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Chance Creations: Collage, Photomontage, and Assemblage

Explore three Dada methods that left it (mostly) to chance.


Merz Picture 32 A. The Cherry Picture (Merzbild 32 A. Das Kirschbild)

Kurt Schwitters
(German, 1887–1948)

1921. Cut-and-pasted colored and printed paper, cloth, wood, metal, cork, oil, pencil, and ink on paperboard, 36 1/8 x 27 3/4" (91.8 x 70.5 cm)

Kurt Schwitters made this work from scraps and objects he collected from the streets of his hometown of Hanover, Germany. Although he scavenged the fragments, Schwitters carefully composed and affixed them with glue and nails to a painted board to make this collage. Merz Picture 32A. The Cherry Picture has many layers: light and dark paint on the board form the base of the collage and give an illusion of depth; affixed to the board are various fabrics, an image of kittens, candy wrappers, newspaper clippings, and a flashcard of cherries, onto which Schwitters penciled the ungrammatical phrase “Ich liebe dir!” (“I love she!”). Three-dimensional objects, including a broken pipe, protrude from the surface.

Merz Picture 32A belongs to the so-called Merz series, a term Schwitters made up by cutting a scrap from the second syllable of the German word “Kommerz” (commerce), which he included in one of his early collage paintings. Schwitters was trained as a painter, but as World War I came to an end he adopted collage as his preferred process, saying, “Everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of the fragments.”1 With his Merz project he aimed “to create connections, preferably between everything in this world.”

Leah Dickerman, Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris (Landover, Maryland: The National Gallery of Art, 2005), 159

An unreal, deceptive, or misleading appearance or image.

One who applies paint to canvas, wood, paper, or another support to produce a picture.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

A term invented by the artist Kurt Schwitters to describe his works made from scavenged fragments and objects.

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

An artistic and literary movement formed in response to the disasters of World War I (1914–18) and to an emerging modern media and machine culture. Dada artists sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic, favoring strategies of chance, spontaneity, and irreverence. Dada artists experimented with a range of mediums, from collage and photomontage to everyday objects and performance, exploding typical concepts of how art should be made and viewed and what materials could be used. An international movement born in neutral Zurich and New York, Dada rapidly spread to Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, Paris, and beyond.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.

What’s in a Name?
Schwitters called his work Merz to distinguish it from Dada. His Merz collages stood out for the wide-ranging and at times personal nature of the materials they incorporated. He wrote, “I could not, in fact, see the reason why old tickets, driftwood, cloakroom tabs, wires, and parts of wheels, buttons and old rubbish found in attics and refuse dumps should not be a suitable material for painting as the paints made in factories.”

Multimedia

AUDIO: Curators Anne Umland and Leah Dickerman discuss Kurt Schwitters’s Merz works

Take a Closer Look Click or tap on the highlighted details.

Merz Picture 32 A. The Cherry Picture (Merzbild 32 A. Das Kirschbild)

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887–1948)