Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage @ the Menil Collection

I knew next to nothing of German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887 - 1948) but because a friend reminded me he was a collagist, I made sure I got over to the Menil Collection today, where the show Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage runs through January 30, 2011.

Largely abstract, using mostly found materials in collage and assemblage, in Schwitters' work I saw elements of expressionism, surrealism, Dadaism and cubism, to name but a few of his styles or influences. His collage work began around 1918, when he coined the term "Merz" to describe his style and or philosophy, meaning "to make connections, if possible, between everything in the world." (source: Menil Collection Kurt Schwitters brochure) I find this description incredibly delightful. I love collage because it seems to me to be a wild and vast, wide open picture frame where almost anything seems possible, where an artist is able to just about rearrange and remake the world. As in poetry, disparate metaphoric elements come together making what seems like magic happen. Schwitters is a pioneer of collage and assemblage, and today I learned that I much appreciate his aesthetic.

Schwitters' modern art was banned by the Nazis, and so the artist fled Germany in 1937, and he never lived there again. For the rest of his life he lived in Norway, Scotland and England. Recreated at the Menil is a portion of his Merzbau, a grotto-like construction he built in his home in Hanover starting around 1923. A walk-through sculpture/assemblage/installation, the Merzbau was a playful assortment of niches, arches, columns, planes and angles, serving not only as a studio but also as a gallery and gathering place. It was destroyed during World War II. I'm glad I got to see this reconstruction, which has never before been shown in the U.S. Because of its visionary playfulness, the Merzbau reminded me of the Houston Orange Show, a marvel I would like to revisit again soon.

The Menil show concludes with a few works by Twombly, Johns and Rauschenberg, just a few of the artists clearly influenced by Kurt Schwitters. Revolutionary and innovative, Schwitters also worked as a typographer and poet. For a thoughtful Wall Street Journal review ("Lost in Found Objects" by Richard B Woodward, January 5, 2011) of the Schwitters show at the Menil, click here.

image: MZ443 (?)/Untitled (kao) by Kurt Schwitters, 1922.

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