Sunday, 21 November 2010

Kurt Schwitters: Still crazy after all these years...

It is remarkable to see how influential Kurt Schwitters remains in the 21st Century. There are a number of contemporary exhibitions on the work of one of the 20th Century's most remarkable artists. He has influenced British art, and especially abstraction, a great deal.

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled, (c) The Menil Collection, Houston, USA
Schwitters, who helped to define avant-garde art through his work with German Dada in Hanover, (after a falling out with the Berlin Dadaists), brought Dada practices to a wider audience through his 'merz' constructions of collage, photo-montage and found objects, such as tram tickets, newspaper adverts and fashion illustrations. Also he created three domensional constructions, his most famous being known as the 'Merzbau' or 'The Cathedral of Erotique Misery' (see below). He also developed innovative experimental typographic design through his 'Merz' publications with the Constructivist El Lizzitsky and Theo van Doesburg of De Stijl

Kurt Schwitters performing his 'Urlauten',/'Ursonate' c.1920's
The 'Ursonate', his phonetic sound poem from 1922–32 (a translation of the title is 'Primeval Sonata'), is still seen as an unusual and evocative performance piece, still performed around the world. Perhaps we have understood the influence of Schwitters more through the artists who have been influenced by him after WWII, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha, Damien Hirst, amongst many others.

Their are two shows/explorations currently exhibiting his work:

Exhibitioin in USA:
The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, (the great American collection of modern art), this exhibition explores Schwitters use of colour and light in his work on both paintings and collage. Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, is until 30th January 2011 and its emphasis is on the Merz works from the 1920s and 1940s. 
Kurt Schwitters, 'For Kate',1947
This is the first show of Schwitter's works since the 1985 exhibition at MOMA. The exhibition will travel the US to Princeton University Art Museum March 26–June 26, 2011, followed by Berkeley Art Museum, Pacific Film Archive from August 3–November 27, 2011. 

Exhibition in the United Kingdom:
The other exhibition or perhaps exploration and celebration of his work is the British organisation that has been set up to archive and preserve his little known works in Britain, where he was eventually interned and died in Ambleside, Cumbria. One of his last Merzbau's is celebrated on the website: This construction made in a remote barn in the Langdale Valley and was created during his stay in the Lake District, yet financed by MOMA in New York, is now preserved at the Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle by the artist Richard Hamilton in 1965. You can see the documented reconstructions in 2007, of his Hanover Merzbau here from the Tate archive. This is a great organisation celebrating his art, preserving his legacy and raising funds for the upkeep of his last remaining Merbau. He died in 1948. Kurt Schwitters still crazy after all these years....

Kurt Schwitters,'The Cathedral of Erotique Misery', Hanover, Germany

Kurt Schwitters, 'Merzbarn', Cumbria, UK

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