In a letter to his son Ernst Schwitters wrote that the Merz Barn was 'noch weniger dadaistisch' (even less Dadaistic) than the Lysaker Merzbau, but that it was to be the greatest of all his Merzbauten. By October 1947 he estimated that only a tenth of the work was finished and that that it would need at least two or three years to complete the barn. However, in failing health and with the onset of winter, the artist was forced to cease work in November 1947. He fell seriously ill and died in Kendal Hospital on the 8th of January 1948. The final instalment of the initial $1,000 fellowship award from MoMA was used to pay for his funeral expenses. Recently discovered letters and drawings (held at the Schwitters Archiv, Sprengel Museum, Hanover) from Schwitters to his son Ernst in 1947, contain some quite detailed early sketches and preliminary conjectural drawings for the Merz Barn. These provide valuable new insights about what the finished Merz Barn might have looked like, and Schwitters' thinking processes and working methods.
left The Merz Barn, Cylinders, c. 1947 and right Sketch from a letter to Ernst (1947)
As the ground plan and formal structure of the Merz Barn artwork began to evolve, Schwitters introduced a number of interior diagonal wall divisions which created additional thresholds and grottos for viewing particular works of art.
Plan of the Merz Barn, John Elderfield
Some smaller sculptures were probably designed for niches in the installation, and a curved wall just left of the entrance was to be pierced by a viewing slot, through which the Chicken and Egg sculpture could be viewed. Above the entrance door to the barn Schwitters nailed a brightly painted wooden 'snake stick' sculpture. After Schwitters' death photographic records show that the Merz Barn contained many other individual artworks, some partly unfinished, and others littering the floor. These include a collection of smaller sculptures, mainly painted slate stones and wire and plaster table sculptures which were produced at the same time as he was working on the Merz Barn. Some of these are on display in the Tate Britain collection, on loan from the Thomas Family.
left Artist's impression of the finished Merz Barn (© Fred Brookes) right MerzBarn axonomatric plan drawing.
As Ernst Nundel suggests, the physical nature of the Merzbauten, as well as the ideas that are manifest in the projects, continue to develop and grow even today, and 'in the memory of those who have seen it, in the imagination of its descendants, and in the speculations of art historians. Each individual has his or her own interpretation of the Merzbau.'
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