In Zurich, the walls of Galerie Gmurzynska’s latest exhibition, Kurt Schwitters: Merz, ripple and swell with the last art installation designed by Zaha Hadid.
For the year and a half before her unexpected death in March, Hadid had been working with the gallery on an exhibition that would pay homage to the late Dada artist, an influential force in her own work.
With sinuous reliefs curving along the left-side walls, culminating in a cave-like display area where the art hangs on an asymmetrical pair of protruding lobes, the gallery brims with Hadid’s signature curvilinear style while referencing the organic elements of Schwitters’ framed reliefs.
Hadid pulled inspiration for the exhibition directly from one of Schwitters’ seminal pieces, the Merzbau—a room-sized architectural collage of grottos, columns, and found objects—and “translated it into her own vocabulary,” says Gmurzynska CEO Mathias Rastorfer, who worked directly with Hadid on this project.
Like Hadid, Schwitters was also an inventor of his own formal language. He made up the word “merz” to describe his body of work, which comprised abstract collages in various forms—merz-drawing, merz-painting, and merz-building. When Schwitters’ last surviving Merzbau was damaged by a storm, the gallery donated £25,000 ($35,500) to its repair efforts at Hadid’s suggestion. “She called me asking, ‘Shouldn’t we do something?’” Rastorfer recalls.
The exhibition has special resonance to Hadid’s career. In 2010, she covered the gallery’s interior with explosive geometric drawings for a survey of Kazimir Malevich, the Russian Suprematist artist she often cited as a great inspiration. “You start with Zaha and her very angular shaped buildings—the Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong or other early projects—and see that they were inspired by Malevich,” says Rastorfer, “while the round, organic forms of her later work show a greater relationship with Schwitters.”
Both shows synthesized the origins of a singular career cut short—that of an artist in her own right.