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Montage and Totality: Kurt Schwitters's relationship to "tradition" and "avant-garde"

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Kurt Schwitters discussed his work in terms associated with traditional concepts of art, while at the same time adhering to the non-traditional technique of collage. Peter B├╝rger's influential Theory of the Avant-Garde is limited in that it does not allow an artist like Schwitters to be considered avant-garde. A productive theory of the avant-garde is one that accounts for artists such as Schwitters, who do not simply oppose tradition, but transform it in their work. Within the critical literature there is still a tendency to focus on Schwitters's supposed separation and isolation from society at large. A discussion in this essay of works from drawings and paintings to the collages demonstrates how Schwitters transformed nineteenth and twentieth century ideas concerning the Gothic cathedral, leading to the merging of "private" and "public" in the Merzbau.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-03-15

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