Schwitters, Arp, Miró and Isa Genzken

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A century has passed since a handful of artists hanging out at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich changed the course of art history. In 1916, having escaped to neutral Switzerland in the midst of World War I, poet/artists Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara conceptualized Dada, a nonsense word meant to characterize an anti-art, one that reflected the insanity of mechanized warfare and class hierarchies.

Dada found support among artists throughout Europe, the most famous today being Marcel Duchamp. The excellent exhibition at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel reveals connections between others who were influenced by Dadaist notions: Kurt Schwitters, Joan Miró and Hans Arp. It is on view through January 8, 2017.

Kurt Schwitters, "Merzpicture 1B Picture with Red Cross, 1919."
Collage, oil, gouache, paper, cardboard and canvas paperboard
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Courtesy Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Foundation, Sammlung Deutsche Bank and Hauser & Wirth

Schwitters, in particular, is of interest due to his influence on the LA art scene of the 1960s. Curator Walter Hopps showed his work at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962 and the artist's combination of word collage with found objects had a major effect on the evolution of assemblage and pop art by artists Ed Ruscha, Ed Kienholz, Wallace Berman, George Herms and others. 

Kurt Schwitters, "Untitled (Standard, with Wood)," 1947
Assemblage, paper, wood and paperboard on paper nailed
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

Schwitters initially called his works "merz" after a fragment of the word "commerz," or commerce, that he had collaged on a picture in 1918. He called the elaborate installation of angular wood structures that he built in his Hanover home a Merzbau. Though associated with Dada, Schwitters did not embrace the politics and nihilism. His work was "about art" rather than "anti-art." He extended the shattered spaces and forms of the Cubists beyond painting by layering poems, newspaper clippings, pictures and small objects. He was influenced by his friend Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp), who had seen the collages of Picasso in 1914. Eventually, he began layering curving organic shapes atop one another to create sculptural abstract reliefs as well as sculptures. 

Hans Arp, "Head; Scottish Lips," 1927
Cardboard and paint
© Stiftung Arp e.V. Berlin/Rolandswerth / 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Arp also had an effect on the work of Joan Miró after 1926 when they lived in adjacent studios on the Rue de Tourlaque in Paris. Miró’s abstract surrealism matured and he occasionally added found objects and papers to his paintings. Surrealism grew out of Dada and Miró was a pioneer declaring in 1929 that he was out to assassinate painting. Schwitters regularly visited his friends in Paris and as the trio of artists shared their ideas, their work grew ever more adventurous.

Joan Miró, "Composition," 1927
Oil on canvas
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

World War II brought an end to this creative oasis. The Merzbau that Schwitters had built in his home was destroyed in a 1943 bombing though he built other versions after fleeing to Norway and then England, where he died in 1948. The other artists had longer careers. Arp lived in France and Switzerland until his death in 1966. The show includes his large bronze sculptures. With the German invasion of Paris, Miró returned to Spain. Though not known as an artist of political inclination, the show includes his powerful 1973 burlap painting with chunky rope attached to the surface and a swatch of blood red cloth, references to the dictatorship of Franco. Miró died in 1983.

Joan Miró, "Painting-Object," 1950
Oil on log with sheet of rag, string and ripped packing cardboard thumbtacked or nailed to the wood
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Organized by Dieter Buchhart for the gallery’s Zurich location, the show was expanded for the large L.A. space to include 90 works including loans from museums and private collectors. The gallery claims that it is the first "large scale treatment" of works by Arp in LA. While there are not a great number of major pieces — most are modest in scale — the show qualifies as a proper historic view of the mutual influence and friendly evolution of the three artists.

Isa Genzken, "Untitled," 2016
Globe, feather, plastic toy figures, hand grubber, artificial rose, carpet, tape, spray paint, wooden pedestal,
six paper bags with tape, plastic tube, plastic card and photograph

Another German artist with a history in LA is Isa Genzken, who titled her show "I Love Michael Asher" in recognition of the late legendary artist and Cal Arts teacher. Genzken met him on her first trip to LA in 1977 and insisted that he taught her about the "architecture of edge, not volume." Using the principles, Genzken has recreated a version of her Berlin studio within HWS gallery. Not literally but limned via objects and the outlines of spaces made with day-glo strips of hazard tape. A pair of gilt-framed mirrors are hung opposite one another in a doppleganger of infinite reflection. In addition, Genzken’s towering sculpture of a single rose stands like an offering in the courtyard. The show is on view through December 31.

While there, check out the newly opened Manuela in the building’s courtyard, named after gallery co-owner Manuela Wirth. Chef Wes Whitsell will be using eggs from the live chickens and vegetables from the gardens both now flourishing in one of the exterior spaces of the gallery. Raymond Pettibon was commissioned to paint a mural of his Va-voom character in the private dining room while the larger space has a map of LA by Mark Bradford. Open for lunch now, dinners begin October 26.