollock in 1952, Franz Kline and

Invitation to a preview of Schwitters’ exhibition

at the Sidney Janis Gallery, 1952

© Tate, London 2015

131


132

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

Mark Rothko in 1953, and Robert Motherwell

the year after that. Sidney Janis’ practice was

to show these younger artists either together

with or alternately with established exponents

of Classical Modernism such as Fernand Léger

or Piet Mondrian, in order to break down the

wider public’s resistance to new art forms.

One of the modernists, whom he exhibited

very frequently in the years to come, was Kurt

Schwitters. Shortly after the latter’s death,

Janis had made contact with Edith Thomas,

Schwitters’ companion during the last years of

his life in England, and had acquired a large

number of works from her, either buying them

directly or taking them on commission. These

were predominantly collages from Schwitters

late period in England, since the artist had

had to leave his early works and his large

Merz pictures behind in Lysaker and Hanover

when he fled to England. Thus the American

public was much more familiar than its

European counterpart with the late collages

from the ensembles on loan to MoMA from

Rose Fried and Edith Thomas. 27 In contrast to

the rediscovery of the Merz artist in post-war

Europe, which – largely due to the preferences

of Werner Schmalenbach and the artist’s son,

Ernst Schwitters – concentrated on the early

‘classical’ Merz drawings and pictures, there

27

For more detail see Karin Orchard, ‘>Meine Zeit wird kommen


he also designed the catalogue: a poster-sized

sheet of silk-paper, printed, and crumpled into

a ball, which then had to be retrieved from a

trash can. Schwitters’ work was on prominent

display in this exhibition: the catalogue lists

six of his works which were shown along with

publications and his Merz magazines.

One of the visitors at this exhibition was

Robert Rauschenberg. This visit is Robert

Rauschenberg’s earliest recorded encounter

with Schwitters’ œuvre. He, too, was one of

Betty Parsons’ artists and had his first oneman

show in her gallery, opposite Sidney

Janis’ rooms, in 1951. Rauschenberg is often

hailed as Schwitters’ greatest successor,

although some dismiss him as an imitator.

He himself later denied that Schwitters

had been a direct influence and claimed

that he had only become aware of the art

of the Dadaist after he had already evolved

his own style. In view of the immediate

proximity of the two galleries, and the small

number of artists, gallerists and critics in

New York amongst whom Rauschenberg

moved, and whose conversation would often

turn to Schwitters and Dadaism in those

days, this claim of ignorance is somewhat

unconvincing. Moreover, Schwitters was not

only the subject of four one-man shows in

the Sidney Janis Gallery, he was also present

in a whole variety of group shows. And in

addition to that, the gallery had extensive

storage space – even today it still owns over

forty collages – which any interested party

could have access to, so that by 1953 at the

latest, Rauschenberg will have had ample

opportunity to see works by Schwitters, with

the exception of the 1952 exhibition, because

at the time he was travelling in Italy with Cy

Twombly. At the same time, it is perfectly

possible that he could have visited the 1948

exhibition in the Pinacotheca when he spent

a few days in New York in February. 31 In an

interview in 1965, he recalled that on a visit

to a Schwitters exhibition it had felt “as if

the whole exhibition had been made just for

me”, 32 and, later on, that he had “found out

about collages because everyone was talking

about Schwitters and I wanted to know more

Leaflet for an exhibition entitled,

Selection of French Art at the Sidney Janis Gallery, 1955 (back cover)

© Tate, London 2015

133


134

THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

about him”. 33 He even bought some late

collages by Schwitters, as did Jasper Johns

and Cy Twombly.

On closer examination, the influence

of the Merz artist appears to be selfevident,

particularly when one compares

Rauschenberg’s early work from the 1950s,

his Red Paintings and his Combine Paintings

with Schwitters’ late works. Of course their

aims and solutions are different, for despite

their comparable use of waste and debris,

Rauschenberg has quite different artistic

intentions. His aim is to show that found objects

retain their everyday identity, even if they

become part of a work of art. Rauschenberg

operates in the realm between art and life, while

Schwitters wants to bridge the gap between art

and life. 34 All materials, even waste, seem to

the Dadaist to be suitable components in a

work of art. This transformation is the main

preoccupation of Merz.

“The waste of the world becomes my

art” – this quote from Schwitters served as

the motto for the first comprehensive book

on collage that was published by Harriet Janis

(the wife of Sidney Janis) and Rudi Blesh in

1962. This publication marked the highpoint

of Schwitters reception in the 1950s and

60s in the United States, for it is enhanced

with numerous illustrations of his work, his

writings are quoted to explain his theories

and his name is on practically every page. The

authors draw their critical investigation of

collage to a close with the following statement:

Schwitters moved from dada to a prophecy

of this generation’s leap from anti-art’s social

and esthetic protest to the calm acceptance

of our harvest of junk as material for a truly

contemporary art – and let the chips of

meaning fall where they may. They use junk

as an act of moral and esthetic integrity, as

the only realistic course. Their intellectual

god is Marcel Duchamp who preceded dada,

then transcended its negative limitations;

their guide is Schwitters who heard the

mute eloquence of our waste.” 35 Due respect

is paid to the inventors of modern collage –

Picasso, Braque and Arp, but Schwitters takes

precedence as the true master of collage using

found objects.

In the critical assessment in the 1950s

and 1960s of the precursors and the progress

of post-war art, Schwitters was seen as the

equal of Marcel Duchamp. Often the two were

named in the same breath when it came to

identifying the most important influences

on art until well into the 1960s and 70s –

not to mention literature, sound poetry and

music. American artists and critics recognised

Schwitters’ achievements even if his unwieldy,

scarcely narrative abstraction meant that he

never attained the wide public acclaim of a

Picasso or Paul Klee. He is often described as

an ‘artist’s artist’, whose real impact came when

artists pursuing new directions – in Abstract

Expressionism, Neo-Dada and Pop Art – were

searching for role-models and inspiration, and

found a rich seam in Schwitters’ late work.

Unaltered reprint from the exhibition catalogue

“Aller Anfang ist Merz - Von Kurt Schwitters bis heute”,

Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000

p. 135-137 Letter from Katherine S. Dreier

to Kurt Schwitters, 16 July 1925.

Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme

archive. Yale Collection of American Literature,

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

33

Robert Rauschenberg in conversation with Barbara Rose, in: Robert

Rauschenberg et al., Kunst heute, no. 3, Cologne 1989, p. 59.

34

See Joachim Jäger, Das zivilisierte Bild. Robert Rauschenberg und

seine Combine Paintings der Jahre 1960 bis 1962, Klagenfurt and

Vienna 1999, pp. 52–63.

35

Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh, Collage. Personalities, Concepts,

Techniques, Philadelphia and New York 1962, p. 255.


135


THE ELOQUENCE OF WASTE· by Karin Orchard

136


137


138

How to look on Modern Art in America

by Ad Reinhardt, 1961

How to Look at Modern Art in America counts among the most famous illustrations

by American Abstract Expressionist Ad Reinhardt. First conceived for the journal PM

in 1946, Reinhardt created this family tree of modern art with a nod towards Alfred

J. Barr’s renowned diagram cover of his catalogue to the seminal 1936 exhibition

Cubism and Abstract Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The updated

version from 1961 was published in the summer issue of ARTnews.


139


140

KURT

SCHWITTERS:

I URGENTLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERYBODY

BUY THEIR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS NOW

Norman Rosenthal (2016)


141

All art of any significance comes from art

and will also continually generate new art. As

Kurt Schwitters wrote in an article dated 1940-

46, in somewhat broken English:

When I was born. 20.6.87, I was influenced

by Picasso to cry. When I could walk

and speak I still stood under Picasso’s

influence and said to my mother: “Tom”

or “Happening” meaning the entrances of

the canal under the street. 1

He continues, after invoking Matisse,

Mondrian, the Surrealists, Hans Arp, Di

Chirico, by claiming he “never stood under

the influence of Dadaism” and that rather, in

1919, he created Merz on the Leineriver (in his

home town of Hanover) ”under the influence of

Rembrandt”. 2 Arguably, the only work in this

exhibition that demonstrates the direct influence

of any other artist is a drawing made in 1918

called The Lonely One, which takes techniques

and motifs from Lyonel Feininger and Ernst

Ludwig Kirchner. Earlier, as a young man,

he had studied at the Dresden Arts Academy

and as late as 1915 painted competently in a

traditional manner redolent of Adolph Menzel

or Wilhelm Leibl. As with Max Beckmann,

the experience and knowledge of the horrors

of the First World War changed everything.

Subsequently, Schwitters was to become one

the twentieth century’s truest originals, whose

invention of collage sourced almost exclusively

from the detritus of everyday life – from bus

tickets to the torn pages of newspapers,

splintered wood salvaged from rubbish heaps,

shorelines or forests, to letters and numbers

always pregnant with poetic meaning and

implied sounds, like Cagean musical scores that

anticipate the American composer’s chance

operations. His is an art of the street and the

1

Kurt Schwitters, Eile ist des Witzes Weile: Eine Auswahl aus den

Texten, Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, p. 17.

2

Ibid.

Kurt Schwitters

Z 71 Der Einsame. (2)

1918

Charcoal on paper

32.4 x 23.3 cm

Galerie Gmurzynska

Lyonel Feininger, Cathedral, 1919

Title page for Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus

manifesto and program.

31,0 x 19,1 cm

© bpk / Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz /

László Tóth

WWI Image of soldiers

in a trench Asleep within

100 yards of Thiepval

Courtesy The National

Library of Scotland


KURT SCHWITTERS: I URGENTLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERYBODY BUY THEIR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS NOW· by Norman Rosenthal

world observed, yet it is forever subjectively

hermetic – an art that never allows the viewer

totally to unlock its secrets. At the time of his

death in January 1948 in the unlikely Lake

District town of Kendal in the north west of

England, Schwitters was all but unknown and

forgotten and in the words of Fred Uhlman, an

artist friend he’d met in the internment camp

on the Isle of Man, ”He died […] in poverty

trying to sell his collages for a pound apiece“. 3

But it seems Schwitters never doubted his own

importance as a significant artist of his time.

One of his first apologists in West

Germany after the Second World War was

the art historian and museum director Werner

Schmalenbach. Schmalenbach maintained

that Schwitters, unlike the largely Berlin-based

Dadaistic artists – whether Georg Grosz

or John Heartfield, not to mention his close

friend Richard Huelsenbeck or even his great

supporter Herwarth Walden, editor of the

avant-garde magazine and gallery Der Sturm –

saw art not as a political tool but as “a spiritual

function of Man, whose point is to release

him from the chaos of life (tragedy)” and that

“the subsuming of oneself in art approaches

divine service in freeing man of the cares of

everyday life!” 4 We are already anticipating

the first Merzbau that was to be his cathedral.

Ultimately, for Schwitters Merz is form. There is

no need to remind the reader of the origin of

the word Merz that arose out of the new world

full of optimism and destruction that engulfed

Europe, and most especially Germany, in

1919, and that became his unique trademark.

Nor in his biography was there any shortage

of melancholy and tragedy, even if in the years

between 1919 and 1933 Schwitters enjoyed

considerable fame in the world of Weimar

Germany.

3

Fred Uhlman, The Making of an Englishman, Victor Gollancz Ltd,

London 1960, p. 239.

4

Kurt Schwitters exhibition catalogue, galerie gmurzynska, Cologne

1978, p. 27.

142

He made hundreds, if not thousands,

of magnificent collages, large and small,

but surely his greatest achievements were in

his conception and realisation of the three

Merzbauten. The largest and most elaborate of

these was built in his house in an anonymous

street in Hanover, Waldhausenstrasse – later

destroyed by an inevitable bomb attack in

1943. He was to name it his Kathedrale des

Erotischen Elends – the Cathedral of Erotic

Misery. Cathedrals are essentially public

spaces but it’s unclear how many individuals,

aside from his immediate family, ever saw

this essentially secret interior. However, in the

famous exhibition staged by Alfred J. Barr at

the Museum of Modern Art in 1936, Fantastic

Art, Dada, Surrealism, two photographs of it

illustrated the catalogue. One, titled The Gold

Grotto (1925), the other, The Blue Window

(1933), indicates the continual work-in-progress

of this unique work. In fact, it seems that no less

than seven other photographs were exhibited

alongside full collages from 1920 and 1922.

Interior of Well’s Cathedral

© Historic England Archive


143

The extraordinary American collector Katherine

S. Dreier, who with Duchamp founded the

Société Anonyme, was one of Schwitters

earliest patrons and collectors and had sought

him out in Hanover. As early as 1923 Dreier

reproduced his work in her book Western Art

and the New Era. Although she fails to mention

him in her text, he is, significantly, the last of her

chosen illustrations – as though art from Piero

della Francesca onwards could go no further.

There are, of course, contemporary

architects, like Frank Gehry and Zaha

Hadid whose use of endlessly surprising and

secretive angles owe much to the memory of

photographs such as those that survive. But the

house that Schwitters built was a container,

too, of cultural memories that evoke, like

true cathedrals, distant cultural pasts, and,

as with the Merzbau, an architectural future

with prophetic perspicacity. As an archetype

it also gives much material for any aspiring

psychologist. With this example it is possible to

dwell on the aesthetics of hoarding as a private

and public activity that characterises all sectors

of society, past, present and future. What are

places like the British Museum (public) or that

remarkable private edifice of Sir John Soane

other than cathedrals of erotic misery? Or the

Carceri of Piranesi? Are they not at best spaces

of melancholic nostalgia that cling hopelessly

to a past that constantly resonates lost time

within the span of human thought and culture?

What else are those tombs of ancient culture,

such as those of Ancient Egypt and China,

which enable the dead to take the material

necessities of life with them into another world?

What distinguishes a room containing voodoo

fetishes from someone’s collection of autographs

of the stars? Schwitters’ extraordinary insight

was to find beauty, intrinsic value and creative

potential not in luxurious objects that might fill

ancient tombs, or for that matter grand palaces

and museums, but in the detritus of his own

society.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

Courtesy Justin Bishop www.justinbishop.com.au

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

The gothic arch, ca. 1949-1950

from Carceri d’invenzione, 41.6 x 54.6 cm

Courtesy Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich


144

KURT SCHWITTERS: I URGENTLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERYBODY BUY THEIR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS NOW· by Norman Rosenthal

Having discovered Merz in a single

collage he found it could lead for himself, and

for others, to a sublime quality as evocative as

any that might be achieved in the traditional

art of painting. However, as he was to write

in 1922:

The philosophy of Merz can be applied

best of all to the category of architecture.

Merz means the using of old things for

the creation of the new work of art. As a

result, because of the difficulty of obtaining

material with which to build houses,

nothing remains other than to use the old

and to convert it to new ideas and concepts. 5

Might we claim Kurt Schwitters as the

discoverer of the modern ethic of recycling?

Recycling becomes for him its own aesthetic

category, even as he found a ‘day job’ in

Hanover as an innovative typographer.

Through international art magazines of the

time, in the 1920s he became part of the

Replica of antechamber of King Tutankhamen’s

tomb with royal funerary objects

© DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty

Images

world of Constructivism, maintaining close

contacts with De Stijl, especially with Theo van

Doesburg, the Bauhaus, not to mention the

Russian avant-garde. However, even in his most

abstract pieces of the 1920s he nearly always

found an appropriate collaging material out

of which to make Constructivist compositions,

such as Blau (1923-26), of primary coloured

nailed pieces of found wood. One could even

go as far to argue that he was, within his own

world, a one-person anti-Bauhaus artist. The

Bauhaus was, at its origin and through the art

of many of its prominent participants – Wassily

Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and

Johannes Itten – a place of declared spiritual

content but it rapidly became a site of objective

purist rationality far removed from the erotic

desperation implicit in Merz. Indeed, the only

Merzbau partially to survive – that of Elterwater

in the Lake District – resembles in its imaginary

form nothing more or less than the inside of

a womb. To quote the writer Elizabeth Burns

Gamard:

Kurt Schwitters,

blau,1923-26,

Oil and wood on wood, nailed, 53 x 42.5 cm


145

What Schwitters describes in the

i-manifest is the anonymity and spiritual

generosity of (natural) love, the inherent

eroticism that governs all living systems.

The liberative energies of art mirror the

energies begotten by the sexual act, the

mark of eros. The Kathedrale is the site

in which the intuition of Schwitters’ art,

a living erotic system, is actualized. In

this sense, the artist is an anonymous

mediator, an individual responsible

for both the receiving and nursing of

intuitive impressions until the moment of

actualization, the material confluence of

creative energy, is realized. 6

In that sense every fragment of Schwitters,

each Merzbild, however small, is potentially

part of a Merzbau – an implicit total work of

art enabled through any heap of rubbish.

It is this that makes Schwitters one of the

most innovative and prophetic artists of the

first half of the twentieth century, someone

who saw in so many ways the route that the

art of the world was to take, leading to our

present day. For many artists who came to

prominence during the second half of the

twentieth century, Schwitters’ influence – either

by direct knowledge and influence or indirect

affinity – often hard to establish with any

degree of certainty – is legion and well known.

Even where the spirit of Marcel Duchamp is

perhaps too often invoked, it is at the very least

his ethic and character that is central. If that

spirit was felt firstly in Europe and America on

both sides of the Atlantic, it has extended in

recent decades throughout the entire world,

covering every continent, as the discipline of

art continues on its seemingly unstoppable

trajectory. It becomes almost arbitrary whom or

what to choose to invoke, in the first instance,

5

Harald Szeemann, Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk exhibition

catalogue, Zurich 1983, p.324.

6

Elizabeth Burns Gamard, Kurt SchwittersMerzbau: The Cathedral

of Erotic Misery, Princeton Architectural Press, New York 2000, p.117.

Louise Nevelson,

Sky Cathedral, 1958,

Assemblage: wood construction, painted black,

343.9 x 305.4 x 45.7cm

Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA).

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mildwoff.

© 2016. Digital image, The Museum of Modern

Art, New York/Scala, Florence

Rirkit Tiravanija,

Untitled (The air between the chain link piece and the broken

bicycle), 2005,

Glass and stainless-steel structure with transmitter; wood structure

with receiver and furniture; DVD player and two monitors; two

antennas; wallpaper

(installation view, Hugo Boss Prize, Guggenheim, New York)

Courtesy Gavin Brown’s enterprise New York/Rome


KURT SCHWITTERS: I URGENTLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERYBODY BUY THEIR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS NOW· by Norman Rosenthal

from Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns,

to Joseph Beuys or Dieter Roth, the worlds

of Nouveau Realisme and Fluxus in Europe,

English Pop Art as manifest by the work of

Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, not to

mention most of the greatest American Pop Art

stars such as Claes Oldenburg, Ed Kienholz,

John Chamberlain or, indeed, Andy Warhol

himself, whose factory and the activities that

took place within can be read as a kind of

open plan Merzbau.

An essentially throwaway society has

become evermore an essential source for artists

as they scour skips and convert the wastes of

an accelerated obsolescence of nature and

industrial life to create individual languages

and new mnemonic poetics out of broken pots,

dried sunflowers and ancient iron bedsteads that

in another world, before Kurt Schwitters, had

been the preserve of the rag and bone man.

Schwitters, like Einstein or Freud, opened a book

after which his subject of choice and the business

of seeing would never be the same again.

Certain artists have already been invoked and

others among his immediate successors include

Robert Motherwell with his collages that focus on

grissini or Gauloises packets, or Louise Nevelson

who, as far back as 1958, christened one of

her most ambitious pieces Sky Cathedral, which

consists of a black wall constructed of wooden

boxes stacked upright and seemingly filled with

a thousand and one fetishistic objects, mostly

found, glued inside. Nevelson went on to make

many more of these structures that Schwitters

would surely have recognised as an homage to

his own work.

To fast-forward to the world of the present,

the spirit of Schwitters, in all its multifarious

aspects, can be found everywhere. We can

feel him in those magnificent shimmering cloths

made by El Anatsui, who was born in Ghana

in 1944, made from thousands upon thousands

of aluminium bottle tops sourced from recycling

146

stations and sewn together with copper wire,

evoking for our time the great traditions

of Ghanaian cloth making, but equally, in

transformative environmental ways, all the spirits

of erotic misery that characterises our own time.

Another prominent artist one might mention here

is Rikrit Tiravanija whose relational art sometimes

involves audience participation along with

plastic cups, picnics or even artefacts from his

own apartment. His classic piece of 2005, The

Air Between the Chain Link Piece and the Broken

Bicycle, for all its obvious winking at Duchamp,

constructs two environments, one made of wood,

the other of glass, accompanied by poetic wall

texts that when looked at could not be conceived

of without reference to Merz and Merzbauten.

The same can be said to be true of Thomas

Hirschhorn, a declared admirer of Schwitters. It

still remains unclear whether the first Merzbau in

Hanover broke through the ceiling of his house.

Hirschhorn, though, in a recent piece writes of a

self-constructing kind of Merzbau he constructed

in a private gallery in Naples in 2013. Titled

Break Through, he allowed the ceiling of the

gallery to fall in on itself. The gallery, in itself

a functional space, became a subjective space

in which, to quote the artist, ”I have to raise my

head, I have to open my eyes wide and face

what I do not want to see. This is the logic, the

form and the mission of this sculpture.“

Another contemporary classic example

of a cathedral of erotic misery is the Haus U R

by Gregor Schneider that he exhibited to huge

acclaim in 2001 at the Venice Biennale, where

it was awarded the Golden Lion. Schneider

declared that the title of the piece merely relates

to where the house normally stood in his small

hometown of Rheydt in the lower Rhineland,

but U R invokes a whole German philosophical

world of beginnings, in both time and place, and

equally a primitive and primeval psychological

site that anyone who has experienced his house

will recognise as a Beuysian, if sinister, cathedral

of true erotic misery.


147

It is perhaps pertinently strange that

three more or less contemporary artists who

happen to carry the name ‘Rhoades/Rhodes’,

phonetically the same, are all Schwitterian, to

coin a perhaps not entirely happy adjective.

Jason Rhoades is remembered as an

extraordinary creator of blindingly bright neon

environments made of words. A friend of Paul

McCarthy and Mike Kelley, all were Los Angeles

artists – unimaginable without the example of

Schwitters. The same is true of two younger

American artists. Stephen G. Rhodes, whose art

installations construct labyrinthine spaces on a

grand scale that evoke American and European

philosophy and history. Davis Rhodes’ work,

in contrast with Stephen G. Rhodes’, is almost

minimalist. By cutting huge sheets of coloured

paper, which find their own form, he makes in

the process undeniably Merz-like spaces.

Ultimately, such lists of artists today could

go on indefinitely. Any browsing on the website

of any self-respecting contemporary art gallery

will reveal artists young and old, a majority,

or at least a substantial number, of whom

can be read as coming out of Schwitters. His

momentary, sudden discovery of Merz opened

a book that it seems will never be closed. As he

declared in that article of 1940-46:

One needs a medium. The best is, one

is his own medium [sic]. But don’t be

serious because seriousness belongs to

a passed time. This medium, called you

yourself will tell you to take absolutely

the wrong material. That is very good,

because only the wrong material used in

the wrong way, will give you right picture,

when you look at it from the right angle

[...] That is my confession I have to make

MERZ. 7

7

Kurt Schwitters, Eile ist des Witzes Weile: Eine Auswahl aus den

Texten, Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, p.17.

Stephen G. Rhodes,

Receding Mind: Circle of Shit, 2010,

Film installations.

Installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

June 19-September 26, 2010.

Davis Rhodes

Untitled, 2009,

Spray paint on vinyl,

243,8 x 121,9 cm


NORMAN ROSENTHAL

IN CONVERSATION WITH

DAMIEN HIRST

(24 May 2016)

Damien Hirst interviewed by Norman Rosenthal, London

148


NR: Tell me, Damien, when did you first come across Kurt Schwitters?

DH: I knew Robert Rauschenberg’s work when I was doing my foundation studies in Leeds.

That was, I don’t know, probably in the early 1980s. I was making collages, but I didn’t come

across Kurt Schwitters until later.

NR: What were the collages like?

DH: Well, I’ve always tried to paint but I never could because I couldn’t work out what to paint.

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

do I do? I didn’t know what to do. I used to get lost. I got drop spot painting – I loved throwing

paint around.

NR: Were you drawing?

DH: Drawing was something controlled that I couldn’t do. The reason I tried making collages

was because I saw a show by Francis Davison at the Hayward Gallery in the early ‘80s, I think.

NR: I’m not familiar at all with his work.

DH: Francis Davison was married to the Suffolk painter Margaret Mellis and he made collages

on torn paper. On foundation I made a collage which was very like a Kurt Schwitters, but at this

point I’d not come across him, and I remember one of my tutors came and said you should have

a look at Kurt Schwitters. And I remember thinking he must be an American artist because he’s

called Kurt. I thought, you know, he was like Willem de Kooning. So for ages I thought he was

an American artist. I just thought that this work was amazing, inspirational. It helped me realize

that because I found it hard to create things I could re-arrange already existing elements – I had

a skill for that.

NR: Did you know about his connection to the Lake District and Newcastle?

DH: I found out later. Elma Thubron, my tutor at Goldsmiths, told me about it.

NR: Related to Harry Thubron.

DH: Harry’s wife. Elma taught me at Goldsmiths after Harry died.

NR: And Harry was a kind of collagist.

DH: Yes, he made collages. Harry taught Marcus Harvey, who was at Goldsmiths before me –

he was a, he’s a friend of mine from Leeds who I knew before I got into Goldsmiths. He told me

that Harry would come into college and rip up people’s art!

NR: Literally rip up people’s art?

DH: If somebody had been making a painting he’d tear it in half and stick it back together the

other way round and say: ‘It looks better now, work on it!’ That forced you to destroy what you

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NORMAN ROSENTHAL IN CONVERSATION WITH DAMIEN HIRST

were working on, which in a way is a very Schwitterian thing to do. I’ve got a big collection of

Harry’s work now. I have thirty collages.

NR: I assume you have Schwitters in your collection?

DH: I’ve got a couple of works on paper, but not any constructions. I’d like to get more, but I

think they’re–

NR: –quite expensive.

DH: And the good ones are hard to find.

NR: I remember a place in West London, when I was a boy where you could buy them

for £50 each – maybe less. Fifty pounds was a lot of money, certainly for me in those

days. It was actually one of my first encounters with “real art”.

DH: Elma Thubron told me that she was once in Ambleside and she was walking around and

she saw the gate post ‘Cylinders‘, and she thought: ‘Oh my god, I remember this from the books.’

And she said she went in and looked around and met a kind of a farmer, and asked him whether

he has a work by Kurt Schwitters. And he said, ‘Oh yeah, I know.’ And he took her to a barn filled

with loads of equipment – farming stuff like hoes, forks, spades – and in the back of the barn,

with things leaning against it, was this huge Schwitters piece. The way she describes it makes it

sound amazing: there were low windows and there was shimmering green light because of the

grass outside. She said it was the most amazing thing discovering it on your own wandering

around in the Lake District. Richard Hamilton took it out shortly after that. It must have been

in the late ‘50s.

NR: So you only have two Schwitters pieces?

DH: I’ve got one really good one.

NR: Where did you find it?

DH: I can’t remember now – it was a long time ago. I’ve been looking for a construction really.

I know that Miuccia Prada has an amazing green one. I remember looking at Schwitters’ work

and thinking that I couldn’t work whether they’d looked new at one point or if they’d aged, or if

they had been created to look nostalgic. I’ve got some fake Schwitters as well.

NR: Yes? Where did you get these?

DH: On Ebay. I buy lots of fakes. I’ve also got lots of fake Damien Hirsts, which I sign. So is it

a fake, then?

NR: I’m sure there are lots of fake Schwitters. I’ve written an article now about Schwitters

in which I claim that since Rauschenberg, right down to the present, Schwitters is at least

150


as important as Marcel Duchamp.

DH: Duchamp is so important, but I think it’s a different thing. Maybe you can say that the

Merzbau is as important as the urinal, but I don’t think you can disentangle it so easily. Schwitters

never really left the picture plane and I always thought you needed to leave the picture plane.

NR: But he does use the the detritus of society, which is a big thing for art. When you,

Damien, use cigarette ash in a vitrine, for example, you’re working in a lineage with

Schwitters.

DH: When the sculpture starts crawling off the table and up the wall, all hell breaks loose.

Schwitters was definitely that guy. Also maybe his poetry is what endures too. All these things he

is bringing into play about language – this totally changes the world. I like the fact, too, that he

didn’t get accepted by the Surrealists.

NR: Aside from from Schwitters, Duchamp and Picasso, do you think that there is any

other artist in the first half of the 20th century who changed art? Who made possible so

much other art?

DH: I think you can’t imagine Jasper Johns’ beer cans without Schwitters. I think Pop Art came

out of Schwitters as well.

NR: When you’re making art, do you think about older artists at all?

DH: It’s impossible not to. I remember being at Goldsmiths and looking around at all the people

and thinking: We’ve got nothing in common. And then you realize that the world is so multifacetted

that every generation will have this feeling. When Ian Jeffrey wrote the essay for the

Freeze catalogue he called it ‘Platonic Tropics’ and I thought that it was a really a good way of

saying that you have all these people who think that they have things in common but actually

they have nothing in common. Schwitters’ work is heterogenous in that way. Every painting is

like a battle like between creation and destruction.

NR: Have you ever done an environment yourself?

DH: The fly piece, A Thousand Years (1990) is definitely Schwitters-inspired. When I moved

to London I found this old guy’s house, Mr. Barnes, and I made col-lages from stuff of his like

Schwitters’. Did you ever see these?

NR: No. This is long before Freeze?

DH: Before Goldmsiths. I got into Goldmsiths with one of the little collages – they were just on

display in the Tate St. Ives. And I remember there Basil Beattie said to me: These are great. You

really shouldn’t be in an art school, you should go get an exhibition. That really fucking threw

me. And then I thought: What am I doing here? And then I thought to throw it all away and

start again. And then Michael Craig-Martin came in during my first few months and said to me:

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NORMAN ROSENTHAL IN CONVERSATION WITH DAMIEN HIRST

What are you doing?

You’re arranging objects on these found backboards, why don’t you get rid of the them to arrange

the objects on the wall? And then I did that and I thought it was an amazing breakthrough. And

then I realized that, maybe ten years before, Johnny LeKray had been doing it. And I thought,

fucking hell, I’m not advanced at all, someone did that major thing ten years ago. And that kind

of led to the medicine cabinet. I was totally against conceptual art. I hated it. I liked Schwitters

because he wasn’t this ‘50s abstraction, but this kind of image that was about how you feel. I

wanted browns and purples if I’m feeling somber and reds and yellows when I’m happy. I wanted

that emotional kind of art and then it didn’t work in the world of today.

NR: Schwitters and your work share this erotic aspect. You know he called the Merzbau

the Cathedral of Erotic Misery?

DH: Oh yeah, yeah, brilliant. To come back to my collages, I found the guy living next door

to me living in a squat. I could hear though the walls the guy next door to me and I then I

looked out of the window and he was pushing a shopping trolley around and collecting stuff and

bringing it back to the house, day in day out. One day I stopped hearing him so I went around

and I broke in. I got in and found two locked doors on the top floor and the rest of the house was

just ruined. About sixty years it had been in that state. Eventually we broke the doors down and

went in and collected sixty years of stuff, then I started collecting tools and ham-mers and paint

and string and started bringing it all back to my studio and that’s when I started making my

collages. Up there I found stuff he had collected that I had thrown out as well, like I found a tin

that had been run over by a car and-

NR: Why did he like all that stuff? The fetishistic aspect of it?

DH: I really got to know him – he was called Mr. Barnes. From the top of the room there were

piles to the ceiling, maybe a foot from the ceiling, and there was a little corridor through it,

and there was a bench near a foot pedal like a lay of turned wood and he had alarm clocks, a

clock collection, he was fixing the clocks, and it was chaos at the top and I went through it, and

when I got down to the table level, I found, like, a civilized man and I found, like, his letters

and his handwriting. At the top was where I found porn magazines from the seventies and he

had scribbled with red pen the vaginas and before that it was like Paris Match. Little pencil

lines drawn around the women, some of them dressed and drawn around the clothes. It was just

unbelievable. I got to know the guy and he was… I went through sixty years of his life and got

to know him.

NR: But he was still alive?

DH: No, he was rehoused by the council and the landlord didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

152


NR: So what happened to the house?

DH: A few weeks after I went around the council came around with two guys. They had big

shovels and smashed the windows out and shoved it all out the window. I went mad. It was

unbelievable, sixty years of existence and then gone in no time. It completely blew my mind.

And then I found it really difficult at Goldsmiths, when I got there, to kind of create anything

meaningful, because you just thought, that was it. That was the most meaningful thing. And then

the only thing that got me out of it was minimalism, because it went the opposite of that.

NR: So out of all this came your source to fill your collages?

DH: Yes. Well, and then I carried on collecting myself.

NR: Do you still collage?

DH: Organizing Freeze was a collage. I got all these existing elements, people’s art, buildings,

arrangeable on the walls.

NR: I think every exhibition is a kind of collage.

DH: Yes, it is. Meyer Vaisman once said to me, when I lived in New York for about eighteen

months, that collage was the greatest idea of the 20th century. There is so much going on in

the world – the collage lends itself to making a comment about the world. You know you take

fragments of the world and then you reconstruct another world, which is a mirror of the world.

It is the most direct and simplest way to do it.

NR: Do you still have all of your constructions from Mr Barnes’ junk?

DH: Yeah. I actually gave one to Rauschenberg. And then I bought it back of his estate after he

died. Let’s do a Merzbau.

NR: Let’s do one. Let’s do one here!

DH: Let’s do one with spots. A Merzbau with spots.

Interview conducted by Norman Rosenthal with the help of Jonathan White

153


Kurt Schwitters,

Merzbau,

Hanover 1933

Double

Bladed

Axe

Flavin Judd (2016)

154


“Imitation remains imitation. Imitation is weakness and error.” - KS

In the structure of society the artist holds a singular position: live within it, live with its strictures

but don’t follow them. The artist is to be free to create and not be restrained, make something that

is outside the society, outside the culture even if eventually it will be accepted by the culture. This

is true as long as the artist actually stays within the strictures of the society, if the artist ventures too

far out he or she will be ridiculed and attacked, or exiled.

After more than a decade of making art Kurt Schwitters started on his largest project: Merzbau.

In his house in Hanover Schwitters started by building a column, a free standing sculpture in the

center of his studio. The column was human height and embedded with objects in its plaster. Later

while looking at the column he noticed that it connected to the works and images on his studio

walls. He then connected these images to the column with string. As the column continued to

develop he connected the column to the walls and the ceiling until it made a cavernous structure.

He didn’t stop working when he had filled his entire studio, he continued and the Merzbau grew

from room to room in his suburban house, displacing paying tenants and requiring punched holes

in the floor until it took up half the house. Growing organically both in size and form Schwitters

invented a new art form from the conventions of his post Dada career of the twenties. Fourteen years

after he had started he had built his spiraling structure into the fabric of his house, winding up

from the basement to the attic as the art displaced people and took up rooms like an ever growing

family or organism.

The Merzbau was a negative space, filled with grottos and nooks with small sculptures, personal

effects and tokens of his life and friends, a self portrait in three dimensions, a biography written in

space. While the project started out as a Dadaist object it evolved to become a more organic work

with abstract and natural shapes that would later cover the earlier nooks and hiding places. In order

to walk into the Merzbau one had to follow a tight, curving hallway that lead to (in the original

155

Kurt Schwitters,

Merzbau,

Hanover 1933


oom at least) a central cavern. From there one could go up or down to further rooms, caverns

and grottos. The overall color was the white of the plaster with specks of other colors. The various

constructions housed within the plaster were everyday objects modified to disassociate them from

their normal use and the personal objects of his friends set in plaster like a visual phonebook or

trace of relationships. Schwitters took real objects from the world and cast them within his work,

distancing them from their everydayness and connecting them to each other. For Schwitters the

Merzbau was an interconnected web of relations, each object or grotto influencing and informing

the next, creating an overall universe that one had to explore. The work was larger than the visitor

could take in and more complex than simply an object in a room. In this way Schwitters used his

history, his connections and relationships to make his own culture, a foreign culture, one that

would be denounced by the government and the society and even some of his friends. The Merzbau

was his way of dealing with a society that didn’t know what to do with him and a life that didn’t

make sense, he made an antidote.

Double Bladed Axe · by Flavin Judd

Judd doesn’t seem to have any relation to Schwitters or his project. Don’s works are a different

escape route, a different response to the cultural environment, one that seems completely at odds

with the Merzbau or collages. What could Don do with cigarette butts, toy dolls, bottle caps and

scraps of advertisements? If the artist within the society is the structure, the framework, then the

work itself is the details, the creation within that structure. In this way Judd and Schwitters are the

same. They each took the cultures that they inhabited and made something contrary to that culture,

they made their own out of themselves. In Don’s case it is the combination of the art, furniture,

architecture and design that make up his life’s work. This work was produced over thirty five years

and has a certain quality that connects it all together. For Don the art had to stand as works in

themselves, works that were like pebbles on the beach, something in themselves and not products

or reactions to the prevailing culture. While this is the opposite of Schwitters’ accumulation of his

surroundings in his artwork it is similar in that they each made something that emphatically didn’t

exist before. Not only did both Don’s work and the Merzbau not exist but they were unimaginable

2nd Floor, 101 Spring Street, New

York, NY featuring Kurt Schwitters,

Auwiese, 1920, newspaper and

block paper collage in situ

© Judd Foundation

Courtesy Judd Foundation Archives

156


Kurt Schwitters,

Auwiese, 1920,

newspaper and block

paper collage

© Judd Foundation

Courtesy Judd

Foundation Archives

before each artist made them. Schwitters gathered the tokens of his life, the refuse, the castaways,

everything that he could find of value and turned them into a cathedral, Don threw everything away

and made a different kind of cathedral, one of space and color and given facts.

The two artists came from entirely different directions to make their worlds the way they wanted,

they each made a culture which in course, changed the greater culture. Within the society, within the

banality of what was given them they made the extraordinary.

For Don’s work almost all has been saved: there is 101 Spring Street in New York, the spaces

in Marfa, Texas, even three remote ranch houses which echo Schwitters’ exile houses in Norway and

Great Britain. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Don fought hard for his art, realizing that it was up to him to

make sure it was still around when he was gone. Part of this concern was the history of prior artists

and what happened to their work, Schwitters is a true example of how delicate artwork and culture

really is. His enormous creation in Hanover was destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in October

1943 and subsequent versions of the Merzbau would also be destroyed or only saved piecemeal

years after they were constructed. In the last year of his life Schwitters had started on a new version

of the Merzbau but he never lived to complete it.

For Don the criterion of art was that it had to be good and for him there was no such thing

as minimalism. Probably for Schwitters the various labels that were applied to him didn’t matter

either as labels are a society’s way of saying it doesn’t understand new work. Without the labels

they are connected by their quality, something Don recognized. Hanging on the top floor of Judd

Foundation’s 101 Spring Street is the Schwitters collage that Don bought and installed. The small

Schwitters piece at 101 Spring Street hangs beautifully with an Arp and a Stuart Davis and is lit by

the glow of a Dan Flavin, I think he would have appreciated the location. 101 Spring Street only has

the work of sixteen artists within it, Schwitters is one of them.

157


Clare Elliott

This chronology gives a brief overview of Kurt Schwitters’s

life and career with a special concentration on events

relating to the reception of his art in the United States. For

a more comprehensive biography, see Karin Orchard and

Isabel Schulz, Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, the

first volume of which is a key source of this chronology,

together with the provenance and exhibition information

in all three volumes. Other sources consulted include, in

order of relative importance, correspondence in the Kurt

Schwitters Archiv, Sprengel Museum Hannover; The

Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, ed. Jennifer

R. Gross, 2006; Dada in the Collection of The Museum

of Modern Art, Anne Umland and Adrian Sudhalter,

2008; Kurt Schwitters, John Elderfield, 1985; and Kurt

Schwitters, Werner Schmalenbach, 1967 (English ed.).

1887

Curt “Kurt” Hermann Eduard Carl Julius Schwitters

is born on June 20 in Hanover, a small city in the

Lower Saxony region of Germany. His parents, Eduard

and Henriette (née Beckemeyer) Schwitters, own a

prosperous clothing store.

In the first few years of Kurt Schwitters’s life, his family

moves several times within Hanover. In 1901 they

settle permanently at 5 Waldhausstrasse (renamed

Waldhausenstrasse in 1907).

1908 -14

Schwitters begins to study art and write poetry.

He attends various art schools: the Kunstgewerbeschule

in Hanover in 1908—9; the Berliner Akademie der Künste

in 1911, where he is expelled as “untalented” after a

four-week probationary period; and Königlich Sächsische

Akademie der Künste in Dresden between 1909 and

1914. While in Dresden he paints in conservative,

academic, and eventually impressionistic styles.

In the spring of 1911, Schwitters’s work is rejected by

the Kunstgenossenschaft Hannover, but he is included

in their August exhibition. Two years later, his work is

shown for the first time in the large annual exhibition

“Grosse Kunstausstellung” February—May 1913, at the

Hannover Kunstverein, and the annual autumn exhibition

of local artists in September—October. He will exhibit

regularly at the Kunstverein until 1934.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

on June 28, 1914, brings about World War I. Germany

declares war on Russia and France. Schwitters returns

to Hanover.

1915

Schwitters and his first cousin Wilhelmine “Helma”

Eilerdine Gerhardine Friederike Fischer marry on October

5. They move into a flat in 5 Waldhausenstrasse, where

Schwitters also sets up a studio. The couple goes on

to have two sons: Gerd Schwitters, born September

9, 1916, who dies only eight days later, and Ernst

Schwitters, born November 16, 1918.

1917

Schwitters exhibits for the first time at the Kestner

Gesellschaft, Hanover, in May—June 1917. Established

the year before by Paul Erich Küppers, the Kestner

Gesellschaft brings diverse avant-garde artists to the

relatively provincial Hanover, exposing Schwitters to a

variety of new artistic styles. He begins painting and

drawing in an Expressionist style and his work becomes

increasingly abstract. Also in this year, Schwitters meets

Christof Spengemann a critic journalist, and publisher,

with whom he becomes a lasting friend, Spengemann

introduces Schwitters to key players in Hanover’s literary

circles.

In March, Schwitters is drafted into the German army,

Reichs-lnfanterieregiment 73, but because he suffers

from epilepsy, he is declared unfit for service. Beginning

in June he performs military service as a draftsman in

the WülfeI ironworks in Hanover until November 1918.

1918

Schwitters meets artist and art historian Kate Steinitz,

with whom he will collaborate on several projects and

remain friends throughout his life. When she moves

to California in 1942, Steinitz will play a key role in

introducing Schwitters’s work to the West Coast of the

United States.

Schwitters joins the Hannoversche Secession, a group

of local artists who had established themselves the

previous June in opposition to the conservative Hannover

Kunstverein. He participates in their first exhibition at the

Kestner Gesellschaft.

In June, Herwarth Walden includes Schwitters’s work for

the first time in his famed Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin.

Established in 1913, the gallery, known as the primary

sponsor of German Expressionism, was the focal point

of the Berlin avant-garde for more than a decade. By

1918 the activities include art classes, lectures, and the

publication of books and portfolios; its multi-disciplinary

approach influences the development of Schwitters’s

own thinking about art. Schwitters will perform and

exhibit regularly at Galerie Der Sturm until 1928; he

makes numerous contributions to the journal Der Sturm

from 1919 to 1928.

In Berlin, Schwitters meets artists Hans Arp, Raoul

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Hausmann, and Hannah Höch, all of whom become his

lifelong friends.

Schwitters produces collages of discarded paper for

the first time and soon after, his first assemblages

incorporating a variety of small, found objects into his

compositions. He invents the term “Merz” (according to

the artist, from Kommerz, or “commerce”) to describe

his art. He eventually extends the principles of collage

composition and the designation “Merz” to all his

activities: graphic design, writing, and performance.

Despite breaking new ground with his abstract, collagebased

oeuvre, Schwitters will continue to produce

figurative works and landscapes in a traditional figurative

style throughout his life.

On November 11 an armistice signals the official end of

the First World War. The following June, Germany signs

the Treaty of Versailles, agreeing to reparations that will

bankrupt the country’s economy.

1919

Schwitters becomes a member of the artists association

Internationale Vereinigung von Expressionisten, Kubisten

und Futuristen, or IVEKF. At the same time, he becomes

increasingly aware of the radical Dada movement.

Launched in Zurich, Dadaism soon took root in several

cities internationally, most notably for Schwitters in

Berlin. In May he meets Dada writer Richard Huelsenbeck

in Berlin and shortly after writes to Tristan Tzara in Zurich

expressing his interest in the latter’s Dada publications.

Schwitters also begins a series of Dadaist watercolors

and produces rubber-stamp drawings and graphic prints.

Despite his active engagement with prominent Dadaists,

he is officially rejected by the group, which deems him

too bourgeois, in part because he is associated with the

Galerie Der Sturm.

Through the summer and early fall, Schwitters’s work

is shown in a number of group exhibitions outside

Hanover, including one at the Jenaer Kunstverein, Jena

(May—June); at the Galerie Emil Richter and the Neue

Vereinigung für Kunst, Dresden (June—July); at the

Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, where he exhibits the Merz

pictures for the first time (July); and at the Kunstsalon

Rembrandt in Zurich (July—September).

In July, Schwitters publishes an essay explaining the

concept of Merz, and the Dadaist love poem “An Anna

Blume” (To Eve Blossom) in Der Sturm, no. 4; in October

he publishes “1 Merzbühne’ (1 The Merz Stage) in Sturm-

Bühne, Jahrbuch des Theaters der Expressionisten (no.

8). At the end of the year Paul Steegemann publishes

the book Anna Blume. Dichtungen (Eve Blossom,

Poetry), which contains a collection of prose and poetry,

including “An Anna Blume.” The poem is soon translated

into several languages and earns Schwitters instant

notoriety in Germany and internationally.

Between 1919 and 1924, Schwitters publishes (in

addition to his Merz magazine founded in 1923) four

volumes of poetry and prose and numerous poems, and

he responds to harsh criticism of his work in strident

and often hilarious texts he calls “Tran” (from Lebertran,

meaning cod-liver oil), which are published in a variety of

periodicals.

1920

Schwitters regularly travels to Berlin, where he recites

poetry at the Galerie Der Sturm for the first time on May

5. He meets artist George Grosz and continues to be

in contact with the Dada artists there. He also makes

a trip to Cologne, where he becomes acquainted with

writer Michel Seuphor and artist Max Ernst. Ernst makes

a return visit to Hanover later in the year.

At the Galerie Der Strum, Schwitters meets collector

Katherine S. Dreier, who with artists Marcel Duchamp

and Man Ray the same year found the Société Anonyme

as the first organization in the United States to focus

exclusively on contemporary art. Of German descent and

with strong ties to Berlin and particularly the Galerie Der

Sturm, Dreier develops close friendships with Schwitters

and his wife, Helma, with whom she thereafter

corresponds frequently. Dreier is not only instrumental

in introducing Schwitters’s work to the United States

but also provides needed financial assistance to the

Schwitterses during the 1920s and 1930s.

“Fifth Exhibition of the Société Anonyme.” Galleries of

the Société Anonyme, New York, November 1-December

15, includes works by Schwitters in his first exhibition in

the United States. He is also included in exhibitions in

Darmstadt, Dresden, and Rome.

Several publications feature images of Schwitters’s

Merz work together with descriptions of his studio:

Bernhard Gröttrup, “Ein Besuch bei Anna Blume,”

Die Pille; Eine aktuelle, kritische, witzige, freche,

unparteiische hannoversche Wochenzeitschrift (no. 7);

and Alfred Dudelsack, “Kuwitters: Bei Schwitters,” in the

supplement of Braunschweiger Illustrierte Woche (no. 5).

1921

Schwitters’s essay “Merz” (written in December 1920)

and photographs of several of his Merz works are

published in the Munich-based magazine Der Ararat (no.

1) edited by Hans Goltz. Exiled Hungarian poet Lajos

Kassak devotes a three-page spread of his periodical

MA (Today) to Schwitters’s work, including a Hungarian

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translation of “An Anna Blume” and photographs of

several artworks.

“Eighth Exhibition of the Société Anonyme,” Galleries

of the Société Anonyme, New York, March 15—April 12,

includes work by Schwitters.

In April, Schwitters realizes his first solo exhibition at

the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin (“96. Austellung. Kurt

Schwitters. Merzbilder. Merzzeichnung. Gesamtschau”).

The selection of seventy works provides a comprehensive

overview of Schwitters’s Merz works.

From May through July, Schwitters travels to Dresden,

Erfurt, Weimar, and Leipzig for poetry recitals. In July

his poems appear in the Dutch journal De Stijl edited by

Theo van Doesburg. Schwitters and Van Doesburg meet

later that summer.

Kurt and Helma Schwitters, together with Raoul

Hausmann and Hannah Höch, undertake a trip they call the

“Anti-Dada-Merz-Reise” to Prague in August-September,

which culminates in an evening of performances

staged in the Saal Urania on September 6. Inspired by

Hausmann’s sound poem “fmsbw,” Schwitters begins

work on his “Ursonate” (Sonata in Primordial Sounds),

1923-33. Expanded over a period of ten years, the

“Ursonate” eventually would grow into a forty-minute

sound poem organized into four movements with a

prelude and finale. Schwitters considers the “Ursonate,”

like the Merzbau (Merz Construction) in Hanover, to be a

defining life’s work,

1922

During a chaotic year in Germany, owing to the rapid

devaluation of the German mark and the resulting

hyperinflation, Schwitters produces his first sound poems

and continues to publish poems, manifestos, and articles.

Images of works by Schwitters appear in two important

books on modern art: Die Kunst der Gegenwart: Die Sechs

Bücher der Kunst, edited by Paul Ferdinand Schmidt, and

Buch Neuer Künstler, edited by

Lajos Kassák and László Moholy-Nagy.

In September, Van Doesburg, Arp, and Tzara join Schwitters

for evenings of Dada recitals in Jena, Weimar, and finally

Hanover, where they are joined by Hausmann and Höch.

Constructivist artist El Lissitzky attends the Hanover

performance, which takes place September 30 at the

Galerie von Garvens. Schwitters also travels to Berlin to

visit the “Erste Russische Austellung” at the Galerie van

Diemen, which introduces Western European audiences

to recent developments in Russian art. For the next several

years, Schwitters’s work and his interest in graphic design

and typography develop from his increasing contact with

Constructivists such as Van Doesburg and Lissitzky.

Dreier purchases one of Schwitters’s first collages, Merz

19, 1920 (Yale University Art Gallery), from the Galerie

Der Sturm.

1923

Schwitters publishes the first issue of his journal Merz

in January. Issues of Merz are produced at irregular

intervals and in a variety of formats, including magazine,

book, and folio, until 1932. Schwitters not only uses Merz

as a platform for his own writings, graphic design, and

artworks but also publishes articles by a wide variety of

avant-garde artists.

Also in January, Schwitters begins a four-month trip of

the Netherlands, the “Dada Tornee,” with Theo and Nelly

van Doesburg and Vilmos Huszár. He meets the Dutch

designer Piet Zwart, who greatly influences Schwitters’s

interest in modern typography.

In March, Schwitters’s work is shown alongside that

of Oskar Schlemmer, Moholy-Nagy, Lissitzky, and Max

Burchartz in an exhibition of Constructivist art at the

Galerie Emil Richter, Dresden.

Hausmann and Schwitters perform a Merz matinee in

the Konzerthaus Tivoli in Hanover on December 30, for

which Lissitzky designs a poster.

Schwitters presumably begins work on two Merzsäulen

(Merz Columns), which become the foundations of his

later Hanover Merzbau.

1924

Schwitters establishes an advertising office called Merz-

Werbezentrale through which he receives an increasing

number of commissions to design typography over the

next few years. Schwitters’s work is included in the

influential exhibition “Contimporanul Prima expozitie

internationala” in Bucharest, and Herwarth Walden

includes reproductions of Das Arbeiterbild (The Worker

Picture), 1919 (Moderna Museet, Stockholm), and Franz

Müller’s Drahtfrühling (Franz Müller’s Wire Springtime),

1919 (lost), in the revised edition of his Einblick in Kunst

(1st ed., 1917).

Between April and July, Schwitters and Lissitzky collaborate

on Merz 8/9 Nasci (Merz 8/9 Becoming). The double

issue places illustrations by Constructivist artists Kazimir

Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, and Piet Mondrian alongside

drawings by Dada artists Man Ray and Hans Arp.

In September, Schwitters’s designs for a Merz theater,

Normalbühne Merz (Normal Merzstage) are included

in an exhibition of theater design, “Internationale

Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik” in Vienna, which

travels to Paris and New York.

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In November, Schwitters publishes Merz 11. Typoreklame,

an issue devoted to advertising, typography, and graphic

design. It includes an essay by Schwitters, “Thesen über

Typographie” (Theories about Typography), describing

the importance of simple modern fonts and wellbalanced

design.

At the end of the year Schwitters and Steinitz establish

a publishing house called Apossverlag. They produce

the fairy tales Hahnepeter. Die Märchen vom Paradies

(Peter the Rooster, The Fairy Tale about Paradise) and

Die Scheuche (The Scarecrow), which are published

the following year. They also found the series “Neue

Architektur” (New Architecture) and publish as its

first (and last) volume, Grosstadtbauten by Ludwig

Hilberseimer.

1925

A photo of Schwitters’s studio as it appeared in 1920 (a

forerunner of the Hanover Merzbau) is published in the

book Die Kunstismen by Lissitzky and Arp.

Merz 13 Merz—Grammophonplatte (Merz—Phonograph

Record) is published. It includes a recording of the

scherzo from Schwitters’s “Ursonate.” On February 14

he performs the entire “Ursonate” publicly for the first

time at a recital, which takes place in Potsdam in a

private home.

Schwitters continues to publish (mostly grotesques and

criticism), perform, and exhibit, mainly in Germany.

1926

In April, in preparation for the Société Anonyme’s

upcoming “International Exhibition of Modern Art,” Dreier

visits Schwitters at his studio in Hanover. She attends a

recital of his work at the Bauhaus in Dessau, and the pair

takes a weeklong trip to the Netherlands. The exhibition

opens at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, November

19, and travels to Anderson Galleries, New York, January

25—February 5, 1927; Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New

York, February 25—March 20, 1927; Toronto Art Gallery,

April 24, 1927. It includes eleven works by Schwitters in

Brooklyn but only seven elsewhere.

Later in the year, Schwitters makes trips to Berlin,

Dresden, and Prague. In December he participates in the

opening ceremonies of the Bauhaus building in Dessau.

1927

Schwitters organizes a major retrospective exhibition of

his work titled “Grosse Merzausstellung 1927”, which

travels to several German cites, including Wiesbaden,

Bochum, and Barmen.

In January, ten collages by Schwitters are included in

the exhibition “Constructivist Drawings and Posters,”

University of California, Los Angeles. The presentation is

organized by artist and dealer Galka Scheyer. Scheyer, a

native of Germany, had immigrated to the United States

in 1924; in 1925 she moved to San Francisco and later

settled permanently in Los Angeles. From California, she

promoted German artists, primarily Lyonel Feininger,

Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee, and Oscar Schlemmer, until

her death in 1945. Her collection, including works by Kurt

Schwitters, was donated to the Norton Simon Museum,

Pasadena, California.

On March 12, with Carl Buchheister, Rudolf Jahns,

Hans Nitzschke, and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart,

Schwitters establishes die abstrakten hannover, a

subdivision of the Berlin artists’ group Die Abstrakten,

Internationale Vereinigung der Expressionisten,

Futuristen, Kubisten und Konstruktivisten e. v. The group

disbands in 1931.

Schwitters makes a monthlong visit to France and

Belgium in April that includes a performance of the

“Ursonate” at the gallery Le sacre du printemps, Paris.

While in Paris, he meets artists Tristan Tzara, André

Breton, and E.L.T. Mesens; he will make annual trips to

Paris through 1931.

Schwitters’s play Schattenspiel (Shadow Game), ca.

1925, is performed in an avant-garde theater in Prague

on May 8; Schwitters attends the premiere.

An English translation by Myrtle Klein of “An Anna

Blume” titled “Anna Blossom Has Wheels” appears in

the June issue of Transition (no. 3), an American literary

journal edited by Eugene Jonas.

Schwitters collaborates with Steinitz on a libretto for the

grotesque opera Der Zusammenstoss (The Collision), for

which they win second prize at a competition in Vienna,

August 1928.

Schwitters meets with Robert Michel, Willi Baumeister,

Jan Tschichold, Walter Dexel, Friedrich Vordemberge-

Gildewart, César Domela, and László Moholy-Nagy to

establish an association of commercial artists called ring

neue werbegestalter.

1928

Schwitters travels to Rome, Naples, and Sicily for five

weeks as a guest student at the secondary school

Technische Hochschule in Hanover.

“A Small Intimate Exhibition Arranged by the Société

Anonyme,” Arts Council Gallery at the Barbizon Hotel,

New York, February 20—March 3, includes work by

162


Schwitters. Dreier and composer lmre Weisshaus

(pseudonym Paul Arma) perform Schwitters’s sound

poems at a recital in Dreier’s home in New York,

November 28.

Schwitters contributes an essay titled “Gestaltende

Typographie” (Constructive Typography) to the

September issue of Der Sturm 19, no. 6, 265—69. In

addition, Schwitters and Steinitz are commissioned to

design a brochure for the Test der Technik,” which takes

place in Hanover on December 8.

1929

Schwitters joins the artist’s group dedicated to

abstraction Cercle et Carré, Paris, founded by Joaquin

Torres-Garcia and Michel Seuphor; members include

Le Corbusier, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Schwitters’s work is included in the landmark “Premiere

exposition internationale du groupe Cercle et Carré,”

Galerie 23, Paris, April 1930.

In the spring, Dreier visits Schwitters again in Hanover,

this time with Duchamp.

In July, Helma and Kurt Schwitters make their first

journey to Scandinavia; until 1936, Schwitters will make

annual summer trips to Norway, where he earns money

by selling traditional landscape paintings and occasional

portraits.

Schwitters designs all of the ephemera for the October

inauguration of the first apartments built for the

Dammerstock-Siedlung, an architectural development

project in Karlsruhe headed by Walter Gropius, founder

of the Bauhaus school.

In October the US stock market crashes, signaling the

beginning of a worldwide economic depression. The art

market likewise collapses.

1930

In the early 1930’s, Schwitters begins working on

an ongoing room-size installation of built and found

architectural and collage elements meant to be seen as

a single artwork, which in 1933 he christens Merzbau.

Initially occupying only his studio, the Merzbau eventually

grows to take over several rooms of the family’s residence.

Schwitters continues to work on the Merzbau until he

leaves Hanover in January 1937. The work is destroyed by

Allied bombs on October 8 and 9, 1943.

Schwitters publishes the brochure “Die neue Gestaltung

in der Typographie” (New Design in Typography).

Schwitters joins the PEN Club, an English literary society

founded in London in 1921, and establishes an author’s

group in Hanover, “Ring Hannoverscher Schriftsteller”

with Christof Spengemann and Carl Credé.

Dreier visits Schwitters again in Hanover on March 30;

she purchases his Relief mit rotem Segment (Relief with

Red Segment), 1927.

In what is likely his last public performance in Germany,

Schwitters reads several works, including “An Anna

Blume” and “Schacko,” on December 21 at “Künstler in

Front” in the Capitol-Hochhaus, Hanover.

1931

Schwitters is elected an Honorary President of the

Société Anonyme. Five of his works are included in a show

organized by the Société Anonyme, “An International

Exhibition Illustrating the Most Recent Development in

Abstract Art: Special Exhibition Arranged in Honor of the

Opening of the New Building of the New School,” at the

New School for Social Research, New York, January 1—

February 2. The exhibition travels to Albright Art Gallery,

Buffalo, New York, February 18—March 8.

Franz Müller’s Wire Springtime, Merzbild 9 b das grosse

lchbild (Merz Picture 9 b The Great I Picture), 1919

(Museum Ludwig, Cologne), and Albert Finzlerbild

(Albert Finzler Picture), 1926 (Sprengel Museum

Hannover, loan from Finanz Informatik), are reproduced

in the third edition of Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (Art

of the Twentieth Century) by Carl Einstein.

Schwitters joins Paris-based “abstraction-création,” an

artists’ association formed in opposition to Surrealism

that grew out of the short-lived Cercle et Carré. The

group’s journal publishes images of the Hanover

Merzbau and other works by Schwitters between 1932

and 1934.

1932

The Hannover Kunstverein includes Schwitters in their

one-hundredth anniversary exhibition, March—April.

Schwitters’s “Ursonate” is published as Merz 24;

with typography by Jan Tschichold. Schwitters records

the poems ‘Scherzo” and “An Anna Blume” for the

broadcaster Süddeutsche Rundfunk AG, Stuttgart, May 5.

Helma and Kurt Schwitters visit Guernsey, the Channel

Islands; Brittany, France; and Spain, Morocco, and Italy.

1933

In January, Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor and

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several weeks later becomes dictator of Germany.

As the political situation in Germany becomes

increasingly difficult for avant-garde artists, Schwitters

begins withdrawing from public appearances and

exhibitions, focusing instead on the Merzbau.

Reproductions of Schwitters’s works are included in

the exhibition “Novembergeist: Kunst im Dienste der

Zersetzung” (November Spirit: Art in the Service of

Moral Corruption), June—September 1933, Stuttgart

and Bielefeld, organized by the National Socialists with

the intent to ridicule modern art and artists.

1934

Schwitters meets Tommaso Marinetti, founder of

Futurism, at the Berlin opening of the exhibition

“Aeropittura,” on March 28.

In the summer Schwitters begins a second Merz

construction, Hütte auf Hjertøya (Cottage on Hjertøya),

1932—39, in a primitive hut on the island of Hjertøya in

Moldefjord, Norway.

The last presentation of Schwitters’s work in Nazicontrolled

Germany (other than in derogatory exhibitions

organized by the government), is the annual autumn

“Herbstausstellung Hannoverscher Künstler” at the

Hannover Kunstverein, October—November.

Mz 199, 1921 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,

New York), is included in “Modern Works of Art: Fifth

Anniversary Exhibition,” November19, 1934—January

20, 1935, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, marking

the first time Schwitters’s work was on view there.

1935

L Merzbild L3 (Das Merzbild) [L Merz Picture L3 (The

Merz Picture)], 1919, and Ringbild (Ring Picture), 1920/21,

are confiscated from the Stadtmuseum Dresden and put

into the first “Entartete Kunst,” an exhibition of modern

art deemed degenerate (entartete) by the National

Socialists. The first such exhibition began in Dresden

in September1933 and ended in Frankfurt, September

1936; a second “Entartete Kunst” tours Germany from

July 18, 1937, until April 20, 1941. Both works are now

lost and presumed destroyed.

In May, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., director of the Museum of

Modern Art, New York, visits the Schwitterses’ home

in Hanover. Barr had most likely been introduced to

the artist’s work through his close association with

Dreier. Although Schwitters is in Norway, Barr views the

Merzbau. A few months later, while he is in Paris, Barr

purchases Reichardt-Schwertschlag Father Christmas,

1922, from the poet Paul Eluard for the museum’s

collection. The next year in Berlin he purchases Drawing

A 2 House. [Hansi], 1918, and Mz. 379. Potsdamer, also

for the museum’s collection, where they alI three remain

today.

By this time, American collector Albert Eugene Gallatin

had purchased two works by Schwitters, Merzbild

20a (Bild Streichholz—Hosenknopf) (Merz Picture 20a

(Picture Match—Trouser—Button)], 1919, and Untitled

(Merz Construction, Top), ca. 1923—26. Parts of

Gallatin’s collection of modern art were on continuous

view in New York at his Gallery of Living Art (later the

Museum of Living Art) from 1927 to 1936. In 1942 the

collection, including the two works noted above, moved

to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it remains.

1936

Alfred Barr places Schwitters’s works in two Museum

of Modern Art exhibitions: six in ‘Cubism and Abstract

Art,” March 2—April 19, and four in “Fantastic Art,

Dada, Surrealism,” December 1936—January 1937. Nine

photographs of the Hanover Merzbau are also included

in the exhibition and catalogue for “Fantastic Art”.

In November, Schwitters writes to both Barr and Josef

Albers, also living in the States, proposing to build a room

in the U.S. similar to the Merzbau, which he describes as

an abstract sculpture into which one can enter. Neither

Barr nor Albers pursues the idea.

The same month, Schwitters writes to Dreier from

Amsterdam, reporting on developments in his art and

advising her to write to him only in the Netherlands or

under a pseudonym.

1937

Due to the increasingly hostile political situation in

Germany, Schwitters flees to Norway on January 2,

joining his son, Ernst, who had left two weeks earlier.

Helma Schwitters remains in Hanover, visiting her

husband occasionally. Fortunately, Schwitters is able

to arrange for most of his work to be shipped from

his studio in Hanover to Norway. He begins building a

third Merz construction in Lysaker, the Haus am Bakken

(House on the Slope; destroyed 1951).

During her last trip to Europe, in spring 1937, Dreier visits

Helma in Hanover and views the Merzbau.

Throughout the summer Nazis continue to purge German

museums of modern art; works by Schwitters are

removed from institutions in Berlin, Hanover, Mannheim,

Breslau, Saarbrücken, Wiesbaden, and elsewhere. The

Merz Picture, 1919; Ring Picture, 1920/21; Mz 190,

164


1921; and Mz 195 Das Eine (Mz 195 The One), 1921, are

included in the second “Entartete Kunst” exhibition. All

of the above are missing and presumed destroyed.

1938

Peggy Guggenheim, an American collector living in

London, borrows five works by Schwitters from Nelly van

Doesburg and includes them in “Exhibition of Collages,

Papiers-collés, and Photo-montages” in her London

gallery, Guggenheim-Jeune. When the war starts,

Guggenheim will return to the United States and show

Schwitters’s works at Art of This Century, her influential

gallery in New York.

In July, Schwitters’s work is included in “Exhibition of

Twentieth-Century German Art” at New Burlington

Galleries, London (organized in opposition to the

“Entartete Kunst” exhibitions), and in September—

October in “International nutidskunst. Konstruktivisme,

neoplasticime, abstract kunst, surrealisme,” Oslo.

1939

Poems and a drawing by Schwitters are included in

Homme que a perdu son squelette, the fourth volume

of Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s magazine of contemporary art,

Plastique, published in Paris.

“Art of Tomorrow” at the Museum of Non Objective

Painting (now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum),

New York, June, includes Schwitters’s work.

The next month, Helma Schwitters visits her husband in

Norway for the last time.

In September, Germany invades Poland, thus signaling

the beginning of World War II. Great Britain and France

declare war on Germany.

“Some New Forms of Beauty” at George Walter Vincent

Smith Art Gallery, Springfield, Massachusetts, November

9—December 17, includes Relief with Red Segment; the

exhibition travels to Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford,

Connecticut, January 4 - February 4, 1940.

1940-41

At the beginning of 1940, with the help of Steinitz,

Schwitters unsuccessfully attempts to procure an

American visa.

When German troops invade Norway in April 1940,

Schwitters; his son, Ernst; and Ernst’s wife, Esther,

flee over a period of several weeks to Great Britain. The

Schwitterses are interned in various detention camps

in Scotland and England for the remainder of 1940 and

through the end of 1941. Schwitters writes a poem about

the experience titled “Flucht” (Flight).

In one such camp, Hutchinson Camp, Schwitters is able

to set up a studio where he makes collages, sculpture,

and portraits of other detainees, He also stages recitals

(which include “Silence,” the first poem he wrote in

English) and publishes in the internees’ journal, The

Camp.

In December 1941 he is released from internment and

moves to London. He meets Edith Thomas (nicknamed

“Wantee”), who later becomes his companion.

Dreier and Duchamp retire the Société Anonyme in

1941 and donate its collection, including several pieces

by Schwitters, to the Yale University Art Gallery, New

Haven, Connecticut. Upon Dreier’s death in 1952,

her personal art collection is bequeathed to important

public collections; works by Schwitters go to the

Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the Solomon R.

Guggenheim Musum, New York; and the Museum of

Modern Art, New York.

1942

Schwitters continues to compose poetry, in English,

until the end of his life, having renounced the German

language during the war.

Schwitters’s works continue to find audience in the U.S.;

five are included in “The Exhibition of the Collection of

the Société Anonyme—Museum of Modern Art: 1920,”

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut,

January 12—February 22; and three in the ongoing

exhibition of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection, “Art of

This Century; Objects—Drawings—Photographs—

Paintings—Sculpture—Collages 1910—1942,” Art of This

Century, New York, October 21, 1942—June 1947.

1943-45

Peggy Guggenheim includes Schwitters’s work in

“Exhibition of Collage” at Art of This Century, New York,

April 16—May 5, 1943.

The family home of the Schwitterses in Hanover,

together with the Merzbau, is destroyed by Allied bombs

on October 8 and 9, 1943.

In April 1944, Schwitters suffers a stroke and is

temporarily paralyzed on one side of his body. Helma

Schwitters dies of cancer in Hanover on October 29.

Schwitters does not learn of her death until December.

Schwitters is the focus of a one-man exhibition at the

Modern Art Gallery, London, December1944. Herbert

Read contributes an introduction and essay to the

CHRONOLOGY

165


exhibition catalogue. In November 1945, Schwitters

writes to Alfred Barr in an attempt to circulate the

exhibition to the United States. Unfortunately, Barr had

been asked to resign from the Museum of Modern Art

the previous autumn.

Jan Tschichold organizes a presentation of Schwitters’s

work to accompany the exhibition “Der Sturm (Sammlung

Nell Walden)” at Kunstmuseum Bern, February—April

1945.

After the war ends in June, Ernst Schwitters returns to

Norway; he assumes Norwegian citizenship at the end of

the year. At the same time, Kurt Schwitters moves with

his companion, Edith Thomas, to Ambleside in the Lake

District of England. Schwitters remains in poor financial

condition until the end of his life. During these years, he

earns some money painting portraits, landscapes, and

still-lifes. A friend from Hanover, Walter Dux, who is also

living in London, provides additional assistance.

1946

Schwitters is unusually prolific in the last two years of

his life, producing a large number of collages in 1946

and 1947.

Carola Giedion-Welcker publishes thirteen of Schwitters’s

poems in her anthology Poètes à l’Ècart—Antholoqie der

Abseitigen, Benteli, Bern.

In April, Schwitters writes to Oliver M. Kaufmann in

Chicago asking him for funds to use to restore the

remains of the Merzbau. The following year, on his sixtieth

birthday, June 20, 1947, Schwitters is awarded $1,000 by

the Museum of Modern Art, New York (funds provided

by Kaufmann), for reconstructing or continuing existing

Merz constructions, whether in Hanover or Lysaker.

Unable to travel outside England, Schwitters chooses to

start a new Merz construction, the Merz Barn, on a farm

belonging to Harry Pierce near Elterwater in the Lake

District. The Merz Barn is never completed.

packages of food and vitamins to him in England.

Despite increasing frailty, Schwitters is able to stage two

Merz evenings at the London Gallery, March 5 and 7. He

is unable to convince the BBC to record his “Ursonate.”

Schwitter’s work is included in “The White Plain” at

the Pinacotheca, New York, March 19—April 12, an

influential exhibition of leading European abstract artists

such as Mondrian and Kandinsky and the American artist

Burgoyne Diller.

1948

On January 8, one day after being granted British

citizenship, Kurt Schwitters dies in England of acute

pulmonary edema and myocarditis. After an initial burial

in Ambleside, his remains are moved to Hanover in 1970.

Twenty-six of Schwitters’s works are featured,

posthumously, in the artist’s first solo exhibition in

the United States, held at the Pinacotheca (later the

Rose Fried Gallery), January 19—February 29. Dreier

contributes an essay to the exhibition catalogue titled

Kurt Schwitters: The Dadas Have Come to Town”;

Naum Gabo and Charmion von Wiegand also write text.

Margaret Miller includes nineteen works by Schwitters

in ‘Collage,’ the Museum of Modern Art, New York,

September 21—December 5.

Clare Elliott, „Chronology”, first published in Kurt Schwitters:

Color and Collage, edited by Isabel Schulz (Houston: Menil

Collection, 2010).

© Menil Foundation, Inc., Houston, reprinted with permission.

Schwitters begins corresponding with Margaret Miller, a

curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who is organizing

an exhibition of collages for the museum.

Schwitters spends the end of 1946 confined to bed after

a hip fracture.

Schwitters renews contact with Katherine Dreier. The

two discuss the possibility of a Schwitters exhibition in

the United States; the result is a solo show, organized

by Dreier, held in 1948 at the Pinacotheca in New York.

1947

Dreier remains in touch with Schwitters, sending

166


Catalogue Raisonné

Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz. Kurt Schwitters:

Catalogue Raisonné. Published by the Sprengel Museum

Hannover, on behalf of the Savings Bank Foundation

of Lower Saxony, the NORD/LB Norddeutsche

Landesbank, the Sparkasse Hannover, and the Kurt and

Ernst Schwitters Foundation. 3 vols. Ostfildern-Ruit:

Hatje Cantz, 2000-2006.

Publications by Kurt Schwitters

In addition to working as a visual artist, Kurt Schwitters

was a prolific writer and poet; a comprehensive

bibliography of Schwitters’s writings is in the catalogue

raisonné (see above). Listed below are selected writings

by Schwitters published during his lifetime; others may

be found in the Chronology. Publications and recordings

by Kurt Schwitters are listed in chronological order.

Selected Writings Published during Schwitters’s

Lifetime (excluding Merz magazine)

Anna Blume. Dichtungen. Die Silbergäule 39/40.

Hanover: Paul Steegemann, 1919; rev. ed. Hanover: Paul

Steegemann, 1922.

Die Kathedrale. 8 Lithos von Kurt Schwitters. Die

Silbergäule 41/42. Hanover: Paul Steegemann, 1920.

Kurt Schwitters. Book 4 of Sturm-Bilderbuch. Berlin:

Sturm, [ca. 1920].

Elementar. Die Blume Anna. Die neue Anna Blume. Eine

Gedichtsammlung aus den Jahren 1918—1922. Berlin:

Sturm, 1922.

Memoiren Anna Blumes in Bleie. Eine leichtfassliche

Methode zur Erlernung des Wahnsinns für Jedermann.

Schnitter-Bücher. Die hohe Reihe. Freiburg (Baden):

Walter Heinrich, 1922.

Auguste Bolte (ein Lebertran). Tran Nr. 30. Berlin: Sturm,

1923.

Lithos von Kurt Schwitters. Fifty numbered copies. 1923.

Merz 4. Banalitäten. July 1923.

Merz 5. 7 Arpaden. Portfolio with seven lithographs by

Hans Arp. Fifty numbered copies. 1923.

With Hans Arp. Merz 6. lmitatoren watch step! Arp 1.

Propaganda [sic] und Arp. Oct. 1923.

Merz 7. Subsequently called Tapsheft. Jan. 1924.

Merz 8/9. Nasci. Typography by El Lissitzky. July 1924.

Merz 10. Bauhaus-Buch.” Announced in Merz 8/9 but

not published.

Merz 11. Typoreklame. The so-called Pelikan-Nummer.

November 1924.

With Kate Steinitz. Hahnepeter (Merz 12), [1924]. Fifty

numbered copies, hand colored and signed by the

author. Also published as Aposs 1; Aposs-Verlag, 1925.

Individual copies with glued-on paper bands titled Merz

12. 1925.

With Kate Steinitz and Theo van Doesburg. Die Scheuche

(Merz 14/15). 1925. First published as Aposs 3; Aposs-

Verlag. Individual copies with glued-on paper bands later

called Merz 14/15. 1925.

With Kate Steinitz. Die Märchen vom Paradies (Merz

16/17). 1924. First published as Aposs 2; Aposs-Verlag.

lndividual copies with glued-on paper bands called Merz

16/17 1925/II. 1925.

Ludwig Hilberseimer. Grosstadtbauten (Merz 18/19).

Neue Architektur, ed. by Kurt Schwitters and Kate

Steinitz, 1), 1925; subsequently called Merz 18/19.

Jan.—Apr. 1926.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Die neue Gestaltung der Typographie. Brochure.

Hanover: K. Schwitters, [1925].

Merz Magazines

From 1923 to 1932, Kurt Schwitters published a

magazine called Merz, which he wrote by himself or in

collaboration and published in Hanover.

Merz 1. Holland Dada. Jan. 1923.

Merz 2 Nummer i. Apr. 1923.

Merz 3 Merz Mappe. Erste Mappe des Merzverlages. 6

Merz 20. Kurt Schwitters. Katalog. 1927.

Merz 21 erstes Veilchen-Heft. Eine kleine Sammlung von

Merz-Dichtungen aller Art von Kurt Schwitters. 1931

Merz 22. Entwicklung.” Announced in Merz 21 but

never published.

Merz 23. e. E.” Announced in an insert in Merz 21 but

never published.

Merz 24. Ursonate. 1932. Typography by Jan Tschichold.

Fifty of 1,ooo copies numbered and signed.

167


Original Recordings by Kurt Schwitters

Merz 13 Merz - Grammophonplatte. Scherzo of

“Ursonate” spoken by Kurt Schwitters. Hanover, 1925.

Anna Blume. Scherzo der Ursonate. Spoken by Kurt

Schwitters, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart, May 5,

1932.

Kurt Schwitters. Urwerk. Ed. Robert Galitz, Kurt Kreiler,

and Klaus Gabbert. Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 2007.

Texts by Kurt Schwitters Published Posthumously

Kurt Schwitters. Das Iiterarische Werk. 5 vols. Ed. Friedhelm

Lach. Cologne: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1973 - 81.

Three Painter-Poets: Arp, Schwitters, Klee. Selected

Poems. Ed. by Harriet Watts. Baltimore, MD: Penguin

Books, 1974.

Kurt Schwitters. Wir spielen, bis uns der Tod abholt.

Briefe aus fünf Jahrzehnten. Ed. By Ernst Nündel.

Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1974.

The Merzbook: Kurt Schwitters Poems. Ed. by Colin

Morton. Kingston, Ontario: Quarry Press, 1987.

The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology. Ed. Robert

Motherwell. New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1951;

reprint, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard

University Press. 1989.

Schwitters: Norwegian Landscapes, the Zoological

Garden’s Lottery and More Stories. Ed. Per Kirkeby.

Hellerup, DK: Edtion Bløndal, 1995.

Kurt Schwitters: Poems, Performance Pieces, Proses,

Plays, Poetics. Ed. Pierre Joris, Jerome Rothenberg,

and Naomi Yang. Philadelphia: Temple University Press;

reprint, Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 2002.

Kurt Schwitters: Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales.

Ed. and trans. Jack Zipes; illustrated by Irvine Peacock.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Monographic Publications

Beaujean, Marion, and Maria Haldenwanger. Schwitters-

Archiv der Stadtbibliothek Hannover: Bestandsverzeichnis

1986. Hanover: Stadtbibliothek Hannover, 1986.

Brookes, V. J. “Fred.” “Schwitters in Exile: The Rural Art

of Kurt Schwitters 1937—1948.” PhD diss., University of

Newcastle upon Tyne, 1967.

Crossley, Barbara. The Triumph of Kurt Schwitters.

Ambleside, England: Armitt Trust, 2005.

Dietrich, Dorothea. The Collages of Kurt Schwitters.

Tradition and Innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1993.

Elger, Dietmar. Der Merzbau von Kurt Schwitters: Eine

Werkmonographie. Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek,

ed. Christian Posthofen, 12. Cologne: König, 1999.

Ewig, Isabelle. Kurt Schwitters Oxymore ou l’art de Ia

contradiction. PhD diss., Université Paris, Sorbonne.

Lille: A.N.R.T. Université de Lille Ill, 2000.

Fuchs, Rudi. Conflicts with Modernism or the Absence

of Kurt Schwitters. Vol. 1 of Theme and Objection. Bern:

Gachnang and Springer, 1991.

Gamard, Elizabeth Burns. Kurt SchwittersMerzbau:

The Cathedral of Erotic Misery. New York; Princeton

Architectural Press, 2000.

Germundson, Curt Robert. “Kurt Schwitters in Hanover;

Investigation of the Cultural Environment.” PhD diss.,

University of Iowa, 2001.

Luke, Megan Rand. “Space for Recognition; The Late

Work and Exile of Kurt Schwitters (1930 - 1948).” PhD

diss., Harvard University, 2009.

Nih, Annegreth. “Decoding Merz: An Interpretative

Study of Kurt Schwitters’ Early Work, 1918—1922.” PhD

diss., University of Texas at Austin 1990.

Notz, Adrian, and Ulrich Christ. Merz World: Processing the

Complicated Order. Zurich: Jrp Ringier Kunstverlag, 2008.

Nündel, Ernst. Kurt Schwitters in Selbstzeugnissen und

Bilddokumenten. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1981.

Orchard, Karin, and Isabel Schulz. Kurt Schwitters. Werke

und Dokumente im Sprengel Museum Hannover/Kurt

Schwitters: Catalogue of the Works and Documents in

the Sprengel Museum Hannover. Hanover: Sprengel

Museum Hannover and Verein der Freunde des Sprengel

Museum Hannover, 1998.

Schmalenbach, Werner. Kurt Schwitters. New York: Harry

N. Abrams, 1967.

Sigrid, Franz. Kurt SchwittersMerz-Ästhetik im

Spannungsfeld der Künste. Freiburg im Breisgau:

Rombach, 2009.

Stadtmüller, Klaus. Schwitters in Norwegen: Arbeiten,

Dokumente, Ansichten. Hanover: Postskriptum, 1997.

168


Stark, Franz. Bestandsverzeichnis. Nachtrag 1987.

Hanover: Stadtbibliothek, 1987.

Steinitz, Kate. Kurt Schwitters: A Portrait from Life. With

Collision, A Science-Fiction Opera Libretto in Banalities,

by Kurt Schwitters and Kate Trauman Steinitz, and Other

Writings. Trans. Robert Bartlett Haas. Introduction by

John Coplans and Walter Hopps. Berkeley: University of

California Press, 1968.

Themerson, Stefan. Kurt Schwitters in England. London:

Gaberbocchus, 1958.

Von der Horst, Frauke. “Anna Blume ‘gut aufgehoben’:

A Semiotic Interpretation of Works by Kurt Schwitters.”

PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1995.

Webster, Gwendolen. Kurt Merz Schwitters: A

Biographical Study. Cardiff: University of Wales Press,

1997.

—. “Kurt SchwittersMerzbau.” PhD diss., Open

University, Milton Keynes, England, 2007.

Wiesing, Lambert. Stil statt Wahrheit: Kurt Schwitters und

Ludwig Wittgenstein über ästhetische Lebensformen.

Munich: W. Fink, 1991.

Monographic Exhibition Catalogues

Masterpieces by Great Masters: Also Paintings and

Sculpture by Kurt Schwitters. Introduction by Herbert

Read. London: Modern Art Gallery, 1944.

Kurt Schwitters. Text by Naum Gabo. New York:

Pinacotheca, 1948.

Sidney Janis Presents an Exhibition of Collage, Painting,

Relief and Sculpture by Schwitters. Text by Tristan Tzara.

New York: Sidney Janis Gallery; Chicago: Arts Club of

Chicago, 1952.

Kurt Schwitters: Collages. Text by Hans Bolliger. Paris:

Berggruen, 1954.

Kurt Schwitters. Hanover: Kestner-Gesellschaft, 1956.

Kurt Schwitters: 1887—1948. London: Lord’s Gallery, 1958.

Kurt Schwitters, Pasadena, CA: Pasadena Art Museum,

1962.

Schwitters. London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1963.

Kurt Schwitters in the Lake District. Kendal, England:

Abbot Hall Art Gallery, 1964.

Kurt Schwitters: Retrospective. University of California,

Los Angeles, 1965.

Kurt Schwitters: A Retrospective Exhibition. Dallas:

Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1965.

Kurt Schwitters. Düsseldorf: Stadtische Kunsthalle

Düsseldorf, 1971.

Kurt Schwitters. Cologne: Galerie Gmurzynska, 1978.

Kurt Schwitters in Exile: The Late Work, 1937—1948/Kurt

Schwitters im Exil: Das Spätwerk, 1937—1948. London:

Marlborough Fine Art, 1981.

Kurt Schwitters. Tokyo: Seibu Museum of Art, 1983.

Kurt Schwitters: Die späten Werke. Ed. Siegfried Gohr.

Cologne: Museum LudwigKöln, 1985.

Kurt Schwitters 1887—1948. Ausstellung zum 99.

Geburtstag. Ed. Joachim Buchner and Norbert Nobis.

Hanover: Sprengel Museum Hannover; Berlin: Propyläen,

1986.

Kurt Schwitters. Ed. Serge Lemoine and Didier Semin.

In Spanish with English summary. Valencia, Spain: IVAM

Centre Julio González, 1995.

Kurt Schwitters in Nederland: Merz, De Stijl and Holland

Dada. Ed. Meta Knol. In Dutch/English. Heerlen,

Netherlands: Stadsgalerij Heerlen; Zwolle: Waanders

Uitgevers, 1997.

Kurt Schwitters: I Is Style. Ed. Siegfried Gohr and Gunda

Luyken on behalf of Rudi Fuchs. Amsterdam: Stedelijk

Museum; Rotterdam: NAI Publishers, 2000.

In the Beginning Was Merz: From Kurt Schwitters

to the Present Day. Ed. Susanne Meyer-Büser and

Karin Orchard. Hanover: Sprengel Museum Hannover;

Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2000.

Schwitters, Ed. Ingried Brugger, Siegfried Gohr, and

Gunda Luyken. Vienna: Kunstforum Wien; Salzburg:

Jung und Jung, 2002.

Kurt Schwitters: Merz—A Total Vision of the World.

Basel: Museum Tinguely; Bern: Benteli, 2004.

Schwitters Arp. Ed. Hartwig Fischer. Basel:

Kunstmuseum Basel; Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2004.

Merzgebiete: Kurt Schwitters und seine Freunde. Ed.

Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz. Hanover: Sprengel

Museum Hannover; Cologne: Dumont, 2006.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

169


Collage/Collages from Cubism to New Dada. Ed. Maria

Mimita Lamberti and Maria Grazia Messina. In Italian.

Turin: Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea

Torino. In English. Milan: Elekta, 2007

L’esprit de Ia lettre. Paris: Maison de Victor Hugo, 2007.

Living in the Material World: “Things” in Art of the

Twentieth Century and Beyond. Tokyo: National Art

Center, 2007.

Kurt Schwitters in Norway. Ed. Karin Orchard.

Høvikodden, Norway: Henie Onstad Kunstsenter;

Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2009.

Further Reading

Abstrakte und surrealistische Malerei und Plastik. Exh.

cat. Zurich: Kunsthaus Zürich, 1929.

Behne, Adolf. “Kurt Schwitters.” Der Cicerone 12, no. 10

(May 1920): 416.

Brookes, Fred. “SchwittersMerzbarn.” Studio

International 117, no. 911 (May 1969): 224—27.

Cardinal, Roger. “Collecting and Collage-making: The

Case of Kurt Schwitters.” In Roger Cardinal and John

Elsner, The Cultures of Collecting, 68-96, 277—79.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Cubism and Abstract Art. Text by Alfred Barr, Jr. Exh. cat.

New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936.

Dada 1916—I923. Exh. cat. New York: Sidney Janis

Gallery, 1953.

DADA: Zurich Berlin Hannover Cologne New York Paris.

Ed. Leah Dickerman. Exh. cat. Washington, DC: National

Gallery of Art in association with D.A.P., 2005.

Dickerman, Leah. “Merz and Memory: On Kurt

Schwitters.” In The Dada Seminars, 103—25. CASVA

Seminar Papers, 1. Ed. Leah Dickerman and Matthew S.

Witkovsky. Washington, DC: Center for Advanced Study

in the Visual Arts, 2005.

Dickson, Rachel, and Sarah MacDougall. “Artists in

Exile in Britain c. 1933—45.” In Forced Journeys: Artists

in Exile in Britain c. 1933—45, 18-49. London: Ben Uri

Gallery and London Jewish Museum of Art, 2009.

Die abstrakten Hannover—Internationale Avantgarde

1927—1935. Exh. cat. Sprengel Museum Hannover;

Ludwigshafen. Germany: Wilhelm-Hack-Museum;

Ludwigshafen and Hanover: Josef Grütter, 1987.

Die zwanziger Jahre in Hannover: Bildende Kunst,

Literatur, Theater, Tanz, Architektur 1916—1933. Exh. cat.

Hanover: Kunstverein Hannover, 1962.

Dietrich, Dorothea, “The Fragment Reframed. Kurt

Schwitters’s Merz-column.” Assemblage: A Critical

Journal of Architecture and Design Culture 14 (Apr.

1991): 82-92.

Dreier, Katherine S. Modern Art. New York: Société

Anonyme and Museum of Modern Art, 1926; reprint,

New York, 1972.

—. Western Art and the New Era: An Introduction to

Modern Art. New York: Brentano’s, 1923.

Einstein, Carl, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts. Berlin:

Propyläen, 1931; reprint, Berlin: Fannei and Walz, 1996.

Elderfield, John. “The Early Work of Kurt Schwitters,”

Artforum 10, no. 3 (Nov. 1971): 54—67.

—. “Kurt Schwitters’ Last Merzbau,” Artforum 8, no. 2

(Oct. 1969): 56—64.

—. “On a Merz-Gesamtwerk.” Art International 21, no. 6

(Dec. 1977): 19—26.

—. “Private Objects: The Sculpture of Kurt Schwitters,”

Artforum 12, no. 1 (Sep. 1973): 45—54.

Exhibition of Twentieth-Century German Art. Exh. cat.

London: New Burlington Galleries, 1938.

Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. Text by Alfred Barr, Jr.

Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936.

Germundson, Curt. “Montage and Totality: Kurt

Schwitters’s Relationship to ‘Tradition’ and ‘Avant-garde’.”

In Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde, 156—

83. Avant-Garde Critical Studies, 18. Ed. Dafydd Jones.

Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.

Giedion-Welcker, Carola. “Schwitters; Or the Allusions of

the Imagination” Magazine of Art 41, no. 6 (Oct. 1948):

218—21.

Greenberg, Clement. In “Art.” Nation 167, nos. 21, 27

(Nov.1948): 612—14. Reprinted as “Review of the

Exhibition Collage, 259—63. In Clement Greenberg.

The Collected Essays and Criticism. Ed. John O’Brian.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Herbert, Roland L., Eleanor S. Apter, and Elise K. Kenney.

170


The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale

University: A Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven, CT: Yale

University Press, 1984.

An International Exhibition Illustrating the Most Recent

Development in Abstract Art. Exh. cat. Buffalo, NY:

Albright Art Gallery, 1931.

An International Exhibition of Modern Art, Assembled by

the Société Anonyme. Exh. cat. Brooklyn, NY: Société

Anonyme and Brooklyn Museum, 1926.

Janis, Harriet, and Rudi Blesh. Collage: Personalities,

Concepts, Techniques. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1962.

Katenhusen, Ines. Kunst und Politik: Hannovers

Auseinandersetzungen mit der Moderne in der Weimarer

Republik. Hannoversche Studien: Schriftenreihe des

Stadtarchivs Hannover, 5. Ed. Klaus Mlynek and Karljosef

Kreter. Hanover: Hahn, 1998.

King, Antoinette. “Kurt Schwitters’s Cherry Picture:

Material Change and an Ethical Problem.” In Essays on

Assemblage, 31—41. Studies in Modern Art, ed. John

Elderfeld, 2. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992.

Kuspit, Donald. “Kurt Schwitters: When Collage Was

Young.” C Magazine, no. 7 (Fall 1985): 50—55. Reprinted

in Donald Kuspit, The New Subjectivism: Art in the 1980s,

57—66. Ann Arbor, Ml: UMI Research Press, 1988.

Lach, Friedhelm. “Schwitters: Performance Notes,” 39—

45. In Stephen C. Foster. Dada/ Dimensions. Ann Arbor,

Ml: UMI Research Press, 1985.

McBride, Patrizia. “The Game of Meaning: Collage,

Montage, and Parody in Kurt Schwitters’s Merz.”

Modernism/Modernity 14, no. 2 (Apr. 2007): 249—72.

Mehring, Walter. “Kurt Schwitters im ‘Sturm’.” Der

Cicerone 11, no. 14 (July 1919): 462.

Mesens, E. L. T. “A Tribute to Kurt Schwitters.” Art News

and Review 10, no. 19 (1958): 5—7.

Nebel, Adolf Behne. “Kurt Schwitters.” Der Cicerone 12,

no. 10 (May 1920): 416.

Nebel, Otto. “Kurt Schwitters.” Kurt Schwitters. Book 4

of Sturm Bilderbüch. Berlin: Sturm, [1920], 1-2.

Nil, Annegreth. “Weimar Politics and the Theme of Love

in Kurt Schwitters’ Das Bäumerbild.” Dada Surrealism,

no. 13 (1984): 17—36.

Orchard, Karin. “Cicero, the Roman Hitler: Kurt

Schwitters’ Verhältnis zum Nationalsozialismus.” In

Curiosa Poliphili. Festgabe für Horst Bredekamp zum

60. Geburtstag, 154—161. Ed. Nicole Hegener, Claudia

Lichte, and Bettina Marten. Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, 2007.

Osswald-Hoffmann, Cornelia. Zauber...und

Zeigeräume: Raumgestaltungen der 20er und 30er

Jahre. Die “Merzbauten” des Kurt Schwitters und

der “Prounenraum” sowie die Räumlichkeiten der

Abstrakten des El Lissitzky. Munich: Akademischer,

2003.

Ran, Faye. A History of Installation Art and the

Development of New Art Forms: Technology and the

Hermeneutics of Time and Space in Modern and

Postmodern Art from Cubism to Installation. New York:

Peter Lang, 2009.

Retiz, Leonard, “Schwitters and the Literary Tradition.”

German Life and Letters 27 (1973—74): 303—15.

Schmidt, Paul Ferdinand. Die Kunst der Gegenwart. Vol.

6 of Die Sechs Bücher der Kunst. Berlin: Sturm, [1922].

Schulz, Isabel. “The ‘Brother of Merz’ —Ernst and Kurt

Schwitters.” In Ernst Schwitters in Norway: Photographs

1930—1960, 202—7. Ed. Kurt und Ernst Schwitters

Stiftung. Exh. cat. Hanover: Sprengel Museum Hannover;

Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2005.

—, ed. Der Nachlass von Kurt und Ernst Schwitters.

Hanover: Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung, 2002.

—. “Geklebte Malerei—Die Collagen von Kurt

Schwitters.” In CollageWelten 1: Das Experiment—Zur

Collage im 20. Jahrhundert, 109—15. Ed. Burkhard

Leismann. Exh. cat. Ahlen: Kunst-Museum Ahlen;

Bramsche: Rasch, 2001.

Seitz, William Chapin. The Art of Assemblage. Exh. cat.

New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1961.

Steel, David A. “DADA—ADAD. Kurt Schwitters, Poetry.

Collage, Typography and the Advert.” Word & Image 6.

no. 2 (Apr.—June 1990): 198—209.

Stokes, Charlotte, and Stephen C. Foster, eds. Dada:

Cologne—Hanover. Vol. 3 of Crisis and the Arts: The

History of Dada. New York: G. K. Hall; London: Prentice

Hall International, 1997.

te Heesen, Anke. Der Zeitungsausschnitt: Ein Papierobjekt

der Moderne. Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2006.

Typographie kann unter Umständen Kunst sein, vols.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

171


1, 3, and 4. Ed. Perdita Lottner. Exh. cats. Hanover:

Sprengel Museum Hannover, 1990.

Umland, Anne, Adrian Sudhalter, and Scott Gerson.

Dada in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art,

275—99. Studies in Modern Art, 9. New York: Museum

of Modern Art, 2008.

Dillon, Brian. “Species of Spaces: Art, Architecture

and Environment.” In Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on

Architecture, 29—37. Exh. cat. London: Hayward Gallery,

2008.

—. “Dada-Hanover.” In Dada and the Press, 293—349.

Ed. Harriett Watts and Stephen C. Foster. Vol. 9 of Crisis

and the Arts: The History of Dada. New York: G. K. Hall;

London: Prentice Hall International, 2004.

—. “Kurt Schwitters and Katherine Dreier.” German Life

and Letters 52, no. 4 (Oct. 1999): 443-56.

172


Important group exhibitions in Europe and the United

States held during Schwitters lifetime may be found in

the Chronology. Exhibitions are listed in chronological

order.

“Collages by Kurt Schwitters,” The Phillips Gallery,

Washington, D.C., 1957

Kurt Schwitters,” Lord’s Gallery, London, 1958

[Unknown title], Galerie Goyert, Cologne, 1919

“Der Sturm. 76. Ausstellung. Kurt Schwitters, M.

Langenstrass-Uhlig,” Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, July 1919

Galerie Herbert Cramer, Frankfurt, 1920

“Der Sturm. 96. Ausstellung. Kurt Schwitters. Merzbilder,

Merzzeichnungen. Gesamtschau,” Galerie Der Sturm,

Berlin, April 1921

“Der Sturm. 138. Ausstellung. Otto Nebel. Kurt

Schwitters. Gesamtschau,” Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin,

February 1925

“Grosse Merzausstellung 1927.” The following venues

have been verified: Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden

in the Neues Museum and Wiesbadener Gesellschaft für

Bildende Kunst, Wiesbaden; Städtische Gemäldegalerie,

Bochum, Germany; Ruhmeshalle, Barmen, Germany,

1927

“Sonderausstellung Kurt Schwitters,” Kunstverein für

Böhmen, Prague, 1927

Kurt Schwitters,” [?] Galerie Blomquist, Oslo, 1934

“Paintings and Sculpture by Kurt Schwitters,” The

Modern Art Gallery. London, December 1944

“Gedächtnisausstellung Kurt Schwitters,” Galerie d’Art

Moderne Basel, 1948

Kurt Schwitters,” The Pinacotheca, New York, 1948

“Collage, Painting, Relief and Sculpture by Schwitters,”

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York; The Arts Club of Chicago,

1952

Kurt Schwitters. Collages,” Berggruen Gallery, Paris,

1954

Kurt Schwitters: Fifty-Seven Collages,” Sidney Janis

Gallery, New York, 1956

Kurt Schwitters,” Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover;

Kunsthalle Bern (together with Hans Arp); Stedelijk

Museum, Amsterdam; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brüssel;

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lüttich, Germany, 1956

“Seventy-Five Collages by Kurt Schwitters,” Sidney Janis

Gallery, New York, 1959

Kurt Schwitters 1887—1948,” Cambridge Arts Council

Gallery, 1959; Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea,

England; Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, England; Leicester

Museum and Art Gallery, England; Herbert Temporary

Art Gallery, Coventry, England; Glasgow University Print

Room, Scotland, 1960

Kurt Schwitters. 1887—1948,” Minami Gallery, Tokyo,

1960

“XXX Biennale Internazionale d’Arte. Sonderausstellung

Kurt Schwitters,” La Biennale di Venezia, 1960

Kurt Schwitters Sonderausstellung,” VI Bienal de São

Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 1961

“Fifty Collages by Schwitters,” Sidney Janis Gallery, New

York, 1962

Kurt MERZ Schwitters. 1887-1948, Retrospektivt/

Schwitters/Kurt Schwitters. 1887—1948/Kurt Schwitters.

1887-1948. Schilderijen, collages, sculpturen, tekeningen/

Schwitters. Mostra retrospettiva,” Konstsalongen

Samlaren im Konstnärshuset, Stockholm; Statens

Museum for Kunst und Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen,

1962; Marlborough Fine Art, London; Wallraf-Richartz-

Museum und Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 1963;

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Toninelli

Arte Moderna, Milan; Marlborough Galleria d’Arte,

Rome, 1964

Kurt Schwitters,” Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum,

San Antonio, Texas; Pasadena Art Museum, California;

The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire;

The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1962;

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; J. B. Speed Art

Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, 1963

Kurt Schwitters in the Lake District,” Abbot Hall Art

Gallery, Kendal, England, 1964

Kurt Schwitters. ‘Aphorismer,’ 1918—1947. Collage och

relief, Konstsalongen Samlaren,” Stockholm, 1965

Kurt Schwitters, Retrospective,” University of California

at Los Angeles; Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York;

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

173


The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri;

Art Gallery of Toronto, 1965

Kurt Schwitters: A Retrospective Exhibition,” Dallas

Museum of Fine Arts, 1965; San Francisco Museum of

Art; City Art Museum of Saint Louis, 1966

Kurt Schwitters,” Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf;

Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart;

Kunsthalle Basel; Kunstverein in Hamburg, 1971

Kurt Schwitters,” Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 1978

Kurt Schwitters in Exile: The Late Work 1937—1948,”

Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1981

Kurt Schwitters in England,” Abbot Hall Art Gallery,

Kendal, England, 1982

Kurt Schwitters,” The Museum of Modern Art, Seibu

Takanawa, Karuizawa, Japan; The Seibu Museum of Art,

Tokyo, 1983; Seibu Hall, Seibu Department Stores, Otsu,

Japan 1984

Kurt Schwitters. Die späten Werke,” Museum Ludwig,

Cologne, 1985

Kurt Schwitters,” The Museum of Modern Art, New

York, 1985; Tate Gallery, London; Sprengel Museum

Hannover, 1986

“Der Typograph Kurt Schwitters, Stadtbibliothek

Hannover, 1987

Kurt Schwitters,” Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée

national d’art moderne, Paris, 1994; IVAM Centre Julio

González, Valencia, Spain; Musée de Grenoble, France,

1995

Kurt Schwitters,” Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico

City, 2003

Kurt Schwitters (1887—1948). Collages, Paintings,

Drawings, Objects, Ephemera,” Ubu Gallery, New York,

2003

“I Build My Time.’ Kurt Schwitters in Ambleside,” Armitt

Museum and Library, Ambleside, England, 2003

Kurt Schwitters. Merz—ein Gesamtweltbild,” Museum

Tinguely, Basel, 2004

Schwitters Arp,” Kunstmuseum Basel, 2004

Kurt Schwitters 1887—1948. O artista MERZ,”

Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; Museu Oscar

Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil, 2007

Merzgebiete. Kurt Schwitters und seine Freunde/

Kurt Schwitters en de avant-garde,” Sprengel Museum

Hannover, 2006; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen,

Rotterdam, 2007

Kurt Schwitters in Norway,” Henie Onstad Kunstsenter,

Høvikodden, Oslo, 2009

Selected Bibliography and Solo Exhibitions first published in

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, edited by Isabel Schulz

(Houston: Menil Collection, 2010).

© 2010 Menil Foundation, Inc., Houston, reprinted with

permission.

Kurt Schwitters in Nederland. Merz, De Stijl + Holland

Dada,” Stadsgalerij Heerlen, The Netherlands, 1997

Kurt Schwitters. Eine Retrospektive/Kurt Schwitters. Ich

ist Stil/l Is Style/Ik is stijl,” Museum der bildenden Künste

Leipzig, Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2000

“Aller Anfang ist Merz. Von Kurt Schwitters bis

heute,” Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hanover, 2000;

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Haus

der Kunst, Munich, 2001

Kurt Schwitters. Collages, dipinti e sculture 1914—

1947,” Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, 2001

Schwitters,” Kunstforum Wien, Vienna, 2002

174


KURT SCHWITTERS: MERZ

June 12 - September 30, 2016

Photo credits

As stated in the corresponding photo caption

All works by Kurt Schwitters, Ernst Schwitters, El Lissitzky, Ad Reinhardt, Louise Nevelson,

Lyonel Feininger © 2016, ProLitteris, Zurich

Editors

Krystyna Gmurzynska

Mathias Rastorfer

Research and Coordination

Lisi Linster, Melanie Pfeiffer

Design Coordination

Verena Andric

Following Texts:

Kurt Schwitters, MERZ; i (a manifesto); Anna Blossom has wheels and Werner Schmalenbach, Kurt

Schwitters previously published in Kurt Schwitters, Galerie Gmurzynska, Grand Palais, Paris 1980

Ernst Schwitters, Kurt Schwitters, as writer, poet and lecturer previously published in Kurt Schwitters,

Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne 1978

Some documentary images were previously published in Kurt Schwitters, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne

1978 and Kurt Schwitters, Galerie Gmurzynska, Grand Palais, Paris 1980

Translators

(amongst others)

Michael Eldred

Simone Kaiser

Maria Schneeweiss

Designed and printed by

Grafiche Step, Parma, Italy

ISBN

3-905792-33-8

978-3-905792-33-1

Publication © Galerie Gmurzynska 2016

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175


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