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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEW

In the catalogue to A Secret Service, a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition now at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, there's a 1920s photo of a dull three-storey terraced house at 5 Waldhausenstrasse, Hanover, which gives no hint of what was happening within. For this was where, for 20 years until he left Hanover in 1937, Kurt Schwitters made his most elaborate Merzbau: a restless intricate fusion of sculpture and interior architecture, a bricolage which erased the boundary between ceilings and walls and came to envelop eight rooms.

It was a victim of Allied bombs during the war, but Schwitters went on to make two subsequent Merz environments in Norway and a final one in the Lake District, which was dismantled after his death and is now in the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University. All four of these very personal creations are displayed in photographs in the Bexhill show, though less fully than they might be. It's interesting to discover, though, that the one on the Norwegian island of Hjertøya, supposedly destroyed by fire, still exists in part, as a 2001 photo reveals (see above right).

Schwitters was apparently the starting point for this group show on the theme of 'secret worlds'. It's a mixed bag but it has its moments, including a piece by a group called The Speculative Archive which spotlights sites in the US where people have been arrested for taking photos in these sensitive times. Perhaps a Shell Chemical facility in Louisiana isn't a surprise, or the Andrews Air Force Base - though both are easily found on the internet - but the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge? ( www. dlwp. com).

Although the Waldhausenstrasse Merzbau perished, part of it is now convincingly replicated in Hanover's fine Sprengel Museum, whose exhibits include another of the 1920s' most radical rooms - El Lissitzky's Abstract Cabinet ( www. sprengel-museum. de). Elizabeth Gamard's paperback, Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau (Princeton Architectural Press), is still in print. A major Schwitters exhibition runs from 24 February to 13 May at Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, with its subtly conceived extension by Robbrecht and Daem, architect of the Whitechapel Gallery's current expansion.

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