Context 169 - September 2021

44 C O N T E X T 1 6 9 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 ANDREW SHEPHERD Kurt Schwitters in Elterwater The last work of one of the world’s leading proponents of inter-war avant-garde art presents a building conservation challenge in a beautiful valley in the Lake District. Born in 1887 in Hanover, Kurt Schwitters, studied art there and subsequently in Dresden. He first exhibited paintings in 1911. In com- mon with many who survived the first world war, Schwitters was a changed man. He is most closely associated with the Dada movement, which reacted against the absurdity and horrors of modern warfare, and the constructivists; and he had links with the De Stijl movement, centred in the Netherlands. Following a disagreement with the Zurich Dada movement he effectively became a one-man artistic movement. He wrote poetry, such as ‘Anna Blume’, which he performed in his ‘resonant’ style. He developed collage with found objects as the components. It was a torn-off piece of newspaper with the word MERZ (from an advertisement for the Commerz Hanover Commercial Bank) that provided the name of his artistic movement. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Schwitters was an active participant in the development of European modern art. He attended the Dada and constructivist congress in Weimar in 1922, and he reportedly participated at the opening of the Dessau Bauhaus in 1925. He can surely be described as a polymath, producing artworks, collage, poetry, sculpture, architecture, graphic design, music and criticism. ‘Merz means to cre- ate connections, preferably between everything in this world,’ he said. Although he was not Jewish, the rise of the Nazi party in Germany led to hostility towards the modern and, particularly, abstract art which he created. This culminated in the notorious The Merz Barn in around 2006. The installation that Schwitters was working on there has since been moved to a gallery at the University of Newcastle. The Shippon in around 2006. In Schwitters’ time this was the only building with a fire to keep warm. It is now used for meetings, lectures, sleeping and gallery space.