The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition and Innovation
At the end of World War I, the German artist Kurt Schwitters dramatically broke with dominant artistic traditions by adopting collage as the primary medium for his literary and visual production. In The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition and Innovation, Dorothea Dietrich demonstrates how collages function for the artist. With its emphasis on fragmentation and the prefabricated, collage pronounced a radical break with artistic tradition, while simultaneously allowing the past to survive in the salvaged fragments of which it was composed. Analyzing specific works, such as Schwitters's famous Merzbau (the so-called Cathedral of Erotic Misery) and some of the artist's texts, Dietrich delineates in rich detail the survival of tradition within avant-garde innovation. She also demonstrates cogently how artistic expression does not fall into pre-determined categories; rather, it is the result of the complex mingling of public, private, political, economic, and artistic concerns. Characterizing Schwitters's work as the product of the deep social and political crisis of the Weimar Republic, Dietrich challenges the prevalent outlook that twentieth-century art can be reduced to a revolutionary struggle of avant-garde artists against an entrenched artistic tradition. The Collages of Kurt Schwitters argues for a more nuanced view, in which revolutionary art forms are exposed as containing much that is traditional and, indeed, reactionary.
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