Kurt Schwitters Merzbau

14 November 2022

Kurt Schwitters settled in the Lake District in 1945, where he recreated the Merzbau.webp
Kurt Schwitters settled in the Lake District in 1945, where he recreated the Merzbau. Courtesy of the Littoral Arts Trust. Published by The Art Newspaper

The Board of CIMAM (2020-22) is responding to the current sensitive situation regarding the future of the Merz Barn and in the context of its potential sale by auction.

The CIMAM Board considers the series of events driving this outcome as symbolic of the challenging culture, and visual culture, in particular, are experiencing, despite the incredible explosion of wealth that is driving private collections. It is worrying that memorable places such as this that encapsulate values of generosity, hospitality, inter-cultural exchange, and the stewardship of material and immaterial patrimony, are now accountable to their market value and economic sustainability.

Kurt Schwitters developed his first Merzbau in the family house of Hanover between 1923 and 1937, after which point he fled the imminent danger of arrest by the Gestapo and settled in Norway. There, the second Merzbau was built in his house near Oslo. Following the Nazi invasion of the country, Schwitters emigrated again to England in 1940. After 16 months in a camp he began to work again, and between March 1947 and his death in January 1948, developed the third Merzbau in the facilities offered to him by Harry Pierce at Cylinders Farm, Elterwater. In 1965, Richard Hamilton arranged for the artwork, the Merzbau, to be preserved at the University of Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery, where it is currently on display.

The Merz Barn itself has remained for many years as both a shrine to the memory of Kurt Schwitters and a space for people to come together for exhibitions, residencies, and community gatherings that evoke the legacy of Kurt Schwitters’s life and work.

While we completely understand the difficult circumstances under which all cultural agencies are currently operating in the UK, we still believe that the future of the Merz Barn might be a test case for the resilience and the creativity of the visual arts community in its entirety, and so we are advocating on behalf of CIMAM for a combined and concerted effort to find a sustainable future for this building which is in itself a landmark for survival.

The solution may be found in a collective effort across the art world, creative industries, and business community to find a strategic purpose for the building which could ensure its future viability and give it renewed visibility nationally and internationally.

There are many potential solutions from the creation of a local stakeholder group, alignment with an art institution as a site for residencies or cultural programs to a reframing of its stewardship within a national organization such as the English Heritage. CIMAM asks that all parties involved approach this with an open mind to find the right solution and we are happy to engage further with those actively seeking a solution.

The Board of CIMAM (2020-22)
CIMAM – International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art