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April 2001

Dada Papa

The work of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters

The Haus der Kunst will feature a fascinating exhibition encompassing the work of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) entitled “In the Beginning was Merz — From Kurt Schwitters to the Present Day,” until May 27. The title refers to the Dada movement and its role in contemporary art. Schwitters’ collages, replete with poetry and quotidian objects — newspaper headlines, pieces of string, streetcar tickets — was considered too “bourgeois” for some of his more radically political Dadaist colleagues in Berlin. For that reason, the Hanover artist created his own, one-man movement, “Merz” — a nonsensical syllable excerpted from the name of a Hanover’s Commerzbank. The exhibition begins with a documentary on Schwitters’ greatest work, the Merzbau, which is one of the first room installations of the 20th century. In 1923, Schwitters converted his studio into a “cathedral of erotic misery” — a collection of collage and banal objects used to illustrate the fusion of his own life with artistic composition. Although the Merzbau was destroyed in an air raid during World War II, the project is remembered as a unique look at the distinction between art and life. The second part of the exhibition focuses on the work of numerous exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme and the Fluxus Movement, all of whom were influenced by Schwitters. One installation by a young Canadian artist, Laura Kikauka, especially catches the visitor’s eye. Funny Farm East (1999), a “museum for the garbage of a wealthy society,” comprises a room packed with an overwhelming collection of innumerable everyday objects. The Kurt Schwitters exhibition is an extraordinary tribute to the artist and fulfills the wish he expressed in 1931: “If you want to do me a special favor in the future, try to recognize the important artists of your time.”

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