AAJ Press
Architecture & Design, Art & Public Space, Uncategorized

Kurt Schwitters. Merz Barn – International Appeal


Kurt Schwitters,  Merz Barn, 1950s


“.in this condition the Merz Barn won’t survive another storm.”   Andrew Shepherd, Architectural Heritage Consultant. 9/2/2016

An appeal to the international art community to support Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn.   Recent storms have threatened the Merz Barn building created in 1948, and located in a remote woodland in the Langdale valley, Cumbria, NW England. A project is underway to assist the recovery and restoration of Schwitters’ last Merzbau project; the Elterwater Merz Barn. The international fundraising campaign is vital to pay for restoration work and support the documentation and development of the project in the longer term.


The Merz Barn project is an outstanding contribution to the understanding of contemporary art, not only in this country but in the world-art context.  It has taken great care and work to bring this to fruition.  It speaks enormously well of Cumbria and of us as a nation, and will undoubtedly be a focus of interest for decades to come.  To think that it will crumble away for the sake of a modest grant speaks very badly of the Arts Council’s priorities, especially in the more remote parts of England.  I do hope this will be reconsidered.   Lord Bragg, 10.6.14


Kurt Schwitters, Merz Barn, December 2015


During his lifetime Schwitters worked on several Merzbauten.   The most important of these was the work was the Hanover Merzbau, built in his parent’s house in Hanover, 1923-36.  This was lost in a bombing raid at the end of WWII. It exists now only as contemporary photographs commissioned by Schwitters in the early 1930s.  The Swiss set designer Peter Bissegger used these to create a reconstruction for the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.

After his exile to Norway, Schwitters began work on a new Merzbau, the Haus am Bakken at Lysaker near Oslo, 1937-40.  This was also lost, in a fire during the 1950s.

After his arrival in England, Schwitters heard of the destruction of the Hanover Merzbau, and he was desperate to resume what he considered to be his lifetime’s work, and create a final, permanent Merzbau.  When he arrived in Ambleside he started work transforming an old shed into a completely new work that he called the Merz Bar,n on Harry Pierce’s estate, Cylinders, outside Elterwater.

Left unfinished after the artist died in January 1948, the almost forgotten Merz Barn was neglected for many years until Richard Hamilton arranged for the surviving art work to be removed for safe keeping to the University of Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery in 1965, where it is now on public view.

The Merz Barn building survives and is now owned by the Littoral Trust, and can be visited free of charge.  The Cylinders site and associated buildings are used for exhibitions and artists’ residencies and projects, including an annual D.I.Y. Summer School in July, and an autumn event and guest lecture.




About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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