Learning the Unruly ABCs of Dada






J is for...
Junk, Jumbled and Jangling



Kurt Schwitters, junkmeister extraordinaire, was the dada scene in Hanover, a one-man band of radical art. He was also the ultimate accumulator, putting every kind of scrap paper and found object to use in his collages, reliefs and installations. He may have borrowed the idea of collage from other dadaists, but he was the only artist to make it a full-blown artistic principle.

He even coined a name for his creative form of junk: Merz, he called it, borrowing the ending of the German word Kommerz -- like other dadaists, he was obsessed with modern ideas of trade -- while perhaps also evoking the French expletive merde. As the exhibition catalogue puts it, "Merz was a principle of openness toward everything" -- of incorporation, rather than of the discernment and exclusion of traditional high art. That also makes Schwitters a rare dadaist who tended toward construction and optimism more than aggressive tearing down.

- Blake Gopnik, Washington Post Staff Writer




PHOTOS: ROB SHELLEY - NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, MICHAEL HERLING - SPRENGEL MUSEUM, HANOVER, GERMANY




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