John Wells

Tickets on the Wall

Kurt Schwitters


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There is a faint smell of floorpolish in the rooms given over to the Kurt Schwitters Exhibition at the Tate, and an equally faint but all-pervasive recording of Schwitters reciting his own poetry. It comes from a bakelite radio set in a corner of the central room, an unending sequence of incantations, rhythmically repeated vowel sounds and gabbled fragments of words, sometimes rising to a climax, sometimes just droning on, but never stopping for more than a second or two of scratchy silence. On the weekday morning I was there the rooms were virtually deserted, and the gallery attendants seemed oppressed and irritated by it: a humourless, grey, nasal voice, a lunatic gabbling to himself in a padded cell, long ago and far away, but still conveying pain in 1985.

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