Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau

Merzbau is a vast architectural/sculptural project of the poet and visual artist Kurt Schwitters (1887 - 1948). Schwitters himself has described it as his life's work. The construction was first begun in Hannover, Germany (sometime between 1919 - 1923).

Schwitters was forced to leave his homeland in 1938. Having been previously designated an entartete Kunstler (degenerate artist) by the Nazis and being an outspoken critic of their activities, he had recieved an official request for an interview from the Gestapo. He fled, nearly escaping arrest.

Schwitters traveled to Norway and here began a second Merzbau. When the Nazi's invaded Norway in 1940, he was forced once more to flee.

After the war Schwitters settled close to London and then in Ambleside in the Lake District. In 1945 he began his third and final Merzbau. It is the only one still existing. Schwitters' Hannover and Norway constructions were destroyed respectively in an Allied bombing raid and a fire. (Documentation of the Hanover Merzbau exists in the form of photographs taken in the 1930's.)

Schwitters' built his constructions into his residences incorporating rooms he lived in into the structure. The ceilings and walls were covered with three dimensional shapes and countless nooks and grottos were filed with a variety of objects -- "spoils and relics" (personal items Schwitters stole from friends and acquaintances). These nooks and grottos were sometimes obliterated by future additions, leaving them existing only in the memories of the earlier versions of the work. Schwitters considered the Merzbau on principle, an uncompleted work that by it's very nature, continued to grow and change constantly.

This dedication to expressing the dynamism in things as they existed in process and his beliefs that the making of art was not to be cordoned off from the life out of which it was produced were central themes in his work. (To learn more about Schwitters' aesthetics, see his essay on Merz.)

There were grottos for such friends and acquaintances as Hans Arp, Theo van Doesburg, Hannah Hoch, Lissitzy as well as grottos dedicated to abstract ideas e.g. a murders' cave, a Goethe grotto, and a love grotto.