On an island out in the Moldefjord you can find an old cabin which is in every aspect very unusual. The almost twelve square meter organism on Hjertøya is made of stone, an untraditional material for such a building in this area. First and foremost, it has for many years housed one of the leading figures of European modernism. Learn more about a German artist’s island stable in Norway.
One of the few surviving Merzbau by the German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters established a home in Norway. In 2016, the Romsdal Museum in Molde unveiled Schwitters’ three-dimensional collage, considered a forerunner of installation. The existence of the cabin had until then been a good preserved secret internationally.
Romsdals museum calls it “Schwitters’ room”, where the interior from his Merzbau cabin at Hjertøya is at display. In addition to the cabin, you may see paintings, a sculpture and documentation of his life and artistic practice.
In the late 1930s, the German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) came to Norway for the first time, on holiday with his wife, and became a regular visitor in Molde from then on. He was closely associated with the avant-garde movement from the period around the First World War, primarily to the Dadaists, and known for experiments with sound, writing, sculpture and images.
Being a German, his presence at Hjertøya caused anxiety among the Norwegians, who believed him to be a spy. As a result, he moved to England in 1940, and the Merzbau was left to its own destiny for several decenniums.
The Merzbau has been transferred from the island of Hjerteoya, just south of the coastal city of Molde, where Schwitters gradually built it inside a former stable in the 1930s. The reassembled version is on permanent display.
During his years at Hjertøya Schwitters transformed his living quarters into what may best be described as an installation of its own. As his political views and artistic practice was not to the likings of the Nazis, his visits to Norway became more and more frequent. At Hjertøya he found an astonishing landscape that he transformed into beautiful paintings, but it´s his collages and installations of lost and found objects that has reserved him a place in international art history. His love of “trash objects” also led him to transform the small cottage he lived in, into a work of art; The Merzbau.
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The reconstructed cabin
The fact that the building was emptied of contents and moved to a reconstructed cabin in the new Reiulf Ramstad-designed Romsdals Museum in the center of Molde, therefore gives both academics and ordinary people the opportunity to study the remains of Schwitters and get to know the increasingly dramatic story of a continental artist rebel who chose to settle on a small island in the Norwegian province – almost in artistic solitude.
Conservation of the installation, which had fallen into despair, began in 2010. According to the museum, it was a very complicated process. Only one photograph from Schwitters’ time existed, depicting a corner of the barn. The staff has remained as faithful as possible to Schwitters’ vision, but had to remove some of the original plaster, which contained asbestos.
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The artist built two Merzbau in Norway, where he lived between 1937 and 1940 to escape the Nazis. The other installation, constructed outside Oslo, was destroyed in a fire in the 1950s.
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What is art and what is rubbish?
What can be seen at Romsdalsmuseet today, is a distinctly concrete example that what is art, and what is rubbish, depends on the eye that sees. Here are just a few of the more naturalistic pictures Schwitters painted in Norway, but it is paper clips, a coin, a pencil stub and fragile pieces of paper from the cabin that have been placed behind glass. The collage fragments are interesting, but the most striking thing about the “new” cabin is the fact that a forward-thinking German artist with a solid financial background for a long time chose to live under such spartan conditions.
A German Artist’s Island Stable in Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg