Schwitters, Old Times and Thatcher’s style

by tobelikeafeatherby

Hi Sarah,

Those Merian paintings are lovely and very appropriate, since we’ve just had our first taste of Spring here in London.

Last week I went to see the Schwitters In Britain exhibition at Tate Britain. Schwitters left his home in Germany in 1937 after his work was deemed ‘degenerate‘ by the Nazi government.  Hitler said at a 1934 Nuremberg party rally that, “anyone who seeks the new for its own sake strays all too easily into the realm of folly”. Other artists labelled as degenerate included innovative modernist masters such as Kirchner, Chagall, Matisse, Picasso and van Gogh. The Nazi party launched a strategic attack on modern art; forbidding avant-garde artists from exhibiting and selling their work, even forbidding some artists from producing art entirely. Artists were even banned from using any colours not evident in nature, to the “normal eye” – give me a break.

Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) was also the title of an exhibition of modernist art, including work by the artists mentioned above, that was organised by the Nazis in 1937.

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Cover of the Degenerate Art exhibition program, 1937.
The African-inspired sculpture featured here would have been condemned for not fitting in with Aryan race ideology.

The show was chaotic and overcrowded and it included deriding descriptions of the works. It promoted the idea that modernist art was part of the Jewish-Bolshevist conspiracy that stood for the opposite of the Nazi ideals of racial purity, militarism and obedience.

Perhaps ironically the Degenerate Art exhibition was far more popular than an exhibition of Nazi sanctioned art, including the kitsch, heroic realist work of artists such as Adolf Ziegler, Hitler’s favourite artist.

Back to Schwitters; my favourite works in his exhibition were his collages that are a mishmash of materials, colours and words. The viewer can assemble their own narrative from the collages, much as Schwitters assembled the works themselves.

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Untitled (Quality Street), 1943.
This work includes fragments of discarded paper (and a Quality Street wrapper) found on the streets of London.

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“En Morn”, 1947

The collages are akin to what you might find stuck to the wall of a teenager’s bedroom; the mixture may seem random but actually holds personal significance.

Last week I also saw Old Times at the Harold Pinter Theatre, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams. I don’t want to gush but I enjoyed it more than anything I’ve seen at the theatre in a long time. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it twice, as Scott Thomas and Williams switched for different performances between playing the two female characters. A cynical reviewer wrote that this was a ploy to get people to pay to see the play twice – if so I fell for it – but it was interesting to see how differently the two actresses interpreted the two characters.

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Here we see Scott Thomas as a bold and confident Anna, and Williams as an introverted, sad Kate. Kate wore fab high waisted, dark red velvet trousers. The set design was notable for its considered simplicity.

The play opens with Kate and her husband Deeley (played by a very funny and slightly manic Sewell) discussing Anna, who was Kate’s flatmate twenty years ago, in the living room of their quiet house by the sea. Anna is coming to visit the couple. Once she arrives intense dialogue ensues between the three characters, as Deeley and Anna fight for the shy Kate’s attention. There is also sexual tension in the air as it is suggested that Kate and Anna used to be lovers, and Deeley and Anna flirt whilst Kate is out of the room.

The play looked at how we all have our own version of the truth, as Anna, Kate and Deeley all remember their days in London twenty years ago differently. There are also a few theories surrounding the play. One suggestion is that Kate and Anna are actually the same person; representing two different sides of a personality. Another possibility is that Kate is in fact dead and Anna and Deeley are reminiscing whilst it is really only Kate’s ghost that is also present. The different theories suggested are evidence of the mysterious, enigmatic nature of the play. I will definitely be looking out for more performances of Pinter’s plays.

Lastly, RIP to Margaret Thatcher. Politics aside, Thatcher should be revered for her strongly defined sense of style, which serves as a testament to the strength of her character. The lady was the Queen of ’80s power dressing, and she worked a navy skirt-suit, hat and handbag combo like no other.

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Thatcher on her wedding day in 1951.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn her wedding dress was an unconventional choice of navy-blue velvet, with a hat made with ostrich feathers.

Ellie

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