Tate Britain salvages 'sublime' work of Kurt Schwitters

Feb 5, 2013

'Schwitters in Britain' reveals modernist's playful collages and his shabby treatment by the British

What you need to know
A major exhibition of the work of experimental modern artist Kurt Schwitters, best known for his collages, has opened at Tate Britain. Schwitters in Britain focuses on Schwitters's late work from his arrival in Britain as a refugee in 1940 until his death in 1948.

Schwitters was forced to flee Germany when his work was condemned as 'degenerate' by Germany's Nazi government. He invented the idea of 'Merz' to describe his practice of using everyday materials such as old paper and scraps for his assemblages.

The Tate Britain show traces the impact of exile on Schwitters's work, and includes over 150 rarely seen collages, assemblages and sculptures. Until 12 May.

What the critics like
This exhibition is a much-needed attempt to write Schwitters back into English art history, says Charles Darwent in The Independent. It cleverly presents the work Schwitters made in Britain while revealing how his adopted country neglected him. "It's a sad story, but one that needs to be told."

This "intriguing" show examines Kurt Schwitters's "sublime" found-object collages and his "shabby treatment" as a refugee in Britain, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. The wealth of documentary material "helps us to look at his later work with greater understanding".

There is special pleasure in visiting the Schwitters in Britain exhibition, says an editorial in The Guardian. Among the now well-known Merz theory and collages, we also find, "of all the unexpected things, a fine portraitist".

What they don't like 
Though his "restlessly inventive playfulness" comes across in the smaller collages and hand-held sculptures, the expressionistic landscapes and portraits made in Britain "will add nothing of great significance" to Schwitters's reputation, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times.

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