Focusing on his British period (1940 to his death in 1948), this is the first major exhibition to look at the late work of Kurt Schwitters, a major artist of European Modernism. At Tate Britain, ends 12 May 2013.

Schwitters in Britain at Tate Britain, Millbank, London. Image courtesy of
‘Schwitters in Britain’ at Tate Britain, Millbank, London. Image courtesy of

Cotton wool has equal rights with paint

“The word Merz denotes essentially 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 wool are factors having equal rights with paint.”

– Kurt Schwitters, 1919

It is easy to see walking around this exhibition what Schwitters means as his work is meant to “…challenge traditional boundaries that separate painting and sculpture.” (from exhibition guide, Room 5).  One might immediately think “paper and glue” when thinking of collage, Schwitter’s collages include elements such as toys, wooden objects, pieces of metal and hair. Even with such depth, his work takes on a painterly aspect, up close as well as from five feet away. His paintings, too, take on the depth of the collage pieces as they remain in two dimensions.

As I walked around the exhibition of Schwitters’ collages, paintings and “hand-sized sculptures”, I began to see confirmation of my tutor’s assertion that Schwitters had a lasting influence on today’s artists and even filmmakers and other types of art – from the excessive detail of Stanley Kubrick’s films to Christopher Marclay’s “film collages” to sound artists such as Susan Phillipsz. I only learnt on Friday [26 April 2013] that Schwitters recorded “sound art” in 1944, a piece called Ursonate – I thought “sound art” as such was fairly new to the art scene.

Reference to Kurt Schwitter's 'Ursonate', 1944. Image courtesy
Reference to Kurt Schwitter’s ‘Ursonate’, 1944. Image courtesy

Another compelling work, “Hitler Gang” (1944), made from discarded paper and bits of wicker, reflects the time and environment and offers a somewhat subtle reference to the politics of the time as well. It’s a bit unusual, too, as his work mostly stayed away from political comment.

Schwitters, 'Hitler Gang', 1944, collage. Image courtesy
Schwitters, ‘Hitler Gang’, 1944, collage. Image courtesy

I loved the bizarre little “hand-held sculptures” in Room 5.  Made of plaster or wood, and often painted bright colours, each one measures mere inches tall. It was easy to imagine them realised as much larger objects, perhaps featured in a nearby park.  ‘The Dancer’ was one of my favourites – although the object is solid and still, it is easy to see the movement and play of shadows such as a living dancer might create.

Schwitters, 'Dancer', 1943, plaster. Image courtesy The Economist.
Schwitters, ‘Dancer’, 1943, plaster. Image courtesy The Economist.

More information

Exhibition details: Schwitters in Britain at Tate Britain runs from 30th January 2012 through 12th May 2013, fee entrance.