Published on February 27, 2013 | by Lorelei Watt

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Tate a look at Schwitters

Schwitters Tate

Schwitters is one of the foremost artists of European Modernism. [Image: Tate Pictures]

★★★

Schwitters in Britain is the first major exhibition to examine the later work of Kurt Schwitters, one of the foremost artists of European modernism.

Taking place at Tate Britain, the exhibition focuses on his ‘British Period’, which took place from his arrival in Britain in 1940 to his death in Cumbria in 1948.

The exhibition is laid out chronologically and follows the modernist ethos. The works, often only a few per wall, do not compete with one another for space.

Indeed, this is carried on to such an extent that some of the rooms feel almost too empty. Schwitters used a range of materials in his work such as paint, cardboard and photographs.

The artist himself said that “all materials [are] equal in status to paint”.

Cardboard and paper are not traditionally seen as delicate, but in his work, Merzz, 80. Zeichnung 130 (1920), Schwitters creates an A5 work with gouache, fabric and paper, which is ephemeral and almost ‘pretty’ in its quality.

In the centre of the rooms, exhibition catalogues and preparatory work done by Schwitters are displayed in cases, which provide an interesting background to his work and enables a deeper understanding of where in the art world from which he came

For example, the case examining the Dada movement helps the viewer understand the abstract but highly geometrical nature of some of his earlier ‘Abstraktionen’ work.

Schwitters pioneered the immersive modern art instillation with his Merz barn and his influence still be seen today.

While not everyone’s cup of tea, Schwitters in Britain is certainly an essential exhibition to all fans of modernism.

According to the Tate, the barn is a “continuation of the Hanover Merzbau; an architectural construction considered to be one of the key lost works of European modernism.”

However, due to its rather stationary nature in the Lake District, the exhibition has to make–do with a video instillation of the piece, which dilutes the experience of the barn.

Schwitters in Britain ends on an odd note. Rather than Schwitters’ work, it displays a work by Adam Chodzko, which is a deconstructed work of Schwitters’ office.

It seems slightly incongruous, but as the Tate says, it shows an interesting aspect of “how memories and factual narratives about an historical figure can shift.”

While not everyone’s cup of tea, Schwitters in Britain is certainly an essential exhibition to all fans of modernism, as well as an interesting place to see where most of today’s ‘modern’ artists got their ideas.

 Schwitters In Britain is on at the Tate Modern until 12 May.

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