This highly animated picture is dominated by rectangular pieces of paper that cover the surface of the work. Schwitters created the illusion of depth by placing those papers with darker components behind those that are lighter in aspect. The brightest piece of paper, in the center of the composition, shows an eye-catching cluster of red cherries and the printed German and French words for the fruit.
In the winter of 1918–19 Schwitters had collected bits of newspaper, candy wrappers, and other debris, and began making the collages and assemblages for which he is best known today. The Cherry Picture belongs to a group of these works he called Merz, a nonsensical word that he made up by cutting a scrap from a newspaper: the second syllable of the German word Kommerz, or commerce.
By 1921 Schwitters had been painting seriously for ten years, largely in different naturalistic styles. In doing so, he learned how all art was based on measurement and adjustment and the manipulation of a variable but finite number of pictorial elements. He never forgot these lessons, which form a bridge between his earlier, representational work and the purely formal manipulation of found materials in the Merz pictures.
Curator, Anne Umland: In Hanover, Dada was largely a one-person show performed by the artist Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was famously refused entry in Berlin's Club Dada, and in reaction launched his own countermovement, which he called Merz, taken from a fragment of the German word "Kommerz," or "commerce."
Curator, Leah Dickerman: Schwitters loves all the things that are tossed off in modern culture, and he loves particularly the signs of wear and touch. He spoke of pulling together the fragments of a culture that had been shattered, and his Merz work serves as an analogy for a world that could not be put together as a whole.
Narrator: To Schwitters, Merz meant "the principle of using materials of all kinds," of making art from fragments.
Artist, Kurt Schwitters (actor): In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. Out of parsimony I took whatever I found, because we were now an impoverished country. One can even shout with refuse, and this is what I did.
Curator, Anne Umland: As you look across the surface of this very large assemblage, you get a sense of the incredible variety of materials used. They are carefully arrayed into a basic grid format—bits of newspaper, address and product labels, textured materials or fabrics like burlap, found wood elements, a cork, even a small pipe in the left center of the composition, making it clear why Schwitters thought that this work all by itself could stand in for the meaning of the word Merz, dedicated to the proposition that art could be made from anything, anything at all.