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Schwitters in Britain – Tate Britain

March 3, 2013

Arts | by Danny & Josh

Kurt Schwitters, En Morn 1947, © Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris / DACS 2012
Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (Quality Street) 1943, © Sprengal Museum, Hannover / DACS 2012

To know Kurt Schwitters story and not feel sympathy would make you inhuman, however looking through the opportunities that Schwitters took (to make work being a refugee), may give us some hope in his period of life being oppressed by Nazi Germany.  Schwitters had an early escape, however on arrival to Britain we hardly shook his hand, instead we offered him refuge in return for 16 months in an internment camp; nevertheless this pushed Schwitters to create small scale sculptures that could be transported. His work at this time was a reflection of the streets around him and the environment in which it was made. He would use any discarded items including ticket stubs, clippings, fabric and adverts to name just a few. His work really challenged the three-dimensional and the two-dimensional state with his abstract collage, in which he believed the materials he used should be considered equal with the conventional paint.

You would initially associate Schwitters with Dadaism, however just looking through this major exhibition in the Tate Britain you will find scraps of the surrealists and the cubists; despite this it does feel that he didn’t belong in any of these movements, always trying something new or something very bland and documentary, for example his portraits or his landscapes in which he had friends commission him for.

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (Opening Blossom) 1942-5, Sprengel Museum Hannover
on loan from Sammlung NORD/LB in der Niedersächsischen Sparkassenstiftung, Hannover

His work has strong graphical elements involved mainly due to the medium he used; despite this there is something which feels very historical or archival in this exhibit, more than likely due to the fact his work feels aged against our contemporary use of colour in the present day.

You get this feeling you are being led through a visual biography of Schwitter’s life travelling with him and his work from room to room. On entering room 4 you are pursued by his voice and his sound poetry, you are also approached by his former friend Naum Gabo and other work such as that of John Cecil Stephenson, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Margaret Mellis in which all these works not only flow but enrich one another with their different subjects. The next room welcomes you with two entry sculptures on plinths, one by Barbara Hepworth and another of Schwitters, which I will admit is probably one of my favourite works in this exhibition. Dancer (1943), is made from bone and plaster and has been painted, its form is smooth and curvaceous, slightly alien but painted in an organic nature. It almost feels like it could start moving all of a sudden then take a new form and even start growing from the attachments that are fleshing out. On leaving these sculptures and entering room 5 entitled “Hand-held sculptures” you are bombarded with forms in all sizes again made from mixed media as Schwitters does, but now due to the quantity of work it feels undervalued and overwhelming to the viewer.

The curation in this exhibit flows from room to room and as Tate Britain does it gives you a straight up explanation making art accessible for everyone. There must be something for everyone in this exhibit with installation, painting, sculpture, collage, sound art, architecture, archive materials and exhibition catalogues and even film. As a visual documentation of Schwitters and environments he was accommodated in, this really educates us as viewers on the society, oppressive time and Schwitter’s later work.

Schwitters in Britain at Tate Britain is open until May 12th 2013
Click here for more info and tickets

Words Danny Keeling,