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First Major U.S. Overview of Kurt Schwitters' Work at Princeton University Art Museum
Peter Bissegger, Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters's Merzbau, original Merzbau ca. 1930-37, destroyed, 1943, reconstruction 1981-83, 154-3/4 x 228-3/8 x 181 inches. Sprengel Museum Hannover. Photo: Michael Herling / Aline Gwose, Sprengel Museum Hannover © Peter Bisseger.

PRINCETON, NJ.- Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) was an integral part of Germany’s revolutionary art and intellectual movements in the tumultuous wake of the First World War. He is one of the most enduring figures of the 20th century international avant-garde, and has been cited as a profound influence by artists ranging from Robert Rauschenberg to Damian Hirst. Widely acknowledged as a great master of collage, Schwitters’ diverse body of work cut across boundaries, hierarchies and media to include painting, sculpture, typography, poems and performance pieces, and it anticipated most of the leading art movements of the late 20th century. Now, Schwitters is the subject of a major retrospective, the first in the U.S. in a generation, held at the Princeton University Art Museum from March 26 to June 26, 2011.

“Kurt Schwitters is a pioneering artist whose work deserves to be better known in this country. His experiments with media, space, and sound, with the relationship between art and audience, as well as his nuanced meditations on modernity, print culture, and everyday life will come as a revelation to many,” said Kelly Baum, Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage marks the first major U.S. overview of the artist’s career since a Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) retrospective 26 years ago. On view at the Princeton University Art Museum March 26 - June 26, 2011, this will be the only east coast stop for the exhibition. Originated by the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, the exhibition was curated by Isabel Schulz, co-author of Schwitters’ catalogue raisonné and curator of the Kurt Schwitters Archive and Executive Director of the Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftung at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, in collaboration with Menil Director Josef Helfenstein. It will travel later this year to the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum.

“This authoritative and comprehensive presentation of Kurt Schwitters is a remarkable opportunity for audiences to get to know the work of a master of international Modernism,” said James Steward, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum. “Visitors, regardless of background, will recognize this prolific and visionary artist’s profound impact on so much of our contemporary visual culture. The exhibition embodies the Princeton University Art Museum’s redoubled commitment to exploring modern and contemporary art that is at once path-forging, exceptional and accessible.”

In 1919, Schwitters coined the term Merz, taken from a portion of the German word for commerce, to express his philosophical and artistic ambitions. Today he is known for transforming the “useless” forms of everyday life into a language and aesthetic that engaged the turmoil of the post-war era. Nailing and gluing together forgotten pieces of urban waste—train tickets, scraps of fabric, candy wrappers—Schwitters advanced collage and assemblage as integral modernist practices perhaps more than any artist of his time.

One of Schwitters’ most fully realized projects, the Merzbau, expanded these principles into the realm of architecture. Built over the period of a decade and a half and later destroyed by the Allied bombing during the Second World War, this massive walk-in sculptural environment—a precursor to installation art—filled a portion of the artist’s Hannover, Germany home by the time he fled the Nazi regime in 1937. Exploring key pieces from Schwitters’ multifaceted work, including a full-sized recreation of the Merzbau based on wide-angle photographs taken during the 1930s, the exhibition uncovers the expressive palettes, textures and techniques behind the artist’s revolutionary work.

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage includes 78 assemblages, sculptures and collages from 1918 to 1947, highlighting Schwitters’ compositional methods and design principles as well as his critical and often witty response to major art movements such as Expressionism, Dadaism, and Constructivism. The artist’s training as a painter was a central influence throughout his work, particularly his sensitivity to color and light. This exhibition offers the first detailed look at the significance of those two elements, unraveling the artist’s complex fusion of collage and painting. Schwitters often arranged found objects with a painter’s eye and enhanced his collages with additional layers of paint.

The exhibition also explores Schwitters’ reception in the United States beginning in the early 1920s, when he was included in a series of exhibitions sponsored by the Société Anonyme, the renowned art organization co-founded by artists Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp and May Ray. Nevertheless, until his work surfaced in a number of New York galleries and museums after his death in 1948 at 61, Schwitters remained relatively unknown in the United States. In the 1950s, a new generation of American artists began to look to Schwitters for inspiration as a model of working with found materials.

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