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Radiating World (Merzbild 31B)

Kurt Schwitters ( 1920 )

Collection item 1722
  • Period Twentieth-Century
  • Materials Brushed and stenciled opaque paint over collage of cut and torn printed paper and painted paper with ink, graphite pencil and crayon on board
  • Object Number 1722
  • Dimensions 37 1/2 x 26 3/4 in.; 95.25 x 67.945 cm.
  • Credit Line Gift from the estate of Katherine S. Dreier, 1953; © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Radiating World (Merzbild 31B) may well be an icon of the dada movement that flourished in Hannover around 1920 chiefly through the efforts of Kurt Schwitters. Not only does the collage declare its dada content through fragmentation, enigma, and inclusion of the printed word, but the very reason for its having been created can be considered a manifesto of the artist’s beliefs.

Schwitters, who began his career as an expressionist painter and poet, turned to the Zurich dada movement around 1918. He responded to the irrationality, irony, and chance of dada, recognizing it as a revolutionary symbol of a postwar world shattered beyond reason and meaning. He coined the nonsense-word Merz to set his own work apart because his creative impulse was at odds with the iconoclasm advocated by the members if Berlin dada. In 1924 he felt compelled to state: “I am not a Dadaist,” and yet he called dada a fancy game, an amusement. Seen in this light, he was a Dadaist, but one who foresaw that its old form (he called it Dáda) had served to eradicate expressionism, whereas the new form (“Dada”) would serve constructivism and abstraction.

As he abandoned expressionism, Schwitters turned from painting to collage, perhaps in response to Picasso, Braque, and Gris, or following the lead of the Italian futurists, who were frequently exhibited at Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin and had incorporated newsprint into their collages. In stark contrast to his performances, where he chanted poems before shocked audiences, the making of a collage was a meditative, introverted activity for Schwitters. Radiating World (Merzbild 31B) may be the last in a series of large early collages.