The Art of Collage


One of the most exciting legacies of modern art is the concept of the collage/assemblage, which is central to the practice of masters from Robert Rauschenberg to Jasper Johns. Yet their original inspiration, as well as the pioneer whose work they collected, is an almost obscure figure little known outside the art world: Kurt Schwitters. Thanks to The Menil Collection, Schwitters%26rsquo; renown explodes as the museum mounts a traveling survey for the German-born master (1887 %26ndash;%26nbsp;1947). Schwitters %26mdash; who is deservedly known as the king of collage %26mdash; served in the army during World War I, then burst onto the scene in the late 1910s Dadaist swirl, first as a writer. By 1918, he began his innovative Merz series, which would occupy him for the next 30 years, its title taken from a made-up moniker. The endless perambulation of Merz extended into works that elevated the flotsam of everyday life (from train tickets to candy wrappers) into eloquent compositions that loosely took synthetic cubism as a point of departure, intersected Dadaism, constructivism and surrealism, and even prefigured Pop and performance art. The Menil exhibition is guest-curated by Isabel Schultz, co-editor of the artist%26rsquo;s catalogue raisonn%26eacute; and director of the Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftung at the Sprengel Museum Hannover (the archive from which many of the exhibition%26rsquo;s works are drawn). Menil director Josef Helfenstein also collaborated on the show, which marks the first time in 25 years that American audiences will have a chance to explore the genius of Schwitters. One highlight is incontestably the immersive sculptural Merzbau environment Schwitters concocted over a 15-year period in his Hannover home, which was destroyed by the Nazi in 1937, but is captivatingly recreated here as part of the Menil%26rsquo;s retrospective. %26rdquo;Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage,%26rdquo; at The Menil Collection through January 30.

Image: Kurt Schwitters%26rsquo; Hanover Merzbau, %26ldquo;Blue Window,%26rdquo; 1933, (destroyed 1943). Kurt Schwitters Archive, photo by Willhelm Redemann.%26nbsp;

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