Thursday, 25 April 2013

Kurt Schwitters in Britain

Exhibition at Tate Britain, till 12th May. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/schwitters-britain





I've always liked collages, the usage of ephemera and trash as elements of new compositions. Schwitters' is one of the names associated with this art from the beginning. So that was all I knew about this man's art. And there is more to it, much more, as this exhibition demonstrates.

First, a few notes on the early collages.

Corrugated cardboard that forms staircases, pitted wood becomes distant vague rooms, suggesting murky future places; so much is happening with w such humble materials. Tram tickets, newspaper scraps picked up in the street, removed from the context of the pavement, become tiny intimate windows. An eye gazes out of faded newsprint. Chocolate wrappers, numbers which have lost their meaning, disposable items; the mind is making sense of modern life's profligacy in terms of their form the dreams they trigger, so they become tickets to other mental places.

Proto-psychedelia, hallucinations in ephemera. A copper coin in a picture becomes the head of a person stooping to look at another picture.

In 1937 the Nazis used Schwitters' art as an example of Degenerate Art. What praise, from such Untermenschen. Nothing like militant morons to give you new perspectives. On a not unrelated theme, see - 'Untitled ( opened by customs)'.

Then abstract seascapes. Storm. A foil cap casts a solid shadow. A flower appears out of broken green glass.

Schwitters' concept of Merz - derived from the German word Kommerz - extends the collage principle into more dimensions. This art does fine in an internment camp, his home in Britain for a while. Merz plays with the stupidity of consumerism. This art has rough edges; it is not slick; it is anti-consumerist, therefore immensely relevant now as the delusions of plenty we've been brought up on shift down a gear. Merz is potentially magical art.

Then there is his (in)famous sound piece - Ursonate. One version of this can be found at http://vimeo.com/23275942

And finally... the sublime Merzbarn. Indescribable. Go to this, there are a couple of weeks left. 

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