Celebrating Kurt Schwitters, a Dadaist in England

( *  Posted in April 2009. Four years later Tate gives the artist a long-overdue ( 65 years after his death ) retrospective;  “Schwitters in Britain ”
London Dada – kickstARTing the 21st C. TM
Pressing the Dada reset button since 2005 )

Kurt Schwitters; associated with Zurich and Berlin Dada and the creation of his own one-man Hanover Dada;  fled to Norway to escape the Nazi persecution of “degenerate artists” then on to England where he was interred in an “undesirables” camp on the Isle of Man. On his release he moved to London where his work received scant recognition, even ridicule, by the elitist UK art establishment. He moved again with his companion Edith Thomas to the Lake District where he scratched a living almost Van Gogh-style for a short period before his untimely death in Kendal in 1948. While living in Amleside, he constructed his  second  Merzbau or Merz barn in Langdale near Ambleside, his varied Merz works from that war period being the only documented Dada expressions in England before 2006 which saw  the movement’s revival in the form of its historically missing European link, London Dada, founded by artist Michael St.Mark.

Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, 1948.

Cover for Anna Blume periodical.

Schwitter’s fisrt “Merzbau” 3D psychological collage using an interior space.


…… Schwitters employed Dadaist ideas in his work, used the word itself on the cover of Anna Blume, and would later give Dada recitals throughout Europe on the subject with Theo Van Doesburg, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and Raoul Hausmann. In many ways his work was more in tune with Zürich Dada’s championing of performance and abstract art than Berlin Dada’s agit-prop approach, and indeed examples of his work were published in the last Zürich Dada publication, der Zeltweg,[11] November 1919, alongside the work of Arp and Sophie Tauber. Whilst his work was far less political than key figures in Berlin Dada, such as George Grosz and John Heartfield, he would remain close friends with various members, including Hannah Hoch and Raoul Hausmann for the rest of his career.

Merz has been called ‘Psychological Collage’. Most of the works attempt to make coherent aesthetic sense of the world around Schwitters, using fragments of found objects. True to  Hugo Ball’s original ” true perception and criticism of our times” Dada spirit,  these fragments often make comments on and allusions to then current events. (Merzpicture 29a, Picture with Turning Wheel, 1920[12] for instance, combines a series of wheels that only turn clockwise, alluding to the general drift Rightwards across Germany after the Spartacist Uprising in January that year.

5 thoughts on “Celebrating Kurt Schwitters, a Dadaist in England

    • I used to listen avidly to them on John Peel’s radio shows & their TOTP performance of Urban Spaceman a classic …. and later Viv Stanshall’s bizarre poetry recitals & series on The Rawlinsons.
      Keith Moon joined them in their short-lived drunken incarnation as ” Freaks “.

      I know Viv’s widow Monica, she tells some pretty weird tales…

      ( The obscure’ish Sam Spoons was kinda my fave 😉 )


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