The Tate Britain has compiled an extensive and in depth exhibition on the German artist, Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was an important figure in the early 20th century European avant garde movement and ceaselessly produced numerous works of art throughout his life, whether he was an exile in Norway, England on the Isle of Man or living his last years in Great Britain.
One of Schwitter’s main concern as an artist is what is known as Merz . This, he explained as “ art which denotes the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials…. A perambulator wheel, wire netting, string and cotton wools are factors having equal rights with paint.” Thus we see him producing abstract and expressionist paintings and pieces and combining all numbers and varieties of different materials to create a whole. This can be seen in all of his abstract works on display, particularly in the first room of the exhibition. His painting “Yes - What ?Picture”, created in 1920, is made up of diagonals that radiate from the centre of the picture and are counterpointed by circular and rectangular forms made from cardboard, coloured wood and canvas. We see how his creative process is channelled through the exact choice, distribution and symmetry of the materials he chooses. I found that there was an unnecessarily large number of his abstract paintings on view, especially in the first room, as many of the paintings were similar.
Of course it is Schwitters immense installation work; the Merz barn, that was his passion and for which he was renowned. In every place he settled it is amazing to see that Schwitters would tirelessly construct these large-scale sculptural works which were made from plaster and found objects such as twigs, stones and rubbish. His work often funded by art charities such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photos of these monumental and impressive installations as well as detailed footage are on show. Moreover the exhibition ends on a movie and installation created by a contemporary artist, Laure Prouvost who is responding to the history and legacy of Kurt Schwitters. Her film is thought provoking and challenging.
It is hard not to admire this Avant Garde artist simply on the basis of the tremendous variety and scale of his work. Schwitters was a prolific artist and was an immensely important figure in the history of modern art. For me his sculptures were an absolute delight! It seems rather poignant to learn that he struggled throughout his life to make ends meet and needed help from sponsors and friends. The exhibition is definitely a must.
Schwitters, Tate Britain, London, by Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor, VisitMuseums.com