A new domain in art
To understand the significance of Schwitters' English works, in particular the development of the Elterwater Merz Barn, it is important to begin with the Hanover Merzbau. This, the first of Schwitters' Merzbau experiments, was a pioneering hybrid art and architecture installation that he constructed in his parents' house in suburban Hanover between 1923 and 1936.
This continuous creative project was a work without precedent, and one that even his closest friends found difficult to grasp. Schwitters himself struggled to explain what he was doing, for art at this time was what you looked at, not what surrounded you, and our now familiar terms of 'Environment' and 'Installation' had not yet been invented.
Merzbau in Hanover www.merzbau.org/Schwitters.html
Schwitters regarded his Merzbauten as forming one continuous creative project, his life's greatest work. When he heard of the bombing of his Merzbau in far-off exile, many months after it took place, he was devastated at the loss of what he called his 'life's work' and 'a new domain in art'. 'For what did I actually live?' he wrote sadly; 'I don't know.' Even during exile in England, he never gave up his dream of completing another Merzbau to leave to posterity. The concept of a new Merzbau remained a central concern for Schwitters for a quarter of a century - that is, from about 1923 almost to the day he died - and he returned to this idea again and again, in Nazi Germany and later in the painfully difficult personal and political circumstances of his years of exile as a poverty-sricken artist in Norway and England. In 1983 Swiss theatre designer Peter Bissegger was commissioned to construct a full scale architectural replica of the Hanover Merzbau on the basis of three wide-angle photographs of the original dating from 1933. He was also aided by the recollections of Schwitters' son Ernst. A second version was made for the Dada and Constructivism exhibition (1988-9) at Annely Juda Fine Art, London, so that there are now two versions of the Merzbau reconstruction: one is permanently installed in the Sprengel Museum in Hanover and the other is a travelling version for loan to museums.
Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters' MERZ Building www.merzbaureconstruction.com
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