Kurt Schwitters – Tate Britain

A man with no plan

Although officially not allowed in the club of Dada Berlin as he was rebuffed by some. He ended setting up shop in Hanover going solo. Hans Richter dedicated a whole chapter to him in his book on Dada to set the record straight and to recognize his genius.

“The next day, at a ‘general meeting’ held at Huelsenbeck’s flat, I discovered that something was known of this Schwitters after all. But, for some reason, Huelsenbeck had taken an aversion to him. He refused to admit every Tom, Dick or Harry to the club. In short, he did not like Schwitters.”……
This first rebuff which Schwitters received in Berlin caused him to set up shop on his own in Hanover under the name of MERZ, which he extracted from the word ‘Commerzbank’ ”. Page 138; 1965; Dada Art and Anti-Art by Hans Richter published by Thames and Hudson.

What interests me is that Kurt was not put off and continued without the support of Dada which probably allowed far more freedom than he may have had. It is what I would expect from someone who is obsessed with ones interest, in this case art. It does not matter if one is not excepted within a society. If anything it should drive one to do whatever it is even more. Merz was a response to this and the idea was to appropriate materials for artistic use exploring collage, assemblages, installations. Using items that could be from commercial related devices, found or picked up off the floor. In some respects Schwitters was Dada anything else just followed and his art has had a great deal of influence on various artists that followed him.

The recent show in London at the Tate Britain is of his time here in the UK and Norway after escaping Nazi Germany with his family. It is quite obvious that he was passionate about his work. The freedom of thought can be seen running through the art. Some of the collage are so free that they feel very expressive, almost created without much thought. They are kind of automatic drawings; a sensory reflection of what is occurring around him. His art does not respond to classical art or philosophical ideas. This is put aside and have a different emphasis, they are in opposition. They are in essence abstractions.

“Any desire to reproduce natural forms limits one’s force and consistency in working out an expression. I abandoned all reproduction of natural elements and painted only with pictorial elements. These are my abstractions. I adjusted the elements of the picture to one another, just as I had formerly done at the academy, yet not for the purpose of reproducing nature but with a view to expression.” page 383, 1968; narrator Kurt Schwitters translated by Ralph Manheim 1921; Theories of Modern Art by Herschel B. Chipp; University of California Press Ltd.

I found myself very much involved in his work and was drawn into his way of thinking. I was particularly interested in his interior sculptor in his home in Germany. Despite all that remains are photos one can see that this man lived art every minute of the day. That he was dedicated to the cause of Dada in many ways. The sculptor in the photos was referred to as ‘Schwitters column’ it seems almost like a shrine; the unstructured interior uneven with holes and cavities holding personal information of peoples personal lives.

“ There was also one work in which he sought to integrate all his activities, and that was his beloved ‘Schwitters-Saule’. For all his competence as a business man and as a propagandist, this one thing was sacred to him. This his principle work, was pure, unsaleable creation. It could not be transported or even defined. Built into a room (and rooms) of his house, this column was always in a protean state of transmutation in which a new layer constantly covered, enclosed and hid from sight yesterday’s shape. ” p152, 1965; Dada Art and Anti-Art by Hans Richter published by Thames and Hudson.

It is a shame that the curator felt that there was a need to have a new perspective on Kurt Schwitters work inviting two artist to respond in the last two rooms, instead of just allowing the art to speak for itself. There is nothing else to add it clearly says all that needs to be said without the need for any intervention to mystify it.

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