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Abstract

In 1937 the German artist Kurt Schwitters went into exile in Norway with his son Ernst. They had to go for political reasons: their involvement in resistance activities in Germany and the increasingly difficult situation under Nazi rule for modern art persecuted as “entartete Kunst”. In Norway landscape painting became a major focus in Schwitters’s artistic production, which seems to represent a departure from his previous avant-garde Merzkunst. A large part of his Norwegian landscapes were intended to meet the demand for conventional and kitsch landscapes among the tourist market in western Norway – his main source of income. In his landscape painting, however, an abstract idiom can still be observed. His previous work and reflections in the context of the Bauhaus functionalist constructivism indicate that Schwitters saw this painting not as a departure from “new art” but as a continuation in line with his previous avant-garde work. The abstract landscapes were a painterly translation of functionalist–constructivist photography into so-called “New Vision”. Through the obvious absence of “Nordic” iconography and elements popular in völkisch Nordicist representations of Norway, his landscapes also had an implicit political dimension by virtue of their clear contrast with this Nordicism, which was a major vein in the Nazi campaign against “degenerate art”, but also in conservative and fascist conceptions of a Norwegian national art. Being a victim of the Nazi campaign himself, Schwitters had been a firm opponent of nationalism and “national art” since the early 1920s. In Norway he had to abstain from politics in order not to endanger his exile status. His abstract Norwegian landscapes speak a clear language, though, not by what they say but what they omit.

In: A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950
In: Anarchia

Abstract

In 1937 the German artist Kurt Schwitters went into exile in Norway with his son Ernst. They had to go for political reasons: their involvement in resistance activities in Germany and the increasingly difficult situation under Nazi rule for modern art persecuted as “entartete Kunst”. In Norway landscape painting became a major focus in Schwitters’s artistic production, which seems to represent a departure from his previous avant-garde Merzkunst. A large part of his Norwegian landscapes were intended to meet the demand for conventional and kitsch landscapes among the tourist market in western Norway – his main source of income. In his landscape painting, however, an abstract idiom can still be observed. His previous work and reflections in the context of the Bauhaus functionalist constructivism indicate that Schwitters saw this painting not as a departure from “new art” but as a continuation in line with his previous avant-garde work. The abstract landscapes were a painterly translation of functionalist–constructivist photography into so-called “New Vision”. Through the obvious absence of “Nordic” iconography and elements popular in völkisch Nordicist representations of Norway, his landscapes also had an implicit political dimension by virtue of their clear contrast with this Nordicism, which was a major vein in the Nazi campaign against “degenerate art”, but also in conservative and fascist conceptions of a Norwegian national art. Being a victim of the Nazi campaign himself, Schwitters had been a firm opponent of nationalism and “national art” since the early 1920s. In Norway he had to abstain from politics in order not to endanger his exile status. His abstract Norwegian landscapes speak a clear language, though, not by what they say but what they omit.

In: A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950