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 “. How much did this London Dada post serve as a prompt, after over 60 years, to the Tate directors to at last formally recognize the artist in grand style? ( 14,874 total views by 2013 )
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 via Scotland to England and internment in an “undesirables” camp on the Isle of Man. On his release he moved to London where his work received scant recognition, even ridicule, from the elitist UK art establishment. He moved again with his new companion Edith Thomas to the Lake District, where he scratched an almost Van Gogh-like living by painting portraits and local scenes before his tragically untimely death in early 1948. Whilst in Ambleside he constructed a second  Merzbau, called Merz Barn, in Elterwater, Great Langdale – Schwitters’ many varied Merz constructions from that 1940s period being the only directly Dada-related or linked art expressions to have been created in the UK.

Dadaist Kurt Schwitters

Cover for Anna Blume periodical.

Schwitter’s first “Merzbau” 3D psychological collage using an interior space
( Hanover; destroyed by allied bombing )


…… 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.


UPDATE Summer 2018

Q & A interview with Michael St.Mark on the return of the Merz Wall from the Hatton gallery back to its artist-intended exhibition location at Elterwater, by the Kurt Schwitters UK newsletter editor and internationally-recognized KS authority Gwendolen Webster, that was published in the July 2018 issue.

PDF Here

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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