Nonsense word invented by the German dada artist Kurt Schwitters to describe his collage and assemblage works based on scavenged scrap materials

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  • Kurt Schwitters, 'Picture of Spatial Growths - Picture with Two Small Dogs' 1920-39

    Kurt Schwitters
    Picture of Spatial Growths - Picture with Two Small Dogs 1920-39
    Mixed media collage on board
    frame: 1155 x 863 x 131 mm support: 970 x 690 x 110 mm
    Purchased 1984 DACS, 2002

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  • Kurt Schwitters, '(Relief in Relief)' circa 1942-5

    Kurt Schwitters
    (Relief in Relief) circa 1942-5
    Oil on wood and plaster
    object: 495 x 413 x 102 mm
    Purchased 1970 DACS, 2002

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  • Kurt Schwitters, 'The Proposal' 1942

    Kurt Schwitters
    The Proposal 1942
    Collage of photographic reproduction and magazine image
    support: 319 x 395 mm
    Accepted by H.M. Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2007 DACS, 2002

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Kurt Schwitters made large numbers of small collages and more substantial assemblages in this medium. He is said to have extracted the word Merz from the name Commerz Bank which appeared on a piece of paper in one of his collages.

Schwitters founded a dada group in Hanover where he was based from 1919. There he created his first Merzbau (Merz building). This was his own house, which he filled with about forty ‘grottoes’ – constructions actually attached to the interior fabric of the building and even extending through windows.

In 1937 after his work had been included in the Degenerate Art Exhibition he fled Germany for Norway. There he created a second Merzbau. In 1940 he found refuge in England where he started a third Merzbau at Ambleside in the Lake District. The first Merzbau was destroyed in the Second World War, the second by fire in 1951 and the third was left unfinished at his death in 1947. It is now preserved in the Hatton Gallery of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.