KURT SCHWITTERS (1887-1948)
Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948) was born in Hanover, Germany and studied art at the Dresden Academy from 1909 to 1914. As a young artist, Schwitters experimented with Cubism and Expressionism, avant-garde styles in European art at the time. Schwitters’ artistic career was interrupted, however, when he was conscripted into the military and served as a draftsman in World War I. After the war, he was introduced to members of the Berlin Dada art movement, including Jean Arp and Raoul Hausmann, and began making Merzbilder or Merz, a term he invented for collages and assemblages from found objects and scraps. Around 1922, Schwitters joined the Berlin Dada art movement and began to work on a large scale fantastical installations which he called Merzbau that took up much of his studio. In 1932, he joined the Paris-based Abstraction-Création group, a loose association of artists that pushed back against Andre Breton and Surrealist dogma. In 1937, the Nazi party banned Schwitters’ work as “degenerate art” and, in the same year, he fled to the Norway. In 1940, after the Nazi invasion of Norway, he fled again to Britain. In London, Schwitters began work on another Merzbau, but the project was left unfinished upon his death in 1948.
Schwitters’ work was featured in the seminal shows Cubism and Abstract Art and Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibitions of 1936 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Today, Schwitters’ works are represented in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., among many others. Additionally, many iconic artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, and Damien Hirst have listed Schwitters as a major influence on their work. Art historians have noted that his work prefigures many of the most important 20th century art movements, including Pop Art, Happenings, and Postmodernism.