DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Media Contact: Peter Cavagnaro, pcavagnaro@berkeley.edu, (510) 642-0365

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage (August 3–November 27, 2011)

Kurt Scwitters: Mz 601, 1923; collage; paint and paper on cardboard; 17 x 15 in.; Sprengel Museum Hannover, loan from Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung

First major U.S. museum exhibition in 26 years devoted to the hugely influential German artist; BAM/PFA is the only West Coast venue for this retrospective, which features a re-creation of the famed Merzbau installation

“The collages are a delight, transcending the number-crunching, language-mangling modern world they reflect. And when they’re joyous, they have a true in-love-with-life lift, with hints of nature blooming through.”
—Holland Cotter, New York Times

Berkeley, CA, June 13, 2011—(Download a PDF version of this press release) The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, the first major overview of the German artist’s work presented in the United States since the Museum of Modern Art’s celebrated 1985 retrospective. The exhibition includes nearly seventy-five assemblages, sculptures, and collages made between 1918 and 1947 that elucidate the relationship between collage and painting—as well as color and material—in Schwitters’s work. It also features the reconstruction of the artist’s monumental walk-in installation piece, Merzbau, which was bombed by the Allies in 1943. Originated by the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas and on view at BAM/PFA from August 3 through November 27, 2011, this presentation is the only West Coast stop for the exhibition.

Schwitters (1887–1948) was an integral part of Germany’s revolutionary art and intellectual movements in the tumultuous wake of the First World War. He is one of the most enduring figures of the twentieth-century international avant-garde, and has been cited as a profound influence by artists ranging from Robert Rauschenberg to Damien Hirst. Widely acknowledged as a great master of collage, Schwitters’s diverse body of work cuts across boundaries, hierarchies, and media to include painting, sculpture, typography, poetry, sound, and architecture, and it anticipated most of the leading art movements of the late twentieth century.

In 1919, Schwitters coined the term Merz, taken from a portion of the German word for commerce that was pasted into an early collage, to express his philosophical and artistic ambitions. Today he is known for transforming the “useless” forms of everyday life into a language and aesthetic that engaged the turmoil of the postwar era. Nailing and gluing together forgotten pieces of urban waste—train tickets, scraps of fabric, candy wrappers—Schwitters, perhaps more than any artist of his time, advanced collage and assemblage as integral modernist practices.

One of Schwitters’s most fully realized projects, the Merzbau, expanded these principles into the realm of architecture. Built over a period of fifteen years and later destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, this massive walk-in sculptural environment—a precursor to installation art—had filled a portion of the artist’s Hannover, Germany home by the time he fled the Nazi regime in 1937. The exhibition includes a full-sized recreation of the Merzbau based on wide-angle photographs taken during the 1930s. Through the exploration of key pieces from Schwitters’s multifaceted work, including the Merzbau, the exhibition uncovers the expressive palettes, textures, and techniques behind the artist’s revolutionary work.

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage highlights Schwitters’s compositional methods and design principles as well as his critical and often witty response to major art movements such as Expressionism, Dadaism, and Constructivism. Schwitters often arranged found objects with a painter’s eye and enhanced his collages with additional layers of paint. In fact, his training as a painter was a central influence throughout his work, particularly his sensitivity to color and light. This exhibition offers the first detailed look at the significance of those two elements, unraveling the artist’s complex fusion of collage and painting.

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage is curated by Isabel Schulz, co-author of Schwitters’ catalog raisonné and curator of the Kurt Schwitters Archive and Executive Director of the Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftung at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, in collaboration with Menil Director Josef Helfenstein. The curator in charge of the Berkeley presentation is Lucinda Barnes, BAM/PFA chief curator and director of programs and collections.

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage is organized by the Menil Collection, Houston. This exhibition is generously supported by gifts from Laura and John Arnold; Houston Endowment Inc.; The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Catherine Morgan; Mrs. Nancy Brown Negley; Karen and Harry Pinson; Louisa Stude Sarofim; Leslie and Shannon Sasser; the Taub Foundation in memory of Ben Taub, Henry J.N. Taub, and Carol J. Taub; Lionstone Group; Allison Sarofim; Marion Barthelme and Jeff Fort; Sissy and Denny Kempner; Northern Trust; Ann and Mathew Wolf; Nina and Michael Zilkha; the City of Houston and by proceeds from the inaugural evening of MEN OF MENIL. Exhibition underwriter Continental Airlines is the Preferred Airline of the Menil Collection.

The Berkeley presentation is made possible in part by the Simon Karlinsky Fund and by the continued support of the BAM/PFA trustees.

Related Materials
Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage is accompanied by a fully illustrated color catalog featuring essays by Schulz, along with scholars Leah Dickerman and Gwendolen Webster and a chronology by Menil Assistant Curator Clare Elliott.
Available at the BAM/PFA Museum Store
176 p., 10 x 11 ½
14 b/w & 129 color illustrations
ISB: 9780300166118
Cloth: $50.00

Public Programs
Curators’ Gallery Tour: Josef Helfenstein and Isabel Shulz
Wednesday, August 3, noon
Gallery 6
Included with museum admission
Exhibition co-curators Josef Helfenstein and Isabel Schulz lead an insightful discussion of Schwitters’s groundbreaking and influential collages, assemblages, and sculptures as well as the full-scale reconstruction of the extraordinary Merzbau. Helfenstein, an expert on Paul Klee, is the director of the Menil Collection; Shulz, the co-editor of Schwitters’s catalog raisonné, is curator of the Kurt Schwitters Archive at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover.

Make Art with Matt Gonzalez
Sunday, August 14, 2–5 p.m.
2 p.m. Exhibition tour
2:30–5 p.m. Drop-in collage making
Included with museum admission
Offering a hands-on experience in conjunction with Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, BAM/PFA presents a series collage-making events with local artists throughout the run of the exhibition. We invite you to pick up a pair of scissors and join the collage table in the museum’s exciting Gallery B space. Materials provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own as well.

Our first guest artist in this series is Matt Gonzalez. Well known as a progressive politician who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and as Ralph Nader’s 2008 vice-presidential running mate, Gonzalez is also an accomplished collage artist who has exhibited at numerous local venues; a recent review in the San Francisco Chronicle describes his work as “grid-like, woven geometric pieces incorporating found packaging, dappled with primary colors and riddled with frayed edges.” Gonzalez has an abiding interest in Schwitters, who, he asserts, is “important to anyone who takes up glue and scissors.”

Immediately preceding the collage making, Gonzalez will comment informally in the exhibition galleries about some of his favorite Schwitters pieces.

Coming up in November and December: Make collages alongside guest artists William Theophilus Brown and Veronica de Jesus.

While these events are designed for adults, children twelve and over are welcome to participate.

Guided tours
Guided tours of Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage will be offered on selected Thursdays and Sundays in August. Tour guides are UC Berkeley graduate students in art history Sherry Ehya, Laura Richard, and Justin Underhill.

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is the visual arts center of the University of California, Berkeley, the nation’s leading public research university. One of the largest university art museums in the United States in both size and attendance, BAM/PFA aims to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through contemporary and historical art and film, engaging audiences from the UC Berkeley campus, the Bay Area, and beyond. Each year BAM/PFA presents fifteen art exhibitions, 380 film programs, and dozens of performances, as well as lectures, symposia, and tours. The museum’s collection of more than 30,000 works ranges from Neolithic Chinese pottery to contemporary video art. Among the collection's exceptional strengths are Ming and Qing dynasty Chinese painting, Italian Baroque painting, Old Master works on paper, early American painting, mid-twentieth-century abstract painting—including important works by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, and Mark Rothko—Japanese cinema, Soviet silent film, West Coast avant-garde video and film, animation, and international classic films.

Museum Information
Location: 2626 Bancroft Way, just below College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.

Gallery and Museum Store Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open L@TE Fridays until 9 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Admission: General admission is $10; admission for seniors, disabled persons, non–UC Berkeley students, and young adults (13–17) is $7; admission for BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students, staff, and faculty, and children under 12 is free. Reservations are required for group visits; for information, rates, and schedule, please e-mail sgvisits@berkeley.edu. Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.

L@TE Admission: On L@TE Fridays, general admission to the BAM/PFA galleries is $7 after 5 p.m. Show your ticket for a same-day PFA screening or gallery visit and get in free. Admission is always free for BAM/PFA members and UC Berkeley students, faculty, and staff. For updates on L@TE programs and to purchase tickets, visit bampfa.berkeley.edu/late.

Information: 24-hour recorded message (510) 642-0808; fax (510) 642-4889; TDD (510) 642-8734.

Website: bampfa.berkeley.edu

Please note: For more information about Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage please contact Peter Cavagnaro at (510) 642-0365 or pcavagnaro@berkeley.edu.

# # #