The last fragment of the Merz Barn, by Kurt Schwitters, Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle.

The Cathedral of Erotic Misery

Kurt Schwitters life’s work, theMerz-bau & Merz-barn series began in his family home, in Hanover, Germany in the  early 1920’s. The first Merz-bau, Schwitters referred to as the K.d.e.E. (Kthedraledeserotischenmisery), Cathedral of Erotic Misery.  The interior of this work presented a ‘romantic’ series of grottos and seemingly bizarre figure arrangements.

The Merz-Bau or Merz column (Merz-Saule) rose through two floors of his home. It took over the entire interior space not needed for life and it thrust its way through an exterior  wall to stretch outside. Geometrical surfaces concealed earlier works, and grotto’s dedicated to various personalities and fetishes abounded.

The Merz-Bau and Merz-Barn required complete sensory appreciation –  there was architecture, collage,painting,sculpture and a great deal of theater.

Schwitters  provided a detailed description of the form, contents and meaning of his Merzbau,ranging from the reason for the abbreviated title(“We live in a time of abbreviations”(Quoted Here) to naming the individual grotto’s. Initially a column rose in one room of his house like a tower. This column was divided into irregular segments by platforms and vertical divisions. Interior walls were then pierced to allow access to the various grottos but sliding doors,movable platforms and secret compartments allowed selective access to certain areas.

Schwitters stated that the only three people that were capable of understanding the Merz-bau were Herwarth Walden, Dr.S.Giedeon and Hans Arp and he may well have been correct.The Merz-bau appears to have been an extremely puzzling experience.The essentially erotic imagery of the grotto’s coupled with the layers of literary and autobiographical allusion contained within specific grottos create an image too dense to absorb easily. The Goethe Cave,The Niebelungen Cave, The Cave of the Murders, The Cave of the Deprecated, Caves of Hero Worship, Cave of Friendship, An Arp Cave,Moholy-Nagy Cave, Gabo Cave, Mondrian Cave,each presented the viewer with a different image, each forced the spectator to examine it in isolation.

A photograph of the Merz Barn in situ, taken by Kurt Schwitters son Ernst is at the end of this link!

A link to the same site, with excellent photos of the recreated Merz-bau, the original was destoryed during WWII.

Quoted above is Steinitz,K.T.,’KurtSchwitters:A Portrait From Life’,