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Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
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Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)

Mz "er."

Details
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Mz "er."
signed and dated 'K. Schwitters. 1922' (lower right on the artist's mount); titled 'Mz "er."' (lower left on the artist's mount)
collage laid down on the artist's mount
Image size: 12 x 9in.(30.6 x 22.9cm)
Mount size: 16¾ x 12½in. (42.6 x 31.9cm.)
Executed in 1922
Provenance
Ernst Schwitters, Lysaker 1948-1956, by descent from the Artist.
His sale, Kornfeld und Klipstein, Berlin, 1956.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Chicago, by whom acquired from the above in 1956.
Waltraut Mies van der Rohe, Chicago, by descent from the above, 1959.
Marianne Lohan, Chicago, by descent from the above, 1959-1977.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Literature
J. Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, Dusseldorf, 1987 (illustrated pl. 145).
K. Orchard & I. Schulz, Kurt Schwitters, vol. 1, 1905-1922, no. 1035 (illustrated p. 501).
Exhibited
Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Kurt Schwitters, Feb.-March 1956, no. 115. This exhibition later travelled to Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, April-May 1956; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, June 1956; Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Oct.-Nov. 1956 and Liège, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nov.-Dec. 1956.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 57 collages, Oct.-Nov. 1956, no. 12.
Washington, The Phillips Gallery, Collages by Kurt Schwitters, Jan. -Feb. 1957, no. 1.
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Neue Nationalgalerie, Akademie der Künste und Große Orangerie, Tendenzend der Zwanziger Jahre. 15. Europäische Kunstausstellung Berlin 1977, Aug.-Oct. 1977, not numbered. This exhibition later travelled to Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, Nov. 1977-Jan. 1978.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Kurt Schwitters, June-Oct. 1985, no. 149. This exhibition later travelled to London, Tate Gallery, Nov. 1985-Jan. 1986 and Hanover, Sprengel Museum, Feb.-April 1986.
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, not numbered, p. 117. This exhibition later travelled to Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio González, April - June 1995 and Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble, Sept.- Nov. 1995.
New York, Whitney Museum of Art, Mies in America, June - Sept. 2001, no. 2.18 (illustrated p. 120). This exhibition later travelled to Montreal, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Oct. 2001 - Jan. 2002 and Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb. - May, 2002.
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Lot Essay

Er (He), a Merz collage from 1922 is a truly groundbreaking work that reflects the development of Schwitters' Merz method of assemblage into an 'elemental' art of construction. One of the most austere and geometric of Schwitters' collages from this period, Er clearly reflects the growing influence of constructivist thinking on his work and in particular the de Stijl paintings of Theo Van Doesburg.

Schwitters had first met Van Doesburg in April 1921 in Weimar. Van Doesburg was, at the time, participating in the Dadaist movement by writing and performing nonsensical poetry under the pseudonym of I.K. Bonset. Both men subsequently became good friends who would, over the next few years collaborate again on a number of projects that had particular importance for the so-called Dada-Constructivist alliance that many avant-garde artists in the early 1920s were seeking to establish as the basis for the creation of a new elemental art. Schwitters' collaborations with Van Doesburg and later with the Russian El Lissitzky form much of the core of this important but short-lived attempt to join two of the most important artistic aesthetics of the age into a cohesive and revolutionary basis for change.

By 1922 Schwitters' Merz aesthetic of assemblage had grown to reflect the fundamental organising principles behind the geometric abstraction of much Russian Constructivist art and the non-objective painting of de Stijl painters like Piet Mondrian and Van Doesburg. Er is a work that develops this growing tendency in Schwitters' work even further than any Merzbild that had gone before. Reducing the colours almost entirely to the red, yellow, white and black of de Stijl and enforcing a strict geometry on the work, Schwitters was seeking to find and convey a sense of an elementary and universal aesthetic of construction. A strong spatial logic is used in the layering of each rectangular piece of paper so that it builds the composition into an intricate, dynamic and cohesive whole. Even the forms of the two simple letters of the word 'er" that sit at the heart of the collage become a contributory part of the composition. At the same time, it is these words that clearly distinguish the work as an earthly creation of man - as a Merzbild - and not some impossible to attain, over-idealistic utopian vision of cosmic purity.

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