History of Modern Art: Dada

Dada was an informal international movement, with participants in Europe and North America. The beginnings of Dada correspond to the outbreak of World War I. For many participants, the movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests, which many Dadaists believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformity—in art and more broadly in society—that corresponded to the war.

Marcel Duchamp - Fountain

Marcel Duchamp – Fountain

Many Dadaists believed that the ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war.They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality.For example, George Grosz later recalled that his Dadaist art was intended as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction.”

According to Hans Richter, Dada was not art, it was “anti-art.”Everything for which art stood, Dada represented the opposite.Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend.

As Hugo Ball expressed it, “For us, art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that: “Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.

Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, a “reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide.”

Years later, Dada artists described the movement as:

a phenomenon bursting forth in the midst of the postwar economic and moral crisis, a savior, a monster, which would lay waste to everything in its path… [It was] a systematic work of destruction and demoralization… In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege.

In 1916, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp, Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Sophie Täuber, and Hans Richter, along with others, discussed art and put on performances in the Cabaret Voltaire expressing their disgust with the war and the interests that inspired it.

Some sources state that Dada coalesced on October 6 at the Cabaret Voltaire. Other sources state that Dada did not originate fully in a Zurich literary salon but grew out of an already vibrant artistic tradition in Eastern Europe, particularly Romania, that transposed to Switzerland when a group of modernist artists (Tzara, Marcel & Iuliu Iancu, Arthur Segal, and others) settled in Zurich. In the years prior to World War I similar art had already risen in Bucharest and other Eastern European cities; it is likely that DADA’s catalyst was the arrival in Zurich of artists like Tzara and Janco.

Having left Germany and Romania during World War I, the artists found themselves in Switzerland, a country recognized for its neutrality. Inside this space of political neutrality they decided to use abstraction to fight against the social, political, and cultural ideas of that time. The dadaists believed those ideas to be a byproduct of bourgeois society, a society so apathetic it would rather fight a war against itself than challenge the status quo.

When World War I ended in 1918, most of the Zurich Dadaists returned to their home countries, and some began Dada activities in other cities. Others, such as Swiss native Sophie Täuber, would remain in Zurich into the 1920s.

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The groups in Germany were not as strongly anti-art as other groups. Their activity and art were more political and social, with corrosive manifestos and propaganda, satire, public demonstrations and overt political activities. It has been suggested that this is at least partially due to Berlin’s proximity to the front, and that for an opposite effect, New York’s geographic distance from the war spawned its more theoretically-driven, less political nature

Like Zurich, New York City was a refuge for writers and artists from World War I. Soon after arriving from France in 1915, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia met American artist Man Ray. By 1916 the three of them became the center of radical anti-art activities in the United States. American Beatrice Wood, who had been studying in France, soon joined them, along with Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Arthur Cravan, fleeing conscription in France, was also present for a time. Much of their activity centered in Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, 291, and the home of Walter and Louise Arensberg.

The New Yorkers, though not particularly organized, called their activities Dada, but they did not issue manifestos. They issued challenges to art and culture through publications such as The Blind ManRongwrong, and New York Dada in which they criticized the traditionalist basis for museum art. New York Dada lacked the disillusionment of European Dada and was instead driven by a sense of irony and humor. In his book Adventures in the arts: informal chapters on painters, vaudeville and poets Marsden Hartley included an essay on “The Importance of Being ‘Dada'”.

During this time Duchamp began exhibiting “readymades” (everyday objects found or purchased and declared art) such as a bottle rack, and was active in the Society of Independent Artists. In 1917 he submitted the now famous Fountain, a urinal signed R. Mutt, to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition only to have the piece rejected. First an object of scorn within the arts community, the Fountain has since become almost canonized by some as one of the most recognizable modernist works of sculpture.

The committee presiding over Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize in 2004, for example, called it “the most influential work of modern art.” As recent scholarship documents, the work is likely more collaborative than it has been given credit for in twentieth-century art history. Duchamp indicates in a 1917 letter to his sister that a female friend was centrally involved in the conception of this work.

As he writes: “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.” The piece is more in line with the scatological aesthetics of Duchamp’s friend and neighbour, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, than Duchamp’s.

In an attempt to “pay homage to the spirit of Dada” a performance artist named Pierre Pinoncelli made a crack in The Fountain with a hammer in January 2006; he also urinated on it in 1993.

Picabia’s travels tied New York, Zurich and Paris groups together during the Dadaist period. For seven years he also published the Dada periodical 391 in Barcelona, New York City, Zurich, and Paris from 1917 through 1924.

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By 1921, most of the original players moved to Paris where Dada experienced its last major incarnation in neo-dada.

The French avant-garde kept abreast of Dada activities in Zurich with regular communications from Tristan Tzara (whose pseudonym means “sad in country,” a name chosen to protest the treatment of Jews in his native Romania), who exchanged letters, poems, and magazines with Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Max Jacob, Clément Pansaers, and other French writers, critics and artists.

Paris had arguably been the classical music capital of the world since the advent of musical Impressionism in the late 19th century. One of its practitioners, Erik Satie, collaborated with Picasso andCocteau in a mad, scandalous ballet called Parade. First performed by the Ballets Russes in 1917, it succeeded in creating a scandal but in a different way than Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps had done almost five years earlier. This was a ballet that was clearly parodying itself, something traditional ballet patrons would obviously have serious issues with.

Dada in Paris surged in 1920 when many of the originators converged there. Inspired by Tzara, Paris Dada soon issued manifestos, organized demonstrations, staged performances and produced a number of journals (the final two editions of DadaLe Cannibale, and Littérature featured Dada in several editions.)

The first introduction of Dada artwork to the Parisian public was at the Salon des Indépendants in 1921. Jean Crotti exhibited works associated with Dada including a work entitled, Explicatif bearing the word Tabu. In the same year Tzara staged his Dadaist play The Gas Heart to howls of derision from the audience. When it was re-staged in 1923 in a more professional production, the play provoked atheatre riot (initiated by André Breton) that heralded the split within the movement that was to produce Surrealism. Tzara’s last attempt at a Dadaist drama was his “ironic tragedy” Handkerchief of Cloudsin 1924.

While broad, the movement was unstable. By 1924 in Paris, Dada was melding into surrealism, and artists had gone on to other ideas and movements, including surrealism, social realism and other forms of modernism. Some theorists argue that Dada was actually the beginning of postmodern art.

By the dawn of World War II, many of the European Dadaists had emigrated to the United States. Some died in death camps under Adolf Hitler,who persecuted the kind of “Degenerate art” that Dada represented. The movement became less active as post-World War II optimism led to new movements in art and literature.

Dada is a named influence and reference of various anti-art and political and cultural movements including the Situationist International and culture jamming groups like the Cacophony Society. Upon breaking up in July 2012, famous anarchist pop band Chumbawamba issued a statement which compared their own legacy with that of the Dada art movement.

At the same time that the Zurich Dadaists made noise and spectacle at the Cabaret Voltaire, Vladimir Lenin wrote his revolutionary plans for Russia in a nearby apartment. Tom Stoppard used this coincidence as a premise for his play Travesties (1974), which includes Tzara, Lenin, and James Joyce as characters. French writer Dominique Noguez imagined Lenin as a member of the Dada group in his tongue-in-cheek Lénine Dada (1989).

The Cabaret Voltaire fell into disrepair until it was occupied from January to March, 2002, by a group proclaiming themselves Neo-Dadaists, led by Mark Divo. The group included Jan Thieler, Ingo Giezendanner, Aiana Calugar, Lennie Lee and Dan Jones. After their eviction the space became a museum dedicated to the history of Dada. The work of Lee and Jones remained on the walls of the museum.

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Several notable retrospectives have examined the influence of Dada upon art and society. In 1967, a large Dada retrospective was held in Paris, France. In 2006, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a Dada exhibition in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The LTM label has released a large number of Dada-related sound recordings, including interviews with artists such as Tzara, Picabia, Schwitters, Arp and Huelsenbeck, and musical repertoire including Satie, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Picabia and Nelly van Doesburg.

Did you know that several modern art techniques were developed by dadaists?

Collage: The dadaists imitated the techniques developed during the cubist movement through the pasting of cut pieces of paper items, but extended their art to encompass items such as transportation tickets, maps, plastic wrappers, etc. to portray aspects of life, rather than representing objects viewed as still life.

Photomontage: The Dadaists – the “monteurs” (mechanics) – used scissors and glue rather than paintbrushes and paints to express their views of modern life through images presented by the media. A variation on the collage technique, photomontage utilized actual or reproductions of real photographs printed in the press. In Cologne, Max Ernst used images from World War I to illustrate messages of the destruction of war.

Assemblage:  The assemblages were three-dimensional variations of the collage – the assembly of everyday objects to produce meaningful or meaningless (relative to the war) pieces of work including war objects and trash. Objects were nailed, screwed or fastened together in different fashions. Assemblages could be seen in the round or could be hung on a wall.

Readymades:  Marcel Duchamp began to view the manufactured objects of his collection as objects of art, which he called “readymades”. He would add signatures and titles to some, converting them into artwork that he called “readymade aided” or “rectified readymades”. Duchamp wrote: “One important characteristic was the short sentence which I occasionally inscribed on the ‘readymade.’ That sentence, instead of describing the object like a title, was meant to carry the mind of the spectator towards other regions more verbal. Sometimes I would add a graphic detail of presentation which in order to satisfy my craving for alliterations, would be called ‘readymade aided.'” One such example of Duchamp’s readymade works is the urinal that was turned onto its back, signed “R. Mutt”, titled “Fountain”, and submitted to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition that year.

Hope you enjoyed the article as much as i did compiling the info and the images! And i am very curious about your opinions on the movement!

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Article publié pour la première fois le 19/01/2013