Période : XXe siècle
Ecole : Allemande
13.5 x 11.1
Signe et daté, en bas à gauche, K. Schwitters 1921, et titré, en bas à droite, Lustig
‘My aim is the total work of art [Gesamtkunstwerk], which combines all branches of art into an artistic unit… First I combined individual categories of art, I have pasted together poems from words and sentences so as to produce a rhythmic design. I have on the other hand pasted up pictures and drawings so that sentences could be read in them. I have driven nails into pictures so as to produce a plastic relief apart from the pictorial quality of the paintings. I did this so as to efface the boundaries between the arts.’
Kurt Schwitters 
Mz Lustig (Funny) is a classic early Merz-collage made at the height of the first, revolutionary phase of Schwitters’ career in 1921. A fusion of torn and cut-out paper fragments along with other detritus that has been glued together, it is a work that collectively transforms apparently random and broken forms, letters, shapes and images, into a new, unified and cohesive pictorial architecture.
Executed in 1921, Lustig is notable for being one of the earliest of Schwitters’ Merz-collages to comprise almost entirely of different types of typography: of individual letters, words and fragments of words.
As in these examples, the overall effect of their unique pictorial balancing act of dynamic and angular collisions of apparently nonsensical and contradictory word-fragments is one that, in some ways, visually echoes the daily onslaught of printed information that so dominated modern metropolitan life in post-war Germany in the form of newspapers, pamphlets, posters, advertisements, proclamations and manifestos. At the same time, these assemblages’ harmonious resolution of their broken words and imagery into a coherent pictorial unity is one that also reinforces Schwitters’ belief in there being an innate a relationship between the arts of poetry and assemblage and in there also being an ultimate healing potential of the art that he called ‘Merz’.
Indeed, for Schwitters, the origins of ‘Merz’ itself, lay ultimately in poetry. ‘To begin with,’ Schwitters explained, ‘I concerned myself with other art forms, for example poetry. Elements of poetry are letters, syllables, words, sentences. Poetry arises from the interaction of these elements. A word is played off against a word in poetry, …so too in an assemblage or a collage, ‘factor is played off against factor,’ material against material.
Lustig is one of Schwitters’ earliest Merz collages where this principle of attempting to intertwine and reconcile the two different syntaxes of words and imagery pictorially, has been achieved in a way that prefigures some of the artist’s later, more extensive experiments with typographic design in the mid-1920s.
The title of this collage, Lustig, or funny, is, appropriately, in this respect, one that itself probably derives from a fragment in the collage: the word ‘stig’ which can be read running vertically down the right-hand corner of the picture. As John Elderfield has written, ‘Schwitters’ titles, like his pictures themselves and the word-fragments in them, were intended to express, “what cannot be understood, what can only be seen.” Their meaning was an “abstract meaning” and they even constituted “a poem about the picture.”’
The title Lustig is also similar in this respect to that of the word ‘Merz’, which was itself a fragment that had first appeared in an assemblage of 1919 and derived from a label reading: ‘Kommerz und Privatbank.’ Schwitters then adopted this fragmented word as the title for his one-man artistic revolution in which the whole of art and life were to be merged through the ‘business’ of assembling fragments and detritus of modern life into new glorified forms and expressions of the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. Throughout this period, as his friend and neighbour Kate Steinitz, recalled, there, in Hannover, in the midst of all the chaos, poverty and disorder of the immediate post-war years, Schwitters was, frequently to be seen wandering the city streets, ‘a crazy, original genius-character, carelessly dressed, absorbed in his own thoughts, picking up all sorts of curious stuff... always getting down from his bike to pick up some colourful piece of paper that somebody had thrown away.’
Steinitz, who was later to make a study of typography and to collaborate with Schwitters on a number of experimental typographical publications in the mid-1920s was a life-long friend of the artist who may also, it appears, have at one time been the owner of Lustig.
In her memoir of the artist written in 1968 she recalls that amongst Schwitters favourite locations for sourcing his materials were printers’ premises, such as the Molling factory in Hannover, where lots of paper got thrown away. This factory, Steinitz recalled, ‘had a basement room for all the rubbish and wastepaper. All the proofs and misprints from the lithography department were broomed twice a day toward a chute that dumped them down into the cellar. This cellar was a treasure trove for Kurt. Whenever we couldn’t find him when it was time to go home, we would finally discover him squatting or kneeling in the midst of the discarded paper, carefully sorting...’
 K. Schwitters, Merz, 1920, quoted in J. Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, New York, 1985, p. 44.
 Other early examples of this type include Starkbild of 1919 in the Menil Collection at Houston, Zeichnung F of 1920 in the MoMA, New York, and Mai 191 of 1920 in the Schwitters Estate.
 Kurt Schwitters, Holland Dada, 1923, p. 11, quoted in Elderfield, op. cit., 1985, p. 43.
 K. Traumann Steinitz, Kurt Schwitters A Portrait from Life, Berkeley, 1968, p. 68.
 Together with Theo van Doesburg and Schwitters, Steinitz produced several children's fairy-tale books featuring unusual typography, including Hahnepeter (1924), Die Märchen vom Paradies (1924-25), and Die Scheuche (1925).
K. Orchard et I. Schulz, Kurt Schwitters, catalogue raisonné, vol. I, 1905-1922, Hannover, 2000, cat. n. 902, illustré
Marcia and Frederick R. Weisman, Beverly Hills, 1950 (selon l’étiquette au verso)
Kate Steinitz (Beuthen 1898–1975 Los Angeles), Los Angeles (une étiquette d’un photograph allemand, Photo Frost, Bad Pyrmont, adressée à Steinitz)
Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, aprés 1962 (leur etiquette, n. 1044, au verso)
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, aprés 1963 (leur etiquette, n. NON 2040, au verso)
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne (leur etiquette au verso)
Galerie Michel Couturier and Cie., Paris, en 1970, par descendance
Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Berlin, Akademie der Künste; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Basel, Kunsthalle; et Hamburg, Kunstverein, Kurt Schwitters, 1971, cat. n. 62, illustré
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