Kurt Schwitters

Cover of Merz No. 20, 1927.

Kurt Schwitters (June 20, 1887 – January 8, 1948) was a German painter who played an important role in Dada. He worked in several genres and media, including Dadaism, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, collage, sculpture, typography and what came to be known as installation art.

Contents

sourced Quotes of Kurt SchwittersEdit

chronologically, after date of the quotes

1910sEdit

  • My name is Schwitters, Kurt Schwitters.. .I'm a painter and I nail my pictures.. .I'd like to be accepted into the Dada Club [Schwitters is introducing himself to the Dadaist Hans Richter in Zurich, c. 1916]
    • Schwitters is quoted in 'Hannover-Dada', Hans Richter; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, commissioned by w:Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 151.


  • Merz art strives for immediate expression by shortening the path from intuition to visual manifestation of the artwork.. ..they will receive my new work as they always have when something new presents itself: with indignation and screams of scorn.
    • In: 'Merz Painting' (1919); as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 91.


  • Merz paintings are abstract works of art. The word 'Merz' essentially means the totality of all imaginable materials that can be used for artistic purposes and technically the principle that all of these individual materials have equal value. Merz art makes use not just of paint and canvas, brush and palette, but all the materials visible to the eye and all tools needed.. ..the wheel off a pram, wire mesh, string and cotton balls – these are factors of equal value to paints. The artist creates by choosing, distributing and reshaping the materials.
    • In: 'Merz Painting' (1919); as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 91.


1920sEdit

  • Merz stands for the freedom of all fetters.. .Merz also means tolerance towards any artistically motivated limitation. Every artist must be allowed to mould a picture out of nothing but blotting paper, for example, provided he is capable of moulding a picture.
    • In: 'Merz. Für den Ararat geschrieben' (1920); as quoted in Kurt Schwitters, das literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, Dumont Cologne, 1973–1981, Vol. 5 p. 77.


  • In his introduction to the recently published 'Dada Almanach' [1920], Huelsenbeck writes: 'Dada is making a kind of propaganda against culture'. Thus Huelsendadaismus is politically oriented, against art and against culture. I am tolerant and allow everyone his own view of the world, but am compelled to state that such an outlook is alien to Merz. Merz aims, as a matter of principle, only at art, because no man can serve two masters.. .. Merz energetically and as a matter of principle rejects Herr w:Richard Huelsenbeck's inconsequential and dilettantish views on art.
    • In: 'Merz. Für den Ararat geschrieben' (1920); as quoted in Kurt Schwitters Merzbau: The Cathedral of Erotic Misery, by Elizabeth Burns Gamard, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2000, p. 40, note 16


  • The medium is as unimportant as I myself. Essential is only the forming.. .I take any material whatsoever if the picture demands it. When I adjust materials of different kinds to one another, I have taken a step in advance of mere oil painting, for in addition to playing off color against color, line against line, form against form etc., I play off material against material, wood against sack clothes.
    • Schwitters (1921) in: Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson, London 1990, p. 68-69.


  • We, the founders of Dada-movement try to give time its own reflection in the mirror.
    • In first edition of the journal Merz, 1923.


  • Art is a spiritual function of man, which aims at freeing him from life's chaos. Art is free in the use of its means in any way it likes, but is bound to its laws and to its laws alone. The minute it becomes art, it becomes much more sublime than a class distinction between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
    • Manifesto Proletkult, 1923
    • Schwitters, in discussion with political Dadaists as Huelsenbeck.


  • Today every child knows what Merz is. But what is 'i'? I is the middle vowel of the alphabet and the designation for the consequence of Merz in relation to an intensive apprehension of the art form. For the shaping of the work of art Merz uses large ready-made complexes that count as material, to shorten as much as possible the path leading from the intuition to the actualization (Sichtbarmachung) of the artistic idea, so as to avoid heat loss through friction. i defines this path as o (i setzt diesen Weg = null). Idea, material, and work of art are the same. i apprehends the work of art in nature. Here the artistic shaping is the recognition of rhythm and expression in a part of nature. Thus, no loss through friction i.e., no disturbing distraction during creation occurs here.
    • In: the article 'i ein Manifest' (or 'i-manifest'), Kurt Schwitters, in Merz 2. 1923; as quoted in Kurt Schwitters Merzbau: The Cathedral of Erotic Misery, by Elizabeth Burns Gamard, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2000, p. 116


  • Kurt Schwitters is the inventor of Merz and I, and aside of himself, he recognizes no one as a Merz artist or an I artist with highest regards.
    • In: 'Die Blume Anna', a poem of Kurt Schwitters, published in 'Consistent Poetry Art' contribution to 'Magazine G', No. 3, ed. Hans Richter, 1924


  • Classical poetry counts on people's similarity. It regards idea associations as unequivocal. This is a mistake. In any case, it rests on a fulcrum of idea associations: 'Above the peaks is peace.'.. .The poet counts on poetic feelings. And what is a poetic feeling? The whole poetry of peace / quiet stands or falls on the reader's ability to feel. Words are not judged here.
    • In: 'Consistent Poetry Art', Schwitters' contribution to 'Magazine G', No. 3, 1924, ed. Hans Richter; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, (commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 151.


  • Consistent poetry is made of letters. Letters have no idea. Letters as such have no sound, they offer only tonal possibilities, to be valuated by the performer. The consistent poem weighs the value of both letters and groups.
    • In: 'Consistent Poetry Art', Schwitters' contribution to 'Magazine G', No. 3, 1924, ed. Hans Richter.


  • It is not the word that is the original material of poetry, rather the letter.
Word is:
1. Composition of letters
2. Sounds
3. Description (meaning)
4. Vehicle for idea associations
Art is uninterpretable, unending; material must be unequivocal in a consistent formation.
  • In: 'Consistent Poetry Art', Schwitters' contribution to 'Magazine G', No. 3, 1924, ed. Hans Richter.


  • I cannot make a living out of art and I now occupy myself with a variety of things. Of course, I continue to paint and to nail, but in particular I write grotesques and art reviews for newspapers, I organize evenings [a.o. with Theo van Doesburg ] and draw commercial art for newspapers.
    • In a letter to w:Galka Scheyer, January 1926; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 34.


  • Just as soon as the great and glorious Revolution broke out [1918 - after World War 1.] I gave notice and now live entirely for art. For a while, I tried to create new forms of art from the remains of the old culture. From this Merz painting emerged, painting that happily used every material – Pelikan [was a famous ink mark, then] colors or the rubbish from the rubbish heap. So I experienced the Revolution in the most delightful way and pass for a Dadaist, without being one. As a result, I could introduce Dadaism in Holland [together with Theo van Doesburg and his wife Nele] with complete impartiality. In Holland I became familiar with architecture for the first time.
    • In his 'Autobiography of Kurt Schwitters' (6 June 1926), sent to Hans Hilderbrandt; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 92.


  • Eternity last longest.
    • As quoted in Kurt Schwitters Merzbau: The Cathedral of Erotic Misery, by Elizabeth Burns Gamard, Princeton Architectural Press, 1 Apr 2000, p. 75, note 69


1930sEdit

  • In the war [World War 1.] things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready.. .I felt myself freed and had to shout my jubilation out to the world. Out of parsimony I took what I could find to do this, because we were now an impoverished country. One can even shout with refuse, and this is what I did, nailing and gluing it [gluing his collage art] together. I called it 'Merz'; it was a prayer about the victorious end of the war, victorious as once again peace had won in the end; everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz. [quote, 1930]
    • As quoted in Kurt Schwitters, das literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, Dumont Cologne, 1973 – 1981, Vol. 5, p. 335.


  • I know that I am an important factor in the development of art and shall forever remain so. I say this with great emphasis, so that one can not say, at a later date: 'The poor fellow had no inkling of how important he was'. No I am no fool, nor am I timid. I know full well that the time will come for me and all other important personalities of the abstract movement, when we will influence an entire generation. However, I fear that I shall not experience this.
    • In: 'I and my purpose', in the journal 'Merz', no. 21, (1931)


  • Nevertheless I like being in Norway [to escape the Nazi threat Schwitters fled to Norway, c. 1937], for it is a country of unparalleled beauty.. .I paint landscapes and portraits, model portrait, glue and paint abstract pictures and glue abstract plastic art; besides, I write poetry in German.. .What distresses me most of all is that I cannot live in my 'Merzraum' [a sculptured studio-space, Schwitters had built in Germany in the 1920's, but bomb-damaged in the war] and that it may be given up to destruction. For that reason I ask you once more, can you keep your ear to the ground again, to see if anyone in America is willing to give me an opportunity to shape a three-dimensional room?
    • In a letter to w:Galka Scheyer, 24 July 1937; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 41.


  • The custom official was desperate, he did not know whether they were pictures, wood ware or even arms [about his abstract collage art, Schwitters exported to France in 1939]. I got the impression he had an inner struggle with two options, either to have me arrested or to call the lunatic asylum. Finally he did not want to make a fool of himself, and accepted they were paintings, especially because another customs official knew me personally and confirmed that I was an artist.
    • In a letter to Henriette Schwitters, (16 June 1939); as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 41.


1940sEdit

'I is Style', (2000)Edit

I is Style, (2000) ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, (commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000,
  • A museum that really wants to promote modern art might give the artist a guaranty, on certain conditions, so that he can get on with his life and his creations. Or do you believe that the museum is more interested in the artist's death, in order to see the price of his paintings go up?
    • p. 45 : in a letter (11 November 1940) to Käthe Steinitz, sent from the internment camp on Isle of Man, England.


  • Please help me, in order to get us invited [to the United States]. Helma [his wife] will then come later and I will work there and soon pay back the people who lend me the money. But finally I must get out of this internment [because the English mistrusted Schwitters, being a German] and further away from Norway, I want to be with all of you. Please get it done quickly and write to me about the outcome. Maybe my art is in danger and I, of course, with it. At last I would like to work on my abstracts again and find appreciation for them. Who knows what will happen?
    • p. 46 : in a letter (22 October 1941) to Käthe Steinitz, written from the internment camp on Isle of Man, England.


  • I was thrilled, and I mean really thrilled, when I read that parts of the Merzbau could still be buried under the ruins. Whatever the circumstances. I will try and come to Hannover to salvage it.. ..wait until I arrive, for the Merzbau is made of plaster of Paris and could easily be damaged. However by working slowly I am sure I can save parts. And it is certainly worth it, because it [his 'Merzbau'] is my life's work. And in the opinion of people abroad it was seen as a new form of art.
    • p. 47 : in a letter to Käthe Steinitz (24 June 1945)


  • In Hanover I built, before Hitler's time, a studio called Merzbau. This has been reproduced very much, also in the book 'Dada, Surrealism, Fantastic Art' of the Museum of Modern Art N.Y. I would like to go to Germany for restoring the Merzbau.. .Could I come with you to an agreement that you give me for this purpose some money? For example that I give you some pictures for the money and use it for restoring the studio.. .Or would you prefer that you own with me half and half?..
    • p. 48 : in a letter (30 April 1946) to Oliver Kaufmann, (department of Painting and Sculpture of the MOMA, New York).


  • Since the loss of the Merzbau [his former studio in Hannover, which was a big sculpture (5 x 4 x 4,5 meters) I did a lot of small sculptures..
    • p. 48 : in a letter to Edgar Kaufmann, 16 July 1946


  • I have two principle aims, two life works. The second is my sonata [Schwitters' 'UrSonata' - a long sound poem of 35 minutes]
    • p. 48 : quoted by Margareth Miller to Oliver Kaufmann [the first principle aim is his Merzbau]


  • When I was born 20.6.[18]87, I was influenced by Picasso to cry. When I could walk and speak I still stood under Picasso's influence and said to my mother: 'Tom' or 'Happening', meaning the entrances of the canal under the street. My lyrical time was when I lived in the Violet Street. I never saw a violet. That was my influence by Matisse because when he painted rose I did not paint violet. As a boy of ten I stood under Mondrian's influence and built little houses with little bricks. Afterwards I stood under the influence of the Surrealists.. .I never stood under the influence of Dadaism because whereas the Dadaist created Spiegel-dadaismus (Mirror-Dada) on the Zurich Lake, I created MERZ on the Leine-river, under the influence of Rembrandt. Time went on, and when Hans Arp made concrete Art, I stayed Abstract. Now I do concrete Art, and Marcel Duchamp went over to the Surrealists.. ..and at all I have much fun about Art.
    • p. 100 : in 'My art and My live' (1940 – 1946), Kurt Schwitters.


  • One needs a medium. The best is, one is his own medium. But don't be serious because seriousness belongs to a passed time. This medium, called you yourself will tell you to take absolutely the wrong material. That is very good, because only the wrong material used in the wrong way, will give the right picture, when you look at it from the right angle. Or the wrong angle. That leads us to the new ism: Anglism. The first art starting from England [the country of Schwitters' forced stay, when he wrote this quote], except the former shapes of art.
    • pp. 100-101 : in: 'That is my confession I have to make MERZ' (1940 – 1946), Kurt Schwitters.


  • My name is Schwitters, Kurt Schwitters.. .I'm a painter and I nail my pictures.. .I'd like to be accepted into the Dada Club [Schwitters is introducing himself to the Dadaist Hans Richter in Zurich, c. 1916]
    • Schwitters is quoted in 'Hannover-Dada', Hans Richter; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 151.

Quotes about Kurt SchwittersEdit

  • Dada rejects emphatically and as a matter of principle works like the famous 'Anna Blume' [poem, published in 1919] of Kurt Schwitters
    • w:Richard Huelsenbeck, in the 'Introduction' of 'Dada Almanac 1920'; as quoted in Kurt Schwitters Merzbau: The Cathedral of Erotic Misery, by Elizabeth Burns Gamard, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2000, p. 40, note 16


  • Whatever became of Kurt Schwitters' novel Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling (Franz Müller's Wire Spring), several chapters of which we composed together? Is it buried under the bomb ruins of his house on Waldhausenstrasse in Hannover? For hours, Schwitters and I [Hans Arp] sat together and spun dialogue, in rhapsody. He took these writings and channeled them into his novel.. .We sat together again, writing Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling:
Hans Arp: The nightingales have had enough of your hymnal Karagösen. Play violin on parrots, but avoid the women red hood ans snow widow.
Kurt Schwitters: Should I pe-trify something for you? Or would you like play cry together?
H. A.: Should we wash our tears or drown them?
K. Schw.: You are a sipsnipper, Since when do your diamonds bark?
H. A.: The water is getting hard. A fruit cries out loud and gives birth to a fish.
K. Schw.: I'll p-ut it in the sea, or should I st-ab you with it?
  • Jean Arp, a dialogue with Kurt Schwitters (1956), introduction in: Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling -- Memories of Kurt Schwitters: ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, pp. 139-140


  • Then we went down to his work room, in the horrible beautiful Merz grotto [Merz-Haus / MerzBau, built by Schwitters in Hannover as his studio], where broken wheels paired with matchboxes, wire lattices with brushes without bristles, rusted wheels with curious Merz cucumbers.. .How often did we 'p-lay' in this room! Schwitters called playing, considering the sweat, working. There we glued [collages] together our paper pictures, and as I tossed away one of my glued-together works one morning, Schwitters asked, 'You don't like it? Can I have it?' – 'What do you want with this failed piece of toast?' Schwitters took a good look at it and said, 'I'll put what's on top on the bottom, I'll stick a little Merz nose in this corner and I'’ll sign the bottom Kurt Schwitters.' And, yes indeed, this collage became a wonderful picture by Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was a wizard, just as Hokusai was a wizard.
    • Hans Arp, his quote in Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling – Memories of Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp 1956; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam - NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, pp. 140-141


  • It needs a poet like Schwitters to show us that unobserved elements of beauty are strewn and spread all around us and we can find them everywhere in the portentous as well as in the insignificant, if only we care to look, to choose and to fit them into a comely order.


  • One of my first sculptures was made of bicycle parts. I was living at that time in a attic in the red light section of Amsterdam. I started to work without any specific materials. I was looking in the street, like when I was a young boy, in the garbage cans, for ropes, wires, and paint. I left my parents in 1940. Years later I saw an exhibition of Kurt Schwitters at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam curated by w:Willem Sandberg and there I saw the real 'objet trouvé'; until then I had never heard about it. Schwitters was a shattering experience.
    • Karel Appel, as quoted in ‘Karel Appel – the complete sculptures’, eds. Harry de Visser / Roland Hagenberg, Edition Lafayette, New York 1990, p. 79

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