Exhibition of internment prisoner’s art

Some of Schwitters' work

Some of Schwitters' work

Have your say

An exhibition of the work of the 20th century German artist Kurt Schwitters is to be held at the Sayle Gallery, Douglas, to mark the 65th anniversary of his death.

It will also commemorate his internment on the Isle of Man during the Second World War.

‘Kurt Schwitters: Responses to Place’ is being curated for the Sayle Gallery by Professor Fran Lloyd of Kingston University London, and is timed to follow the ‘Schwitters in Britain’ exhibition which took place at Tate Britain in London earlier this year, and more recently at the Sprengel Museum in Schwitters’ home city of Hannover.

The title ‘Responses to Place’ reflects Schwitters’ work created during and after his internment in the Hutchinson Square camp, in Douglas.

Despite writing in a letter to the New Statesman and Nation in August 1940 that ‘art cannot live behind barbed wire’, Schwitters was given an attic studio where he worked every day for almost a year and a half - with limited materials - and enjoyed the company of other internees and camp officials.

It was in fact a fertile and stimulating time, and the Sayle Gallery’s exhibition reflects this in both Schwitters’ own work, and in that of other Hutchinson Square internee artists also included in the exhibition.

Although often described as Dadaist, Schwitters described his own work as ‘Merz’ to distance it from other art movements such as cubism or futurism.

After the First World War, he was inspired by the changes in Germany and by the events of the Russian Revolution.

In 1919, Schwitters started to make collages and assemblages from found objects – creating new art from old items, much as he saw a new world emerging out of the war. Inevitably, this revolutionary art failed to meet the accepted criteria of the time.

Following the takeover by the Nazis in the 1930s, Schwitters’ work was prominently exhibited in the infamous ‘Degenerate Art’ shows in Germany, where art that did not meet the Nazis’ political agenda, or artistic vision, was condemned to ridicule.

t was this that prompted Kurt Schwitters’ flight from Germany in 1937, first to Norway to avoid arrest by the Gestapo and then, following the German invasion in 1940, to Scotland, where he was arrested by the British as an ‘enemy alien’ and sent to the Isle of Man.

Damian Ciappelli, Chairman of the Sayle Gallery, said: ‘The Sayle Gallery is delighted to be able to host this prestigious exhibition of Schwitters’ later work, and is especially grateful to the Tate, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and other public and private lenders for their generosity.

‘With the considerable support of the Isle of Man Arts Council and Manx Heritage Foundation, and drawing once again on the curatorial skills of Professor Fran Lloyd, we have been able to put together an exhibition of work by this influential artist with a particular connection and relevance to both Douglas and the Isle of Man, much of which is rarely seen.’

‘Kurt Schwitters: Responses to Place’ includes work loaned by the Tate, the Sprengel Museum, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside, the Hatton Gallery, Great North Museum, University of Newcastle, the Imperial War Museum, the Manx Museum, Douglas and various private collections.

Mr Ciappelli added: ‘At the Sayle Gallery we have two aims: to both promote art produced by artists connected to the Isle of Man and to enable visitors to see work which they’d otherwise have to go off the island to find. It is rare that we can combine both of these, and we’re indebted once again to David Wertheim of the Arts Council for his knowledge and perseverance in bringing together ‘Kurt Schwitters: Responses to Place’. It promises to be an historic and very exciting exhibition indeed.

The exhibition is sponsored by Zurich International Life. It will run from September 27 to October 27.

Back to the top of the page