john elderfield

An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success, etc. Did not the Goncourt brothers write that Japanese artists of the great period changed their names several times during their lives? This pleases me: they wanted to protect their freedom.
—  John Elderfield, from The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse

Kurt Schwitters (1985)

The 1985 exhibition Kurt Schwitters was an extraordinarily comprehensive presentation of the career of this key modernist figure. A clear labor of love, it ranks among the most important shows organized by John Elderfield, who was MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture and had written his dissertation on the artist. The exhibition explored the diverse breadth of Schwitters’s achievement, whose totality, wrote Elderfield in his benchmark-setting catalogue, is “extremely difficult to grasp.” It was replete with the evocative collages Schwitters made from found materials and for which he is best known. These were the product of a one-man movement he called Merz, a direct reaction to the chaos and destruction of World War I: “Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of fragments,” Schwitters wrote, “and this is Merz.” Many works that were on view in this exhibition can no longer travel because of their fragility, making this the Schwitters show for all time.

Read the out-of-print catalogue, see exhibition views, and more at

“Music is loose and tight at the same time. A painting is a strongly structured picture. The main thing is, is it interesting in its own right? Is it something worth seeing? In either case, the only relationship I see between the two is the idea not to repeat yourself, not to fall into any set patterns. Every standpoint has to be different.” —Bob Dylan, From “John Elderfield in conversation with Bob Dylan,” in “Bob Dylan: The Asia Series” (New York: Gagosian, 2011) On this day, May 24, the singer, songwriter, painter, and Nobel Prize winner was born in Duluth, Minnesota.
Image: Bob Dylan, “Labelle Cascade,” 2009, acrylic and oil on canvas, 48 × 60 inches (121.9 × 152.4 cm) © Bob Dylan.