Before Dada was there, there was Dada.
The early 20th Century brought on many changes, the advent of machine-dominated workforces, world wars and the sense of separation permeated popular literature and culture. Art movements documented these changes and new movements arose that symbolized a changing world. One particular movement that formed as a reaction to the political and war-torn environment was a movement called Dada.
The creation of Dada is largely contributed to Hugo Ball, a poet and theorist. In February 1916, he opened Cabaret Voltaire, a cabaret bar, in Zürich. Cabaret Voltaire promoted artistic expression and Zürich soon became a hot spot for artists fleeing their war-ridden countries for neutral Switzerland. Artist Hans Arp stated that Zürich Dadaists soon equated pre-war art with high-class egoism.
Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zürich devoted ourselves to the arts. While the guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might. We were seeking an art based on fundamentals, to cure the madness of the age, and a new order of things that would restore the balance between heaven and hell.
The war perpetuated the idea of the “professionalization” of art and its merits based solely on the result and not the process or idea. Dada artists began to stress the importance of artistic process and of the idea’s originality. By rejecting society and society’s ideas of art, Dadaists found new freedom in displaying their talents.
Dada popped up in the United States almost simultaneously with the Zurich’s movement. It started in New York City by two artists Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. Both were known within the French Cubist circles before the war. Duchamp, particularly, believed that ideas should replace the actual skill when looking and dissecting art, it was very much the idea of “art-for-art’s sake.”
By the early 1920s, the war was fading and new movements beginning to emerge, Dadaists and the movement ended. Many of the artists slowly dissolved into the Surrealist movement. The impact of Dada on art was long lasting, especially though the techniques that Dada popularized such as collages, photomontages and readymades. Some of the artists associated with the Dada movement include the following: Max Ernst, George Grosz, Marcel Janco, Hans Arp, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara and Hannah Höch.
What’s in a name?
Reportedly, there were many reasons for the selection of the name “Dada,” but many like it because the word seems open-ended. It also is similar to a child’s first sound therefore symbolic of a new beginning.
– In Rumanian, it means “yes yes.”
– Dada means a “sign of foolish naiveté” in German.
– In French, it is the word for rocking horse.
Elger, Dietmar. Dadaism. Los Angeles: Taschen, 2004.
Hopkins, David. Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. website.
DADA Companion website.