World War I: Dada
The literary and artistic movement known as Dada originated in the Swiss city of Zurich, at the time of the First World War, as a response to the War as well as the nationalism considered by many to have sparked the war. Inspired by Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism, Constructivism, and other innovative movements, Dadaism's output ranged from poetry, collage, and painting, to performance arts and sculptures (Jones, 2002; Hulsenbeck, 1988). The movement's aesthetic, characterized by contempt for nationalistic and materialistic attitudes, strongly influenced artists in major cities across the globe, such as Berlin, Paris, Cologne, Hanover, and New York, and all ended up creating their own separate groups. Surrealism led to Dadaism's degeneration.
Sickened by the nationalism that triggered WWI, Dadaists were constantly against the idea of authoritarianism, and all kinds of guiding ideologies or group leadership. Their main concern was revolting against the apparent middleclass conventions, cultural snobbery, and WWI's political support. Dada events that included spontaneous shows, exhibitions and readings were already occurring at the Cabaret Voltaire co-owned by Hugo Ball for about three years, before Tzara credited himself with the invention of the term, in his 1918 Dada Manifesto (Hulsenbeck, 1988). Several clarifications have been made for the movement's name. However, the most popular explanation is that of Huelsenbeck, a co-founder, who claimed to have randomly chosen it by plunging his knife into the dictionary. The term 'Dada' is French -- an informal word that means 'hobbyhorse'. Nevertheless, it reflects a child's first words, and this aura of silliness and childishness appealed to them, as they were keen on distancing themselves from conventional society's sobriety. Another reason it attracted them was because the word has the same connotation in every language, and the group of artists asserted they were internationalists.
The Basics of Dada Movement in Art
The literary and artistic movement known as Dada or Dadaism was conceived in Europe at the time of the First World War. The war led to an influx of several artists, writers and intellectuals, particularly from Germany and France, into neutral Switzerland. Rather than experiencing relief over their escape from war, these new arrivals were incensed with Switzerland's modern society. Thus, they decided upon using art to protest against it (Elder, 2013), and created non-art, as art anyway held no significance in Swiss society.
The alleged non-artists resorted to developing art that was characterized by soft obscenities, overt puns, commonplace objects, and scattered humor. Marcel Duchamp is credited with creating the most shocking of Dada paintings -- one of Mona Lisa sporting a mustache, with obscenities scrawled under the picture (Buskirk & Nixon, 1996). Duchamp also sculpted 'Fountain' -- a urinal with a fake sign and no plumbing.
Society was obviously revolted by this movement. But Dada artists were encouraged by this attitude. The movement gradually made its way out of Zurich to other European cities and even New York, USA (Richter, 1978). During the early part of the 1920s -- at a time when several mainstream artists began taking the movement seriously -- Dada collapsed.
While the movement was chiefly a protest, it simultaneously proved to be humorous and entertaining. It was ridiculous, satirical, colorful, and eccentric. If people of the age were unaware of the rationale underlying Dadaism, they would indeed have been left speculating over what the artists intended by creating such pieces (Richter, 1978). While to viewers, the art was apparently inane and comical, Dada artists were very serious with regard to their work. Dadaism didn't give preferentiality to any particular medium. Artists made use of all articles, right from plaster and glass to wood and geometric tapestries. Additionally, Dada also influenced several visual art trends, Surrealism being the most popular one.
The Spread of Dada
Dadaism's demise in Zurich took place after the April 1919 "Dada 4-5," which eventually sparked a riot. Immediately after, Tzara made his way to Paris. It is here that he came across Andre Breton -- together they started developing the theories ultimately termed as "Surrealism" by Breton. Dada artists didn't intend to purposely develop micro-regional art movements, however, as it did occur, Dadaism's spread across multiple cities of Europe and into the city of New York may be ascribed to some major artists. Every city, successively, impacted its corresponding Dada group's aesthetics (Jones, 2005). Club Dada in Berlin operated between 1918 and 1923, and its attendees included artists like Raoul Hausmann, George Grosz, Johannes Baader, and Hannah Hoch. Residing closer to war, German Dadaists created politically satirical collages and paintings featuring governmental authorities, political cartoons and wartime images re-contextualized into cutting commentaries. Kurt Schwitters and other Merz...
Schwitter particularly explored Modernist preoccupations using color and shapes. Cologne artists, Max Ernst and Hans Arp collaborated and made advances in collage works. Meanwhile in Paris, influenced by Tzara and Francis Picabia, Dadaism assumed a 'dandyish' shape, prior to falling into internal fights and finally giving way to the Surrealist movement.
Styles and Concepts
Cross-cultural potentials of language lay at the heart of Dadaism's concept of free expression: in his initial sound-poem readings at Cabaret Voltaire, Hugo Ball emphasized this point through the deconstruction of words into guttural sounds expected to be understood universally. Similarly, Hans Arp and other visual artists employed spontaneously created abstract compositions for expressing natural patterns that were easy to read irrespective of the viewer's cultural background.
On the whole, Dada art posed a fascinating contradiction, as they endeavored to demystify art generally but still continued to be sufficiently ambiguous to enable viewers to interpret it in various ways. Just like Cubist artists, a few Dadaists depicted landscapes, backgrounds and individuals representationally, for analyzing motion and form. Schwitters and other artists attempted abstraction, for expressing the metaphysical element of their topic. Both approaches aimed at deconstructing everyday experiences in revolutionary and stimulating ways. The key to comprehending Dada art lies in the reconciliation of the apparently meaningless, messy styles with their corresponding compelling anti-war messages. Tzara, in particular, argued against the belief that Dadaism represented a statement. Nevertheless, Tzara and those who worked alongside him became even more disturbed by politics, seeking to stir up a matching anger among viewers (Sade, 2014).
Results of the Movement: Surrealism, Duchamp, and New York
Arp, Tzara and Ernst's move to Paris proved to be pivotal in affording free expression to Dada interests, and in deconstructing conventional ideas as well as forms to the later Surrealists. Dadaism's practice of absurdity was a direct factor in Surrealism's devotion to fantasy and expressing the imaginary. Max Ernst and other such artists are regarded as both Surrealists and Dadaists, as their art catalyzed the emergence of a novel age of art grounded in the unconscious.
Duchamp was a critical creative linkage between Swiss Dadaists and the proto-Surrealists of Paris (e.g. Breton). The former group regarded Duchamp's ready-made works as Dada art, acknowledging his wit and unwillingness to describe art. Together with Man Ray, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Picabia, he had already visited New York City as far back as the year 1917, and proved to be a central interlocutor, introducing New York to the 'anti-art' idea (Richter, 1978; Buskirk & Nixon, 1996). Among his key pieces is 'Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even' or 'The Large Glass', which he started in 1915 in NYC. He put his finishing touches to the work, which is deemed to be an important milestone for Dadaism, for its portrayal of a bizarre, erotic drama with the use of mechanical abstract forms, in the year 1923. Every Dada artist shared Duchamp's contempt for the bourgeois convention. Despite not being a Surrealist, Duchamp took part in New York exhibition curations of Surrealist as well as Dadaist artworks.
Key Ideas / Information
A group of innovative poets, filmmakers and painters, who congregated in neutral Switzerland, prior to and in the course of the First World War, gave birth to the Dadaist movement. Dadaism officially took shape in February of 1916 at Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire. Founders named it after Voltaire, the 18th-century French satirizer, whose piece -- Candide -- was a mockery of the absurdities of French society of the time. Ball stated that this was their Candide in opposition to the present era. So keen were Dadaists on opposing bourgeois conventions, that they barely favored themselves. Their frequent slogan was "Dada is anti-Dada" (Hulsenbeck, 1988). Dadaist artworks vary so greatly that talking about a consistent style is difficult. It was strongly influenced by Expressionist and Futurist concerns regarding technological advancement. Nevertheless, Arp and other artists also introduced painterly principles like an obsession with chance.
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