Born in Hannover, Germany, Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) is one of the most influential artists from the interwar avant-garde. During a period of social and economic turmoil, he developed a unique practice, one that merged art and life, embraced disparate media and utilized found objects and printed materials, most of them the discarded remnants of everyday life.
In 1919, Schwitters named this body of work Merz—a neologism derived from the German kommerz (commerce)—which culminated in a series of collages, assemblages, experimental poems, prints and sculptures; the most famous being the Merzbau, a three-dimensional environment the artist began in the 1920s. Schwitters’s work bridges some of the period’s most important artistic movements, including Expressionism, Dada, Constructivism and Abstraction. Schwitters exerted a profound influence on artistic developments after World War II; Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, among others, considered him a source of inspiration, and contemporary installation art is inconceivable without the Merzbau.
Schwitters was trained as a painter, and despite his experiments with other media, he never ceased painting. Indeed, painting informs almost all of his work, as witnessed by the passages of gouache, chalk, oils, paste and watercolor in his collages and assemblages—additions that transform the materials they cover.