Arr/Dep (catalogue): "Freedom's Gate" by Kurt Schwitters

schwitterstondoYour passport please.

You are German.


A German citizen.


Born in Hannover.

Not a matter of choice, I assure you.

You speak Norwegian very well.

A little, not so well.

You are a spy, perhaps.

Is that a question?

You have been to Norway before.250012

Yes, often.

'36, '35, '34 . . .

I spend summers on Moldefjord,

I love it there.

It is not summer now, Herr ...


It is not summer now, Herr Schwitters.

Yes. No.

Your stay will be a short one?

I don't know.

Like the others?

A holiday, yes.

But you don't know how long.


You are not seeking asylum?merzbau3320

No, I hope to return home.

You are not a member of the Nazi party.


Any other party?


You belong to no party.

Yes. No.

You will fill out these forms please.


You will report to the police, this address,

tomorrow morning at nine.


You understand, failure to report will mean . . .

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Welcome, Herr Schwitters, to the land of freedom!

(Translation: Colin Morton)

2650056Merzbau at Hjertya

Kurt Schwitters, b. Hannover, Germany, June 20th 1887 - d. Kendal, England, January 8th 1948

Schwitters is surely one of the most influential artists of 1900. His work ranges from collage to sound art, from painting to installations/sculpture, from poetry to typography.

After discovering Norway during a cruise in 1929 Schwitters passed various summers here from 1930, painting landscapes in Geiranger at Djupvasshytta and on Hjertya Island near Molde, where he hired a stone hut from 1932. The inside of the building is frequently regarded as a Merzbau* but the hut has been more or less left to rot since 1940.

With consolidating of nazism in Germany in 1930s, life began to be more and more intolerable. The "suspicious" activities of Schwitters and many of his close friends and colleagues, finally forced Schwitters to leave Germany for Norway in January of 1937, barely avoiding arrest (officially stated as a request for an interview) by the Gestapo. The same year 13 of his works were confiscated from various museums and four of them included in the infamous "Degenerate Art Exhibit" (Entartete Kunst) in Munich.

His son, Ernst, had also been in jeopardy for some time and had left Hannover via Hamburg for Oslo in the early hours of December 26th 1936, thereby preceding his father's immigration by several days.

While being in exile in Lysaker nearby Oslo, Schwitters started a second Merzbau, that was subsequently destroyed in a fire in 1951.

When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, father and son were again on the move, travelling further to the north. After a short period of internment on the Lofoten Islands, Schwitters fled to Great Britain on the same boat as the Norwegian Government, and was initially interned in Douglas Camp, Isle of Man, for eighteen months.

After their release, Schwitters and his son lived in and around London, but he suffered a stroke and retreated finally to Ambleside (Westmorland) in the Lake District in June of 1944. Meanwhile, Schwitters, who enjoyed notoriety in England and the United States, continued his work, attempting to recreate his destroyed assemblages. In 1945 his wife died in Hannover.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York which had exhibited his works since 1936, provided him a grant to recreate the Merz Column. In August 1947, he began to work on the last Merzbau, which he called the Merz Barn.

His exile in Norway, followed by his escape from the German troops to England, where his isolated position, from which he already suffered back in Norway, did not improve significantly. While the degenerate and difficult conditions of his internment resulted in extensive physical and emotional scars, the war and subsequent exile from Germany left him destitute and disoriented in the most literal sense.

After prolonged illnesses, Schwitters died in Kendal on January 8th 1948.

The Merzbau in Hannover was a fantastically constructed interior, as bewildering as it was abstract. The walls and ceiling were covered with a diversity of three - dimensional shapes and the room itself was crowded with materials and objects - or "spoils and relics", as Schwitters himself put it - which were contained in countless nooks and grottoes, some of them totally obstructed by later additions to the work, with the result that their contents then existed only in one's memory of the Merzbau in one of its former states. The Merzbau was - "on principle" - an uncompleted work and continued to grow, changing constantly.

(Web-patchwork by P.M.)


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