What is “Merz”?

The term “Merz” was originated in 1919 by an artist named Kurt Schwitters, who was living and working in Hannover, Germany. The war had just ended, and Germany had been plunged into revolution. For Schwitters, the revolution served as an inspiration to create a new form of art, which in his mind reflected the changes that were happening all around him: “Everything had broken down...new things had to be made from fragments.” In the winter of 1918-19, he started to make collages and assemblages from all kinds of refuse and found materials -- “new art forms out of the remains of a former culture.” Sensing that these were his most important and original works to date, Schwitters chose the word “Merz” to describe them:

“I call[ed] my new manner of working from the principle of using any material MERZ. That is the second syllable of Kommerz [commerce]. It originated from the Merzbild [Merzpicture], a picture in which the Word MERZ, cut out and glued-on from an advertisement for the KOMMERZ-UND PRIVATBANK [Commercial and Private Bank] could be read between abstract forms...When I first exhibited these pasted and nailed pictures at the Sturm [Gallery] in Berlin, I searched for a generic term for this new kind of picture, because I could not define them with older concepts like Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism or whatever. So I named all my pictures as a species MERZbilder after the most characteristic one.”

Schwitters’ MERZbilder pieces were a progression from, and a derivation of, his Expressionist works, wherein he worked to free himself from any “desire to reproduce natural forms” because they limited “the force and consistency of working out an expression”, where painting is seen as the agent of personal expression itself. However, at the same time, Schwitters worked to free himself from “striving for expression” because it seemed “injurious to art”. Thus, in a Zen-like sense, the effect of no longer making “expression” a conscious aim was to heighten the real expressive feeling of art, which came to depend (again, in a Zen way) above all else on Schwitters’ control of a strictly delimited vocabulary of formal elements. For Schwitters, Merz itself was to be the ultimate artistic liberation:

“Merz stands for freedom from all fetters, for the sake of artistic creation. Freedom is not lack of restraint, but the product of strict artistic discipline.”

We have named our space Gallery Merz with Schwitters' spirit in mind. We hope you will enjoy your visit with us.