Hand-held sculptures

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Kurt Schwitters
Chicken and Egg 1946
Lent by Jane Beresford 2019

In August 1944 Schwitters wrote to his friend the artist László Moholy-Nagy: ‘I believe that at the moment my best things are my small sculptures’.

On his journeys between Germany and Norway and on to Britain, Schwitters had experimented with small sculpture, the size of these works dictated by their ease of transport. In London he began to focus more intensely on making hand-held sized sculptures. He made these from found natural materials such as stone, wood and bone, usually combined with plaster, sometimes adding other materials like wire and even dried fruit. Some of these abstract and playful pieces have titles that refer to the figurative associations their shapes suggest.

Many were painted in bright colours, and Schwitters saw these works as the marriage of painting and modelling into ‘one art’, challenging the traditional boundaries that separate painting and sculpture. The fusion of painted plaster surfaces with three-dimensional objects is also present in his incorporation of sculptural elements into wall mounted assemblages. Schwitters took this fusion of materials and surfaces a stage further in his Merz buildings to create installations that amalgamated his sculptural practice into built environments. Unlike the structures, the portability of the sculptures emphasises their detachment (and perhaps that of Schwitters) from any place.