‘I felt myself freed and had to shout my jubilation out to the world. Out of parsimony I took whatever I found to do this, because we were now a poor country. One can even shout out through refuse, and this is what I did, nailing and gluing it together. I called it ‘Merz’, it was a prayer about the victorious end of the war, victorious as once again peace had won in the end; everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of fragments: and this is Merz. I painted, nailed, glued, composed poems, and experienced the world in Berlin.’ (Kurt Schwitters, 1930, quoted in Werner Schmalenbach, Kurt Schwitters, New York, 1967, p. 96)
One of a series of Merz pictures that Kurt Schwitters exhibited at Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin in 1921, Merz 193 is an early Merz collage made at a time of hyper-inflation, revolution and counter-revolution in Germany following the end of the First World War. In this era of complete moral, political and financial bankruptcy, when paper currency had lost its value and only food, work or lodging remained commodities of real value, other than gold or foreign currency, Schwitters, alone in Hannover, established his own one-man avant-garde and ‘cure’ for the current age which he declared to be the ‘Merz’ revolution.
‘Merz’, which took its name from a fragment of the words ‘Kommerz und Privatbank’ was an artistic revolution in which art and life were to be merged through the ‘business’ of assembling fragments and detritus of modern life into new glorified forms and expressions of the triumph of the human spirit. ‘At the end of 1918 I realized that all values only exist in relationship to each other and that restriction to a single material is one-sided and small-minded,’ Schwitters wrote. ‘From this insight I formed Merz, above all as the sum of individual art forms, Merz painting, Merz poetry.’ (Kurt Schwitters, Sturmbilderbuch, 1920, cited in J. Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, New York, 1985, p. 49)
As Schwitters’ friend and neighbour in Hannover, Kate Steinitz recalled, during this period Schwitters was frequently to be seen on the streets of Hannover, ‘a crazy, original genius-character, carelessly dressed, absorbed in his own thoughts, picking up all sorts of curious stuff in the streets... always getting down from his bike to pick up some colourful piece of paper that somebody had thrown away’ (Kate Trauman Steinitz, Kurt Schwitters A Portrait from Life Berkeley, 1968, p. 68). From these fragments Schwitters constructed poetic and miraculous constellations that expressed a new formal language and seemed to hint at a hidden order amongst the apparent chaos of the times.
‘In poetry, words and sentences are nothing but parts,’ Schwitters explained, ‘their relation to one another is not the customary one of everyday speech, which after all has a different purpose: to express something. In poetry, words are torn from their former context, dissociated and brought into a new artistic context, they become formal parts of the poem, nothing more’ (Kurt Schwitters, quoted in Elderfield, op. cit. p. 43). As a work like Merz 193 with its torn tickets and material fragments of modern daily life illustrates, the same logic applied to Schwitters revolutionary Merz pictures.