January 14th, 2004 - February 29th, 2004
"Do you know what MERZ means?" — he asked me once. “Isn’t it a German word which describes something you throw away like trash?” — I asked. “O, no” — he answered. “I’ll tell you what it means. There was an ad in a newspaper entitled KOMMERZ UND PRIVAT BANK. I disposed of the first syllable of the first word and what was left was MERZ”.
(From a conversation between Kurt Schwitters and Stefan Themerson. Stefan Themerson, Kurt Schwitters in England, London 1958, p. 20)
Kurt Schwitters is a German artist, associated with the Dada movement, although his work reaches beyond the limits of dadaism. He was born in 1887 in Hannover, where he grew up and went to Kunstgewerbeschule. He continued his studies at the Dresden Academy, starting in 1908, and later in Berlin. He was engaged in realistic painting but most of all he devoted himself to abstraction. In 1918, in Berlin, he met the local circle of dadaists who denied him formal access to the group. He decided to work alone, calling his art Merz. Schwitters worked using all accessible materials and with all media. His art was a revolution in the form of artistic expression. He composed paintings using canvas, paper, paint, glue and small found objects which gained new meanings when incorporated into a larger work. Schwitters erased the boundaries between art and life. He collected old tram tickets, pieces of wire and wood, chocolate wrappings and envelopes, and built artworks of them, putting together plains of various textures, colours and shapes. Those works took on the form of assamblage or collage.
He was a painter, sculptor, designer, poet and typographer, but as he himself said, the work of his life became Merzbau. It was a form of interior design or decoration, totally abstract, which changed in time and was never completed.
The walls and the ceiling were covered with three-dimensional shapes in which niches, nooks and grottos appeared, filled with objects that Schwitters collected or was given. The middle of Merzbau I was occupied by a single column, which he had started building in 1920, named by its author The Column of Erotic Misery (Säule des erotischen Elends). Schwitters claimed that everything that had meaning for him was contained in Merzbau, and this statement related also to the objects of which Merzbau I was constructed, not only to its artistic concept. There were, among others, “grottos” of Hans Arp, Theo van Doesburg, Hannah Höch or Mies van der Rohe. Then the grottos were walled up and new niches were created in other places. Merzbau I had been photographed in the 1930s and the photographs were used in the reconstruction of this bizarre interior, which was destroyed during the Second World War, started coming into being in Schitters’s workshop and grew to occupy eight rooms on three floors.
In the artistic sense Merzbau became the realization of Schwitters’s idea of total art which would link all forms of artistic expression – architecture, painting and sculpture – into one single whole. Not being a member of the Dada Club he was, nevertheless, a dadaist. He organized meetings and public lectures as well as performances. His works are at once absurd, ironic, self-ironic, grotesque, lyrical and satirical. Schwitters protested against stupidity, banality, the nonsense of war and the destruction it caused. His attitude forced him to move to Norway, where he started constructing Merzbau II (destroyed in a fire in 1951).
When the German army attacked Norway on the 9th of April, 1940, Schwitters left his house in Lysaker and moved to England. As a German citizen he was interned and confined to a camp for illegal aliens for seventeen months. In 1944, in Jack Bilbo’s Gallery in London, an exhibition of his art took place, the only such exhibition after he had left Germany and before his death. In 1945 Schwitters moved to Ambleside in the north of England. He still worked on abstract paintings and small sculptures and started the construction of Merz Barn in Cylinders Farm, Langdale. He died in Kendal in 1948.
Muzeum Sztuki came into possession of one work by Kurt Schwitters in 1931, along with the collection of the “a.r.” group. It was presented to the museum by Tadeusz Peiper, to whom the work is dedicated on the back. Mz 194 belongs to the earliest Merz compositions. It is a small collage made of different kinds of paper (printed, painted and embossed), newspaper clippings and silver and golden foil. Spots of pale rouge and dark gold at the left edge of the work light up dark and cold colours of the background, against which a square filled with vertical stripes of black and white stands out clearly.
The exhibition organized under the auspices of His Excellency of Federal Republic of Germany in Poland and Mr. Mieczysław Teodorczyk, Marshall of Łódź Province.
In behalfe of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź we wish to express our gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Federal Republic of Germany and Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. for significant help with organization of the exhibition.