When Kurt Schwitters arrived in Britain as a refugee from Nazi Germany, he was already a key figure in European Dadaism. The work produced by the German artist during this time from 1940 until his death in Cumbria in 1948, is the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Britain. The show examines how Schwitters’ period in exile affected his style in the latter stage of his career.
He’s is best known for the invention of ‘Merz’, which he defined as ‘the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials’. Essentially, this meant working with everyday materials and found objects (including litter) to produce art. First applied to the abstract collages he made from piecing together bits of string, bus tickets, newsprint, sweet wrappers and even pram wheels – this concept was extended by Schwitters to include all his artistic endeavours, from sculpture to poetry.
Many of the pieces on display (over 150 in total) haven’t been shown in the UK for decades, so this really is an opportunity to see what many consider to be some of the most accomplished collages of the 20th century. An early example of Merz – look out for The Skittle Picture (1921) – will be amongst the collages, assemblages and sculptures on view. Also worth a scout has got to be Merz Barn – Schwitters’ last sculpture and installation before his death at Kendal.
The legacy of the German’s British period is evident in the lasting impression he made on artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton. His Dadaism in the form of Merz seemed to anticipate many later developments in art including Pop Art, installation art and the use of multimedia. Schwitters may not have received the recognition in Britain that he had enjoyed in mainland Europe but he certainly left his mark. (Words: Eri Otite)
Schwitters in Britain is on at Tate Britain from 30 January – 12 May. For more info, visit www.tate.org.uk