In opening the exhibition in the Sayle Gallery on Thursday evening (September 26) President of Tynwald, the Hon. Clare Christian highlighted Kurt Schwitters’ achievements as an Expressionist painter, Dadaist, writer, poet, sculptor and creator of Merz, describing him as an extraordinary man. She said, “we are indeed privileged to have in the Isle of Man in this Gallery, an exhibition of this quality, of a man who was so important and influential. Merz reflected the creation of something new out of the old – a metaphor really for the rebuilding of something original out of the rubble and destruction of the First World War.” Using Schwitters own words: ‘everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of fragments and this is Merz. The word denotes the essential combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes.’ She went on to say that: “The Hutchinson Square Camp was brimming with intellectuals, artists and musicians. and became the “university camp” of the Island under the leadership of Klaus Hinrichsen. The Camp Commandant, Captain Daniel, fortunately had an enlightened outlook and did his best to secure materials that would enable the artistic endeavour of the inmates to continue.” In welcoming Captain Daniel’s son, Peter Daniel, she said: “It’s wonderful to meet someone who has been through what was going on in Hutchinson Square.”
In conclusion, Clare Christian commented that: “Though Kurt Schwitters wasn’t recognised widely in his lifetime it is a great blessing that fortunately he was absolutely in no doubt at all about his contribution to the world of art. Towards the end of his life he said: ‘It will be 60 years before people understand who I am.’ This year is the 65th anniversary of his death and his prescience is being transformed into a reality through the major exhibitions, which are being held in Britain and in Hannover, which have extended awareness of his work and his influence to a huge audience. Now we have the opportunity to be exposed to the work of Kurt Schwitters, in this exhibition: ‘Responses to Place’. I hope it will be appreciated and enjoyed by all of those who already know his work, but more particularly that it will introduce many other people to this extraordinary artist and he will be appreciated by a wider Manx audience.”
Professor Fran Lloyd, who has curated the exhibition, spoke of the importance locally, nationally and internationally as well as the legacy of the so many extremely gifted people who were interned on the Isle of Man. She said that it was an absolute honour to have curated the exhibition. It would not have been possible without the tremendous support of a great many people and organisations, including the Tate and the Sprengel Museum in Hannover. This support has been forthcoming because this exhibition was bringing Schwitters back here to the Isle of Man. What he produced [whilst interned in Douglas] is so much of the island, the views of the landscape and the people he met including so many of the artists. This exhibition focuses on Schwitters in Douglas and the legacy and the friendship that is there.
Fran Lloyd read the following message from Gretl Hinrichsen:
“My husband, Klaus Hinrichsen, was a 27 year old art historian when he was interned for 11 months at Hutchinson Camp in 1940. He wasn’t unhappy during this time which was intellectually stimulating and he made a lot of friends particularly with the artists. Once Klaus was released he spent the rest of his life championing the work of these artists and generally raising awareness of internment and the extraordinary creativity it produced.
Klaus always believed that had many of the artists who came to Hutchinson not been forced to flee their names and work would now be far more widely recognised and be in the forefront of German art. He would have been delighted with this exhibition and the importance the Isle of Man continues to give to this period of its history.
Also I would like to remember my friend – the wonderful Wantee who was such a comfort to Schwitters in his final years in Britain. She would have been so happy with the belated acclaim he is now receiving.
I am sorry I will not be with you and thank Fran Lloyd and David Wertheim for everything they have done and hope the exhibition is a huge success.”
Finally Fran Lloyd introduced Peter Daniel, who said it was wonderful to see such a tribute to his father and to be back in the Isle of Man. Although he did not meet Kurt Schwitters whilst living with his parents in the Bowling Green Hotel (the officers’ mess) he recounted how Schwitters had collected uneaten porridge after breakfast to build a Merz structure in his bedroom apparently causing the floor to collapse!
The exhibition is open to the public free of charge from Friday, 27 September to Sunday 27 October. A programme of related events is available from the Gallery.