Celebrating Kurt Schwitters – Dadaist in England

Re-post from the 2009 archive to coincide with Tate Britain’s long-overdue (65 years!) KS recognition retrospective.
( epitomizing the contemptible English art establishment – ignore radical art pioneers – then open money-spinning shows of their work ( * mention of war redacted ) long after they die. )

The original ( above ) .. and the publicity header for the show – held at the height of the Afghan conflict – where the artist’s thought-provoking reference to war was conveniently edited out.


Kurt Schwitters ( 1887 – 1948), 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 interned in an “undesirables” camp on the Isle of Man. On his release he moved to London where his work was received with scant recognition, even ridicule, by the elitist UK art establishment ( in that light it’s not difficult to understand why Dada was never able to grow a London expression between 1916 – 22).

Disillusioned by rejection and discrimination by the London art toffs, Schwitters moved with his new companion Edith Thomas to the Lake District where he eked-out an almost Van Gogh-like existence for a few years before his untimely death in Kendal in 1948. However while living in Ambleside and suffering deteriorating health, he stoically began construction on his second Merzbau or Merz barn in nearby Langdale…

Merz barn, Langdale

…. his varied Merz works from the war period being the only documented Dada-linked expressions in England before the movement’s revival in the form of its historically missing European link, London Dada, founded on Hugo Ball’s original Dada principles by artist Michael St.Mark in 2005.

” My name is Kurt Schwitters, I am an artist and I nail my pictures together”

Cover for Anna Blume periodical.

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

KS revolvng
Merzpicture 29a,   Revolving Wheel

…… 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] ( above ) 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.

* * * * *

Links to 2017 post; Happy Days – Schwitters & Wantee ” the last summer” and quite possibly birthday picnic in Wasdale, Cumbria ( exact location re-traced by Michael St.Mark on the artist’s birthday, June 20th 2017 )

Fascinating and comprehensive review of Schwitter’s  time in Cumbria, from a 1974 Sunday Times article “Alien at Ambleside”



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

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