How Dadaists revolutionized art a century ago
In 1916, these artists rebelled against the establishment and the absurdity of war by creating a movement called Dada, which celebrated nonsense through performance, poetry and conceptual art.
It all started in a night club
The Dada artistic revolution was launched a century ago. Neutral Switzerland was a haven for European artists during World War I: That's where Dadaists met on February 5, 1916, at the Cabaret Voltaire, a night club in Zurich founded by singer Emmy Hennings and aspiring poet Hugo Ball (1886-1927). Wearing a Cubist costume, Ball recited his famous nonsense poem: "Jolifanto bambla ô falli bam…"
Arp, Tzara, Richter
Artists Hans Arp (1886-1966), Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) and Hans Richter (1888-1976) all landed in Zurich during World War I. They criticized the war's senseless massacres through their own nonsensical works: Their chaotic Dada performances attacked the bourgeois establishment and the Church, while celebrating the art of coincidence.
As a conscientious objector, the psychoanalyst and poet Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) also fled to Zurich and became one of the founding members of Dadaism. After the war, he moved to Berlin and in 1920 published the "Dada Almanach," which included his "Dada Manifesto." In it, he compared his famous Simultaneist poetry to "throwing everything into a jumble."
Dadaists rebelled against traditional interpretations of art. They were inspired by illogical associations found in dreams. Visual arts were also influenced by the introduction of new materials and the acceptance of imperfection. The artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978) specialized in collages and photo montages. She created paradoxical references by distorting reality.
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) called his works of art "readymades." He turned a urinal into a museum exhibit, ironically renaming it "Fountain." He showed the world that a wheel mounted on a stool could be considered a sculpture. Just as provocative as a painter, he added a mustache to a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and turned a woman's body into a moving machine in "Nude Descending a Staircase."
In Hanover, Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) became a solo Dada star: He invented his own artistic movement, and called it Merz. The name appeared through a montage with publicity for the German bank Kommerz- und Privatbank. He went on creating Merz buildings, which were architectural artworks out of wood, plaster and paint. He also published Merz magazines, in which he promoted his poetry.
The French avant-garde artist Francis Picabia (1879-1953) can be considered a movement swinger. He began as an Impressionist, moved on to Cubism, later became a Dadaist and then ended up with the Surrealists. His paintings are filled with allusions to dreams and suppressed desires, for example in this work, "Dresseur d'Animaux" (1923).
In Cologne, Max Ernst (1891-1978) nicknamed himself "Dadamax." He experimented with new techniques and materials, integrating, for example, everyday objects such as wood and tools in an artwork and calling it "Fruit of a long experience." He also dealt with his wartime experiences through collages using images of pilots and bombs taken from illustrated reports from the front.
The American Man Ray (1890-1976) is one of the most important representatives of Dadaism, even though he fluidly moved on to Surrealism later on. He, too, worked on creating unexpected associations, most famously through photos: This one turns the body of an enigmatic beauty into a cello. His portraits of his avant-garde colleagues also made him renowned.
At times she preferred dance to visual arts. Sophie Taeuber (1889-1943) wore masks when she performed at the Cabaret Voltaire. Her paintings, composed of geometric shapes, were not provocative: She rather made circles, squares and rectangles shine cheerfully. She married the Dada artist Hans Arp in 1922.
The French-German artist Hans Arp (1886 - 1966) was also active in several art forms: He was a painter, sculptor and poet. His works consisted of collages and woodcuts. He often collaborated with his wife. They aimed to create impersonal art, which was not created by one person only. Similarly, he also worked with Max Ernst in Cologne.
The author of the "Surrealist Manifesto," André Breton (1896-1966), met the Romanian artist Tristan Tzara in Paris. Tzara was one of the main promoters of the Dada movement at the time, and they initiated Dada events together. Breton published texts written by Dadaists in the magazine "Littérature." The movement became popular in Paris, but the Dadaist group split when Breton became too dominant.