Comments on: Schwitters in Britain http://abstractcritical.com/article/schwitters-in-britain/ Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Gwendolen Webster http://abstractcritical.com/article/schwitters-in-britain/#comment-107153 Wed, 20 Feb 2013 09:41:40 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=article&p=6644#comment-107153 Good point about the global scale of his material, Sam. And of course the fragments that crop up in the collages of his English period are by no means all English – just as in Germany and Norway his choice of materials was international – for instance the remains of a packet of Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes on a collage of the 1930s.
Yes, and I too found the emphasis on his use of ‘twigs and stones’ somewhat irritating. It was by no means new, as you say. If you look at photos of the Merzbau around 1933 you will see on the right an ominous black twig crawling almost like a spider over the white surface.
hannover-merzbau-view-with-blue-window-kurt

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By: Sam http://abstractcritical.com/article/schwitters-in-britain/#comment-107097 Wed, 20 Feb 2013 07:55:55 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=article&p=6644#comment-107097 I thought this was a great exhibition. One thing that annoyed me was the Tate’s insistence (on captions throughout) on a large difference in content between his early German works, and those he made in Britain. It seemed as if the Tate wanted to justify the inclusion of work which to my mind stood perfectly well on its own. Surely it was enough to (as Gwendolen suggests) rehabilitate the work he made in Britain, or to show his abstract against his figurative? I can imagine that in the exhibition proposal the ‘In Britain’ bit may have been suggested in order to get those unfamiliar with Schwitters through the door, but was it necessary to force this through the show? As if everything had to be ‘on message’ (in this it reminded me of the Miro as political artist thesis exhibition at Tate Modern – though the Miro was perhaps a more extreme case).

In part this involved stressing his use of the twigs and stones in those works he made in the Lake District, when it seemed to me that he used these as often in his earlier work. But more problematic was the insistence that British print material was very different from the German. Of course a British viewer may have a nostalgic view on ‘Quality Street’ etc, and there is always the question of being able (or not) to read the language a particular phrase or scrap of a phrase is written in. But to me what Schwitters’ use of collage highlighted was that the production of the material he used (bus tickets, sweet wrappers, adverts etc, etc) was happening on a global scale. The great tide of stuff that he picked up on was flowing everywhere, and in Britain or Germany was fundamentally the same. Despite his ironical response about German rubbish heaps, his German critics may have had a point: he could have made this work in any industrial society at that point; and this is an important part of his work’s meaning.

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By: Gwendolen Webster http://abstractcritical.com/article/schwitters-in-britain/#comment-105343 Sun, 17 Feb 2013 13:04:25 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=article&p=6644#comment-105343 P.S. John – print was in the early 20th century an ‘outsider’ material, for it defied all the conventions of institutionalized art – it was an impersonal, cheap, easily available, and often ephemeral machine-made product, whose usage demanded only scissors and glue. So its mere presence in a picture provided an ironical or absurd commentary on the common understanding of art. By the way, when critics complained that Schwitters’ collages were was ‘unGerman,’ he solemnly countered that his material was in fact pure German, collected on proper German rubbish heaps.

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By: Gwendolen Webster http://abstractcritical.com/article/schwitters-in-britain/#comment-105338 Sun, 17 Feb 2013 12:48:52 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=article&p=6644#comment-105338 Thank you very much indeed for your comments, John. As to your wonderings – a theme worth exploring!

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By: John Bunker http://abstractcritical.com/article/schwitters-in-britain/#comment-105109 Sat, 16 Feb 2013 13:26:53 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=article&p=6644#comment-105109 A great thought provoking review! Many thanks. I especially liked your conclusion. Its left me wondering how the impulse towards collage and abstraction might be connected to issues of displacement and exile- issues that seem even more relevant today on a global scale.

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