Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage
Berkeley has always been, for us, synonymous with just one thing: Chez Panisse. We’ve eagerly made the pilgrimage across the Bay Bridge every time we are in San Francisco to dine there. This time, we decided to check out the Berkeley Art Museum to see “Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage” – and it turned out to be one of the best exhibitions we’ve seen this year. The BAM has an eclectic mix of shows currently on view in their 101,000-square-foot, open-concept concrete structure: the delicate, shimmering paintings of German, London-based artist Silke Otto-Knapp, the images of the aftermath of a catastrophic fire in Oakland and Berkeley Hills by Bay Area photographer Richard Misrach, as well as Buddhist sculptures. The unequivocal highlight of their programming is the solo show of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), a highly influential German artist who is renowned for his collages. This exhibition, organized by the Menil Collection in Houston, is the first overview of his work in the United States in a generation – since his retrospective at MoMA in 1985. Looking at the relationship between collage and painting, as well as the significance of the use of colour in his work, the show includes approximately 80 assemblages, reliefs, sculptures, and collages created between 1918 and 1947.
“Create connections, if possible between everything in the world” was Schwitters’ mantra, and in 1918 he began making collages which unified life and art by using non-art materials to create his works. His delicate and carefully assembled collages on view here are created from a diverse range of materials including a pair of scissors, fabric, paper, hair, ribbon, newspaper clippings, photographs and reproductions of artworks. Schwitters would pick up threads, papers, glass and other fragments of everyday life while walking in the street and transform this urban waste with a magician-like ability into visually playful and harmonious works. And since Schwitters conceived of his collages as an extension of painting, he has constructed them paying particular attention to the formal properties of composition and colour, calibrating each one so despite its disparate parts, the end result is poetic, beautiful, and endlessly fascinating.
Schwitters was also a pioneer of installation art and the exhibition includes a reconstruction of his work “Merzbau,” a wondrous, room-sized, abstract, walk-in sculpture which was initially made from found materials. The original work was destroyed in WWII, but entering its recreation feels as though you have fallen down the rabbit-hole and into a three-dimensional version of one of his collages. Hurry, this exhibition closes soon.