Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today

EXHIBITION 09.03 – 27.05.01

The exhibition "In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today" is a  overview of the work of the artist and anti-artist, the revolutionary and traditionalist, the enfant terrible of the middle class and the petty bourgeois Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948). It includes more than 230 works from all his creative periods, including his drawing oeuvre – relatively unknown until now – as well as his early paintings. The focus, however, is on his collages made of everyday found materials, with which in the 1920s Kurt Schwitters made his appearance in a Dadaist manner by declaring his art – using the invented name MERZ – an independent genre. In addition to sculptures, paintings, typographic works, his literary work and documents, there is an impressive reconstruction of the MERZbau (MERZbuilding) as it was in 1933. 

The heart of the exhibition is the MERZbau, Schwitters' main work, also called the "Cathedral of Erotic Misery". For this, from 1923 to 1937, he combined, in his studio, all possible materials and memorabilia into a room-sized collage, which, when done was an architectural-sculptural construction several stories high. In it, he combined traces of his personal existence with the concept of collage, creating a total work of art in which the separation of art and life was abolished. The MERZbau is still considered one of the first spatial installations of the 20th century; it was destroyed in the war, while Schwitters was living in exile in Norway.

The exhibition is not, however, limited to the work of Kurt Schwitters, but rather shows the development of his artistic ideas over the years to the present. Just how significantly Kurt Schwitters influenced the art of the second half of the 20th century is apparent in the works of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, New Realism, and the Fluxus Movement by Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Hamilton, Raymond Hains, Robert Filliou, Anthony Cragg and Dieter Roth. Allan Kaprow's "Kiosk" (1957) and Daniel Spoerri's "Le Coin du Restaurant" (1975) are also presented as art historical classics. Their artistic exploration with Schwitters occurs primarily in the development of the collage principle.  

The contributions of contemporary artists in the exhibition revolve around Schwitters’ idea of the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' (total work of art) and especially the themes of studio, housing and space. His credo "Establish relationships, preferably between all things in the world", has proven to be an extremely topical concept, which has inspired artists like Jessica Stockholder, Gregor Schneider and John Bock, and which is still being pursued in the neo-Dadaist tendencies of our day, as well as in conceptual art,  cross-over and sampling. The young Canadian artist Laura Kikauka uses the idea of gathering and arranging as the inspiration for the installation she made in Haus der Kunst consisting of found objects, a kind of museum for 'prosperity garbage'. The Austrian Lois Renner explores the studio as a place of work and artwork by recreating it as a model and photographing it.

Kurt Schwitters' work continues to inspire with its unconventionality, wit and inexhaustible wealth of ideas, while the sensual presence of contemporary installations captivate the viewer. The juxtapositioned retrospective and topical perspective is likely to be in keeping with Kurt Schwitters' ideas, especially as he made the following appeal to us: "If you people want to give both the future and me a treat, then try to recognize the most important artists of your time. It is more important for you and a great pleasure for me, than when you discover me at a time when I have already long been discovered." (Kurt Schwitters, Ich und meine Zeit, 1931).

In cooperation with EXPO 2000, the Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung, the Deutscher Sparkassen- und Giroverband, die Norddeutschen Landesbank, die Stadtsparkasse Hannover and the VGH Versicherungen.

Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi
Kurt Schwitters: In the Beginning was MERZ – From Kurt Schwitters until Today, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2001, photo Wilfried Petzi

Stretch your view


Stretch your view

Picture Gallery


Exhibition catalogue

Kurt Schwitters — In the Beginning Was Merz

With essays by Dietmar Elger, Isabelle Ewig, Justin Hoffmann, Ines Katenhusen, Ulrich Krempel, Anette Kruszynski, Susanne Meyer-Büser, Karin Orchard, Gerhard Schaub and Isabel Schulz. MORE


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