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Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile
Robert Motherwell Book Award 2015
The winner of the 2015 Robert Motherwell Book Award is Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile (The University of Chicago Press) by Megan R Luke. The award carries a $10,000 prize for the author.
German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) is best known for his pioneering work in fusing collage and abstraction, the two most transformative innovations of twentieth-century art. Considered the father of installation art, Schwitters was also a theorist and a writer whose influence extends from Robert Rauschenberg and Eva Hesse to Thomas Hirschhorn. But while his early experiments in collage and installation from the interwar period have garnered much critical acclaim, his later work has generally been ignored. In the first book to fill this gap, Megan R. Luke tells the fascinating, even moving story of the work produced by the aging, isolated artist under the Nazi regime and during his years in exile.
Combining new biographical material with archival research, Luke surveys Schwitters’s experiments in shaping space and the development of his Merzbau, describing his haphazard studios in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom and the smaller, quieter pieces he created there. She makes a case for the great relevance of Schwitters’s aesthetic concerns to contemporary artists, arguing that his later work provides a guide to new narratives about modernism in the visual arts. His late works, she shows, were born of artistic exchange and shaped by his rootless life after exile, and they offer a new way of thinking about the history of art. Packed with images, Kurt Schwitters completes the narrative of an artist who remains a considerable force today.
Megan R. Luke is assistant professor of art history at the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the advent of abstraction and collage, the history of photography and art reproduction, and the intersection of avant-garde art and mass culture, particularly early cinema.
The jury also awarded an Honorable Mention to Marius Hentea for his book TaTa Dada: The Real Life and Celestial Adventures of Tristan Tzara, published by The MIT Press. TaTa Dada is the first English-language biography of the influential artist Tristan Tzara. Hentea offers a detailed exploration of Tzara’s early life in Romania, neglected by other scholars; a scrupulous assessment of the Dada years; and an original examination of Tzara’s life and works after Dada.