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Artists Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters Photo

Kurt Schwitters

German Painter, Collagist, and Writer

Movement: Dada

Born: June 20, 1887 - Hanover, Germany

Died: January 8, 1948 - Kendel, Cumbria, England

Kurt Schwitters Timeline

"Merz, means to create connections, preferably between everything in this world"

Kurt Schwitters Signature

Summary

Directly affected by the depressed state of Germany following World War I, and the modernist ethos of the Dada movement, Kurt Schwitters began to collect garbage from the streets and incorporate it directly into his art work. The resulting collages were characterized by their especially harmonious, sentimental arrangements and their incorporation of printed media. He actively produced artistic journals, illustrated works, and advertisements, as well as founding his own Merz journal. He wrote poems and musical works that played with letters, lacing them together in unusual combinations, as he'd done in the collages, in the hope of encouraging his audience to find their own meanings. His multiple avant-garde efforts culminated in his large merzbau creations. These works, collaborations with other avant-garde artists, would start with one object to which others were added, causing the whole piece to change and evolve over time, growing to great proportions that forced the viewer to actually experience, rather than simply view, the art.

Key Ideas

Schwitters used actual trash, such as broken items and scraps of paper, in his collages. Although the use of found objects aligns him with other branches of Dada, his bold dependence on society's throw-aways provoked additional associations on the part of the viewer and differentiated his expression. Ultimately, he investigated links between seemingly unconnected objects and ideas.
Instead of honoring the age-old tradition of giving precedent to text and containing visual imagery to set areas by essentially dividing the page into quadrants, Schwitters' print work exhibits a lack of order: his advertisements, artwork, and text are placed in unexpected areas. As a result, the space left between draws equal attention to the text and images themselves, challenging the organizational hierarchy by which printed documents were formerly governed.
Schwitters' work was critical in the early development of experiential art. His Merzbau, for example, created through collaboration with other artists and evolving with the constant addition of elements, were a kind of walk-in collage necessitating the viewer to assume an active role in the work's interpretation and significance.
In a very different format, but with similarly exploratory goals, Schwitters created a poem he called Ursonate, a musical composition composed of letters strung together into sounds, not words, which compelled the audience to create her own connections and draw her own significance. Schwitters' part in modernism is emphasized in this auditory performance work as well as the visual oeuvre, both encouraging the audience to find a way to draw their own conclusions; to enable them to find a better world beyond the depressed one in which they lived between the wars.
Kurt Schwitters Photo

Kurt Schwitters was born on June 20, 1887 in Hanover, Germany. He was the only child in a middle-class family. As a boy, he travelled with his father to the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. When he was 14, he had his first epileptic fit, signifying the start of a recurring condition that the artist felt continually impacted how he related to the world.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Kurt Schwitters
Interactive chart with Kurt Schwitters's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque
El LissitzkyEl Lissitzky
Hans ArpHans Arp

Personal Contacts

Theo van DoesburgTheo van Doesburg
Raoul HausmannRaoul Hausmann
Tristan TzaraTristan Tzara
Richard HuelsenbeckRichard Huelsenbeck

Movements

CubismCubism
DadaDada
De StijlDe Stijl

Influences on Artist
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Years Worked: 1917 - 1948
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Ed RuschaEd Ruscha
ArmanArman
Joseph BeuysJoseph Beuys

Personal Contacts

Hans ArpHans Arp
Theo van DoesburgTheo van Doesburg
Hannah HöchHannah Höch
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Tristan TzaraTristan Tzara

Movements

DadaDada
Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Caroline Igra

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Caroline Igra
Available from:
First published on 05 Aug 2016. Updated and modified regularly.
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