QUOTING: “The Origin of Merz” or “the painting’s cheek”

“THE ORIGIN OF MERZ.”

BY KURT SCHWITTERS,

I had a so-called friend, he was a doctor, his name was Schenzinger. I was to paint his portrait. He was constantly occupied, constantly working, and so he wanted to play piano at the sitting. He said that I’d be better able to capture his character if he were moving a little.

Next to me lay a beer mat.

I ardently set about trying to interpret his character from his movements and have it christallise in the painting. He played the ‘Mondsheinsonate’, final movement.

Next to me lay the beer-mat.

Such a beer-mat, for example, is characteristic for a beer glass with beer and a beer-drinker, not for Dr Justus Bier, the tailor from Riemen.

And the round shape…

Suddenly I had a brilliant, perhaps not so brilliant, in any case an inspiration. I stood up, smeared the reverse of the beer-mat with not just paste but red paint and used that to stick it on the cheek of the profile portrait I had painted. It reached from ear to nose, in so far as one can speak of the nose and the ear of an oil painting.

Dr Schenzinger suddenly stood up. The Mondscheinsonate fell silent.

“What have you done?” Schenzinger asked suddenly.

“What have I done?” I answered, my voice quivering. “What I’ve done, I’ve done”, I said firmly.

“You stuck a beer-mat on my cheek!” Dr Schenzinger said angrily.

I nonchalantly stuck the beer-mat , on the painting’s cheek, in so far as one can speak of cheek of a painting, this painting that is to characterise you” I said wearily.

“Take it off!” Dr Scheinzinger commanded.

“I’m happy it’s on there!”

“Take the beer-mat off.”

“I won’t do it!”

“Then I’ll take it off!”

“Don’t do that! You’ll destroy the unity of the work.”

“The beer-mat is an insult to me.”

“The beer-mat characterises you somehow.”

“How can I be characterised by a beer-mat?”

“I can’t say exactly how, but it does, I feel it.”

“Because it’s round?”

“And somewhat fuzzy. Perhaps.”

“And made of pulp?”

“Because you are not made of pulp.”

Then he tried to be cunning and said, “And perhaps it expresses the Mondscheinsonate too?”

“The Mondscheinsonate? The Mondscheinsonate by Dr Mondschein?”

I happen to know Dr Mondschein, he was a dentist originally and used the slogan: “Mondschein – schont mein.” (Mondschien – takes care of mine).

“O.K., maybe he had written it originally, in any case, he gave the briliant tip to Beethoven. Where do you stand on the question of whether the beer-mat expresses Beethoven?”

“Sir,” I said, “Do you think that you yourself express Beethoven? And that picture is supposed to be a portrait of your nature”

At that, Mr Schenzinger left and closed the door behind him.

from “Schwitters I is Style.” pub. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2000. p.102 – 103.

of course i can’t do this story justice. the copy i have has a – rather marvelous – stain of what should probably be tea trickling down p103.

 

 

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