Opened by Customs
Kurt Schwitters, Opened by Customs 1937-8 © DACS 2002
This work is a collage made from different types of low quality paper such as packaging, wrapping and newsprint, which have then been overlaid in places by strokes of oil paint and crayon marks. It is small in size, measuring 33.1 cm by 25.3cm, or slightly larger than an A4 piece of paper. The white paper support has buckled badly and the overall colour is now a yellowy brown, as the original colours have faded badly. Amongst the various collage elements, certain items stand out. Most notable are a partially visible torn photograph of a man in a suit in the bottom right corner, a page of typed Norwegian text covered with strokes of coloured paint in the bottom left corner, a colourful fruit wrapping slightly right of centre and at the top, three partially obscured German custom labels stamped with Hanover postage marks. It is this last element that gives the work its title.
Kurt Schwitters’ life was marked by travel and exile. He was born and trained in Germany but in 1938 he emigrated to Norway for his own safety after his art was declared ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. A few years later when Norway was invaded he fled to Britain, where he spent seventeen months in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, before moving to London on his release in 1941. Then when the war ended he settled in the Lake District where he lived until his death in 1948.