PRINT November 1971

The Early Work of Kurt Schwitters

An object that tells of the loss, destruction, disappearance of objects. Does not speak of itself. Tells of others. Will it include them?

—Jasper Johns

IN 1919, KURT SCHWITTERS CHOSE the word “Merz” to describe what he called his “pasted and nailed pictures” because he could not “define them with the older conceptions like Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism or whatever” and because he wished to make them “like a species.”1 This insistence on a generic title reflects Schwitters’ consciousness of having achieved an independent and original status for his art. Schwitters’ historical reputation rests largely on the innovations of his early years. These established the framework for all his subsequent work, work which at no time repudiated the initial premise of an assembled art using found elements as tools for forming. Yet this premise was not in itself original: the modern use of collage was at

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