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Storm leaves Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbarn ‘near total collapse’

Merzbarn damage Image by Martin Campbell  1
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The last remaining Merzbau project of pioneering Dadaist Kurt Schwitters has been left ‘devastated’ by Storm Desmond

Owners of the site in Elterwater, Cumbria have called on Arts Council England and Tate director Nicholas Serota to urgently rescue the unfinished 1940s architectural installation in the former farm shed.

Celia Larner and Ian Hunter of Littoral Arts Trust said: ‘If this were Henry Moore’s studio, or a pioneer modernist architectural site by Walter Gropius, it would be a national scandal by now.’

Cumbria was worst hit by Storm Desmond which brought record levels of rainfall to the UK in early December 2015.

Around 5,200 homes were flooded and many communities and businesses are still recovering from the destruction.

The Merzbau – known as the Merzbarn – suffered major structural damage including a broken skylight, roof and end wall hanging off.

Commenting on the storm’s impact, former AA head of architectural heritage Andrew Shepherd said: ‘In this condition the Merz Barn won’t survive another storm.’

The destruction came just days before Littoral revealed initial details of its Future of the Merzbarn report which sets out plans for the site’s long term restoration.

In a statement the trust said: ‘As yet [there has been] no response to our appeals for help to the Arts Council for some modest Arts Lottery to carry out emergency repairs and restoration work, the owners of the site the Littoral Arts Trust are now appealing to the international architectural and arts community for help.’

The statement continued: ‘The Tate and Sir Nicholas Serota are sympathetic but the Arts Council, who have Arts Lottery money available for such eventualities, it appears are not that interested in protecting the artistic and architectural legacy of Britain’s only Dada era modern artist - Kurt Schwitters.’

The recent storms have been pretty hard on the Merzbarn & Cylinders estate, Ian makes an appeal.https://merzbarnlangdale.wordpress.com/the-merzbauten/

Posted by Merzbarn on Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hunter also called on Serota to support the larger Merzbarn Project in a video appeal.

Kurt Schwitters relocated to the Lake District in 1942 after escaping the Nazis who had labelled him a ‘degenerate artist’.

On the Cylinders Estate in Elterwater he set about creating an architectural installation – which he called a Merzbau.

Based on earlier Merzbau artworks in Nazi-occupied Hannover and Norway, the ambitious project was left unfinished at the artist’s death in 1948.

The most complete wall was relocated to Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery in the 1960s and the remaining Merzbarn site has been used as an arts centre and museum since 2005.

Postcript

Architects wishing to support the restoration may contact Arts Council chief executive Darren Henley darren.henley@artscouncil.org.uk

Further comment

Harriet Harriss, senior tutor in interior design and architecture, Royal College of Art

Kurt Schwitters Cumbria-situated reconstruction of the Merzbau has long been considered a vital contribution to the world of contemporary art, but it also plays an essential role within the canon of British modernist architecture too.

The original Merzbau in Hanover - considered ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazi’s - can be credited for making DADAism inhabitable, and providing the DNA behind our continuing spatial preoccupation with textural layering, sequential narratives and materiality collages.

The Merzbarn even offers a tacit but playful critique of the Baroque predilection for distorted perception, but this time stripped bare of its fussy baubles and ornamentation.

Even if our choice of weapon is stealthy neglect, the result is still the same. In letting the Merzbarn self-destruct, we simply finishing off the job that the Nazi’s started. By implication, the question then becomes what’s next?

 

 

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It hardly seems worth getting hot under the collar about. Schwitters's Merzbarn was removed in 1965 complete with the wall to which it was attached and installed at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle University. What was left before the storm was the remnants of the old barn on a landscape gardener's land. That has some cultural and sentimental value, but no more.
    Incidentally, the photographer Bob Smithies and I, both working for The Guardian, were the only journalists at the removal, which just about indicates the level of interest at the time. A prime mover in the project, Richard Hamilton, then teaching at Newcastle University, and, I think, his partner Rita Donagh, were there too. The Tate (well before Nicholas Serota's time) had been offered the Merzbarn free if it would pay he costs of removal. It took advice that it would be costly and too risky. Newcastle, with Hamilton a prime influence, decided otherwise and the removal was a magnificent feat.
    Michael McNay

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