Kurt Schwitters’s Merz Barn in England.

Kurt Schwitters’s Merz Barn Under Threat

Amah-Rose Abrams reports in the Art Newspaper that Kurt Schwitters’s last remaining Merz Barn, located in the Lake District of northern England, may be sold on the open market after Arts Council England (ACE) rejected a funding application for the site for the fourth time. The artists Ian Hunter and Celia Larner, who run and maintain the site as the Littoral Arts Trust, believe it should be preserved and kept open to the public rather than sold, but they are struggling with its upkeep due to a lack of funds.

After three rejections by the ACE, Hunter and Larner were formally invited to apply for another round of funding by the former ACE president Sir Peter Bazalgette. They were also paid approximately $44,000 to take part in an independent study regarding future funding, 45% of which they had to match. The ACE has supported the project over the years with about $312,000 in disbursements so far. Other funding has been repeatedly rejected, though, since the only completed interior wall of the Merz Barn—Schwitters worked there with the intention of transforming the whole building into a work of art—was removed in 1958 and placed in the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne due to risk of damage at its original location.

In 2016, after the barn was severely damaged during a storm, Hunter launched an appeal and raised about $84,000 for repairs. Galerie Gmurzynska, which hosted a Schwitters exhibition last summer, donated about $32,000 to the cause at the request of the late architect Zaha Hadid, while the rest was donated by local foundations and other international donors. At that time, the Littoral Arts Trust had no funding and was supporting the project through artists’ pensions and proceeds from the sale of one of the trust’s founder’s homes. Hunter and Larner are looking to draw the public’s attention to the Merz Barn and highlight its value as a cultural site by keeping it permanently open to visitors. The site used to be open from 10 AM until 5 PM when staffed, and visitors could call ahead to ensure entry.

Kurt Schwitters built two complete Merz Barns during his lifetime. The first was at his parents’ home in Hanover before he fled Nazi Germany in 1937 for Norway, where he then built a second one near Oslo before leaving when the Nazis invaded that country in 1940. Both locations were subsequently destroyed, the first in a bombing raid during the war and the second in a fire in 1950. His last iteration of the project is in Elterwater, in England’s Lake District, where he lived until his death in 1948.