At the center of this large-scale assemblage sits a vocabulary card printed with a cluster of orange cherries and the German and French words for the fruit. Above, scrawled in pencil, floats the phrase Ich liebe Dir!: faulty German for “I love you” (Ich liebe dich). The words invoke Schwitters’s 1919 poem “To Anna Blume,” which first established his fame.
Schwitters constructed this assemblage from scraps of modern life collected on the streets of Hannover: commercial labels, newspaper clippings, printed and handwritten text, bits of fabric and wood, and two corks, among other items. In arranging the topmost layer along a perpendicular grid, however, Schwitters imposed a sense of order on the material cacophony. The objects were pasted and hammered onto what appears to be an earlier oil painting, its moody greens and blues still partly visible. The reworking testifies to a conceptual shift: from the work of art as picture to the work of art as surface for the accumulation of matter. This move, from an optical model of art-making to a tactile one, was revolutionary.
The term Merz was Schwitters’s invention. Partly derived from the German word Kommerz (commerce), it designated his collage process. In his Hannover home, which he called the Merzbau (Merz-building), the idea became architectural: it is an abstract, walk-in collage environment, a repository for memory and matter.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)