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Artists Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara Photo

Tristan Tzara

Romanian Poet, Writer, and Filmmaker

Movements and Styles: Dada, Surrealism

Born: April 16, 1896 - Moinesti, Romania

Died: December 24, 1963 - Paris, France

Tristan Tzara Timeline

Quotes

"The beginnings of Dada, were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust."
Tristan Tzara
"To shit in many colors - to ornament the zoo of art with the flags of every consulate"
Tristan Tzara
"Art has not the celestial and universal value that people like to attribute to it. Life is far more interesting.... Dada introduces it into daily life. And vice versa."
Tristan Tzara
"There is a great work of destruction to be accomplished"
Tristan Tzara
"Musicians smash your blind instruments on the stage"
Tristan Tzara
"Freedom: Dada Dada Dada, a roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies: LIFE"
Tristan Tzara
"This is not the new art, this is not expressionist or futurist art: rather this is not art at all."
Bruno Goetz
"Every page should explode, either because of its deep seriousness, or because of its vortex, vertigo, newness, timelessness, crushing humor, enthusiasm of its principles, or the way it is printed."
Tristan Tzara
"A ruthless genius."
Huelsenbeck
"A marvelous scandal maker."
Philippe Soupault
"A Romanian who said his name was Tristan Tzara, who always wore a monocle and had a headache."
Ernest Hemingway

"Art has not the celestial and universal value that people like to attribute to it. Life is far more interesting... Dada introduces it into daily life. And vice versa."

Tristan Tzara Signature

Synopsis

Tzara is considered the founder of Dada, a nihilistic, anti-art movement formed in Zurich during World War I. Although also producing artwork, his primary contribution was publishing manifestos outlining the goals of Dada and circulating them to as wide an audience as he could solicit and arranging vulgar and shocking performances at a local Café featuring deconstructed language and outrageous acts purposefully intended to shock his audience and upset all preconceived expectation. Tzara worked hard to spread Dada, formulating the Dadaglobe project intended to catalogue Dada output across the world and introducing his own brand of chaotic spectacle to the Parisian avant-garde in the mid-1920s. By 1930 he began to break away from the destructive side of Dada and began to explore Surrealism, a movement propagated by his friend André Breton, with its combination of juxtaposition and chance. Throughout his career he strove to overcome what he felt were the evils of bourgeois society and to offer, in their place, an antidote based on a distinct lack of historical precedent.

Key Ideas

Tzara found and propagated Dada art in Zurich during World War I, determined to find an alternative to tradition, history, and the continuation of what he considered the pernicious bourgeoisie. From 1916 Tzara organized violent, disruptive, and unexpected performances at the Café Voltaire specifically meant to shock and upset his audience - all part of his effort to spread a kind of anti-art, one no longer based on any formerly understood societal standard. The artist continued his Dada activity in Paris in 1919, transforming literary gatherings and organizing performances intended, from the start, as a form of "hoax" or "trick" on his the public.
Tzara's interest in African art and poetry was pivotal as it encouraged the introduction of a non-Western aesthetic, in itself a break from the long-held Western tradition, as well as expanding the exposure of his audience to a non-Western way of life. The introduction of non-Western elements within his performances added to their tribal, wild, and savage nature.
Tzara used a particular style, which he called "cut-ups," for both his visual and literary oeuvre. In this method either a text (for a poem) or an image (for a drawing or print) was cut into pieces and then recomposed. The final work was a result of chance and juxtaposition. This technique was perfect when, influenced by Andre Breton, the artist began to explore Surrealism, allowing him to extend earlier ideas to new applications espousing an investigation of dreamlike states, ulterior realities, and the workings of the unconscious.

Most Important Art

Tristan Tzara Famous Art

Unpretentious Proclamation (1919)

Tzara co-founded Dada in Zurich. The Manifestos he wrote from 1916, including this one regarding "unpretention," all outlined the principles of the movement as well as its raison d'etre. "Art needs an operation." - with these uncompromising words Tzara set forth his philosophy that Art with a capital A was pretentious and that traditional artists were self-absorbed hypocrites. He called for something he called "Dada's magic revolver" to put "Art" (any work of creativity) to sleep (really, put aside) so that a new world that emphasized life and the living could be born. The Dada movement initiated a militant anti-art revolution. As Tzara explained: "Get ready for the action of the geyser of our blood-submarine formation of trans chromatic aeroplanes, cellular metals numbered in the flight of images above the rules of the hand."

This Unpretentious Proclamation, released a few years into the movement, not only outlines its precepts but also indicates its visual idiom. The typeface, a corrupted version of standard Victorian print, was purposefully chosen. Tzara co-opted typefaces from advertisements and newspapers and changed the font, orientation, and boldness in an effort to articulate his ideas. This text indicates the inherent contradiction of the Dada position: making art while simultaneously denying it.
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Tristan Tzara Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Early Period

Tristan Tzara, born Samuel Rosenstock, came from a Romanian family with Jewish roots. A highly original thinker by nature, his early years were marked by feelings of boredom with the small, agricultural town in which he lived. While attending school in Bucharest he became captivated by Symbolism, and co-founded the magazine Simbolul with Ion Vinea and Marcel Janco. In 1915 he went to Zurich, a hotbed of revolutionary ideas, to study philosophy. His freethinking, anti-bourgeois principles led to painful clashes with his family that eventually led his father to cut him off. As he later wrote, "I was dead for him."

Tristan Tzara Biography

To symbolize the formal break from his prior life, he decided to change his name. Various explanations have been offered for his choice. In Hebrew, "Ttzara'at" means one exiled from the community. In Romanian, it means "sad in the country." There are those who called him "Tzara Thoustra" in homage to Nietzsche's book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. There is no question that Tzara was intrigued by Nietzsche's nihilistic philosophy wherein God was dead. He joined many other young intellectuals who, having witnessed the horrors of the First World War, resented the nationalist and bourgeois conventions that had led to the conflict, fled to neutral Zurich for sanctuary.

Two significant, but very different, events merged from these years: Tzara's Dada movement and Lenin's political revolution. Ironically, the latter was Tzara's neighbour at the time and there is some indication that Lenin attended some Dada events as a young man. Years later Tzara told an interviewer for the British Broadcasting Corporation that although he met Lenin, and probably played chess with him in their local café, he had no idea at the time that he would go on to become the "Lenin" - the leader of the Russian Revolution.

Swiss Period

While Europe exploded into war, Tzara and Marcel Janco linked up with a group of pacifist artists and radicals, including Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, Hans (Jean) Arp, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp to form the Dada group. Influenced by a range of avant-garde movements, such as Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism, they believed that the role of art was to upset bourgeois sensibilities and ask difficult questions about society. The word Dada means the same (or nothing) in all languages, but, showing his flair for publicity, Tzara insisted it was chosen by randomly stabbing a knife into a dictionary. Whether true or not, that story was an excellent means of advertisement of their extreme spirit.

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Tristan Tzara Biography Continues

Tzara described Dada as a "magic revolver," a peaceful weapon that would destroy all the traditions of existing bourgeois society, a "bomb," a "furious wind" with "a great negative and destructive work to accomplish." He was anti theory and pro action, intent on demystifying art. He insisted: "Art needs an operation!" In Dada 3 (1918) he wrote: "The new artist protests: he does not paint a symbolic and illusionistic reproduction, he creates directly in stone and wood, iron, clay, rock, living organisms, which can be turned in any direction by the limpid wind of momentary sensation."

Dada began when a group of artists including Tzara began to stage Dada performances at the local Cabaret Voltaire. A small café named after the eighteenth century French satirist whose novella, Candide, mocked the idiocies of society, this café was a perfect venue. Freethinkers keen on seeing a new type of expression, unshackled from tradition and constraint, were attracted to the electrifying anarchistic events organized there by Tzara and Hugo Ball. Tzara believed the "primitive" (non-Western) to be a more honest method of pure communication, and accordingly nothing, whether sex, death, cannibalism, masturbation or suicide, was taboo. All of these themes were re-enacted within those performances, accompanied by outrageous and unexpected actions including vomiting, painting, shouting "sound poems" (phonetic nonsense verse), African chants, drumming, and dance. As Tzara was particularly interested in African art, publishing African poems he'd discover at the library in Dada journals, the performance of "chants nègres" was a regular event at both the Cabaret Voltaire and the other location frequented, the Zunfthaus zur Waag. Tzara's performances were very physical, sometimes he shouted and pounded on the tables. When Ball became uncomfortable with Dada's direction, Tzara took the lead. He became an icon, with his charming personality and well-known eye monocle, for his pacifist, yet rebellious manifestos, the first of which was published in 1918 (there were eventually seven, the last published in 1924).

Tristan Tzara Photo

Tzara experimented and innovated in typography as well, working newspaper and advertising type into his manifestos, mixing up article clippings and words. He was quick to hail the new media of photography and film, noting: "When everything that called itself art was stricken with palsy, the photographer switched on his thousand candle-power lamp." He appreciated the artistic freedom these new media offered, embracing the photo montages of words, sounds, typography and art he'd noted in Cubist papiers colles as well as Futurist sculpture.

As well as a poet, performer, and writer of manifestos, Tsara was a master at propaganda. He made sure that Dada proclamations were aggressively circulated, both in Zurich and throughout Europe. Firmly convinced that nationalism led to war, Dada demanded "no more paintings, no more men of letters, musicians, sculptors, religions, republicans, royalists, imperialists, anarchists, socialists, Bolsheviks, politicians, proletarians, democrats, armies, police, countries, we have had enough of all these idiocies, no more anything, nothing, nothing, nothing." Tzara conceptualized Dada as a "virgin microbe" with which he would, through his multilingual journal, infect the world. He called on Dada "to shit in many colors to ornament the zoo of art with the flags of every consulate." Local and ex-pat Dada groups emerged in Paris, Cologne, Berlin, Hanover, and even as far as Russia and New York. Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Francis Picabia became international spokesmen in New York; the young Breton continued its practice in Paris.

Paris Period

Tristan Tzara Portrait

Tzara relocated to Paris in 1920, sparking an exciting blitz of ideas, demonstrations, exhibitions, performances, manifestos and journals among the Parisian avant-garde, including Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, Paul Éluard, Jacques Rigaut, and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, known as the "Dada Spring." He wrote articles for Breton's Littérature magazine as well as staging outrageous events which shocked the local audience. Tzara described his Paris Dada activities as: "antiphilosophical, nihilist, scandalous, [and] universal." His guerrilla public relations tactics brought anarchy to the city. For example, posters would promise outrageous events such as "Dada Sex Displays" only to disappoint the audience that arrived and found a large wooden phallus balanced on balloons. Huge crowds gathered to see the world's biggest star, Charlie Chaplin, deliver a lecture on Dada, only to discover he wasn't showing up at all. The more the audience rioted, the more Tzara rejoiced. There were events specifically intended to be confusing to the public, such as those where Tzara and Breton would recite competing manifestos while Picabia drew pictures on a blackboard that he immediately erased. As Tzara explained "This painting was valid for only two hours." Responding to these outrageous events, the press described the artists as madmen and lunatics possibly in need of psychiatric help.

Tzara enjoyed great notoriety and cultivated his fame; once he even sent a false news report that he'd been shot in the thigh after he and Arp had dueled. Jon Dos Passos wrote of seeing Tzara leading a crew through the streets of Paris like the Pied Piper, conducting them in strange dance moves while chanting: "Dada, Dada, Dada." In his article for Vanity Fair (1922), Tzara noted with great satisfaction that one critic had called for him to be shot and that in Paris, "for the first time in history, people threw at us, not only eggs, salads and pennies, but beefsteaks as well. It was a very great success."

Wanting to spread Dada ideas throughout Europe, Tzara launched an art and literature review called Dada in 1917 which he followed up on with his Dadaglobe project. As the latter was intended to illustrate a truly global meeting of minds Tzara wrote to artists around the world asking for contributions for what would be an anthology of poetry, writing, and artwork. Although not completed by Tzara himself, the project was resurrected nearly a century later in a Zurich-based exhibition, and eventually published with the title: Dadaglobe Reconstructed.

Tensions between Tzara and Breton in Paris eventually caused a rupture in their relationship. Tzara believed in chaos and that there was no such thing as ultimate truth. He rejected any attempt at explanations, claiming, "Dada has no meaning." Breton, on the other hand, wanted to put ideas into a coherent system and to analyze using psychoanalytical tools drawn from Freud. Tzara maintained that analysis defused the Dada bomb and that psychoanalysis was bourgeois. Breton called Tzara a publicity-mad imposter and even alleged that he had not been the true author of the Dada Manifestos. A great argument broke out between the two in 1923 during a performance of Tzara's play The Gas Heart. The play was intended to irritate the audience with illogical dialogue, and Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and Robert Desnos were heckling loudly from the audience. At one point Breton leapt on stage, causing Tzara to call the police. This move officially ended their relationship until some time later when the two were drawn together through their mutual interest in Surrealism.

Surrealism

Tristan Tzara Portrait

By 1929 Tzara and Breton had reconciled and there is no question that Breton's First Manifesto of Surrealism, promoting the unconscious, the primitive, automatism, chance, and the blurring of imagination and reality, was clearly influenced by Tzara's ideas. After publishing his Second Surrealist Manifesto, Breton noted that their earlier split "was not based on anything quite serious as we may have been led to think." Their mutual desire to create a new super reality was exhibited again and again, as with the 1931 publication of Tzara's L'Homme approximatif (Approximate Man). Begun back in 1925, this work argued that man was an incomplete "approximate man like me like you reader and like the others" and clarified his vision of the man of the future as a man truly living a surreal life. Tzara continued to write for Surrealist publications but, over time, argued more and more with Breton over both the philosophy and direction of the movement.

In 1935 Tzara participated in the Congress of The Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, directing a Support Committee for Spanish Intellectuals. As a delegate, he went to the Spanish front during the Spanish Civil War. Life became very difficult during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II and the artist was forced to flee Paris and go into hiding in the south of France, leaving behind his home and possessions. During this period he wrote in resistance magazines and did broadcasts for the Free French radio station. He subsequently relocated to Toulouse where he joined the intellectual group of Henri Lefebvre, a figure who had long admired Tzara's ethos of living life as art and actively applied it to Marxist efforts at social transformation.

After the war Tzara became a French citizen, repossessed his Paris home, and became very involved with the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires which was linked to the French Communist party. He remained engaged in and critical of modern politics, delivering radio addresses, writing essays on Mexico and ancient Egypt and publishing a number of poems on these themes including Parler Seul (1950), The Inner Face (1953), Sign of Life (1946), and From a Man's Memory (1950). He spoke out again the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and France's relationship with its ex-colonies.

Throughout this period he continued to publish poetry but later in life turned to esoteric matters, devoting considerable time to the study and deciphering the secret anagrams he'd detected in the work of François Villon. His long manuscript on the Villon "secret code" was published after his death as Le Secret de Villon (1991).

Tzara retained a fascination for African art throughout his life, amassing a large collection of works. His expertise in the subject was acknowledged with the invitation to attend the Congress of African Art and Culture in the African Republic of Rhodesia in 1962. Back in France, he used the promotion of the Congress as a means to reassert his anti-colonialist views. He died in Paris the following year.


Legacy

Due to the domination of Surrealism and Breton's dogmatic stance, Dada's reputation waned and by the 40s it had disappeared completely. As the former Dada member Hans Richter noted: "Surrealism devoured and digested Dada." For a time it seemed that Breton had devoured Tzara too but in the 1950s there was a resurgence of interest in the subject. Robert Motherwell's book: Dada Painters and Poets (1951) and the 1953 Dada Exhibition organized by Duchamp acknowledge its historical contribution among the New York audience. Motherwell held Dadaist Exquisite Corpse evenings with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner and new artists, such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, were called Neo-Dadaists.

Tzara's influence in anti-art ideology and methodology can be seen in subsequent avant-garde movements which blended artistic genres (visual, literary, and musical) such as installation art, happenings, and performance art. The Dada call to destruction is evidenced specifically in Ben Vautier's Fluxus work, Total Art Matchbox (1966). There he takes Tzara's earlier exclamation that "art needs an operation, "quite literally with his exhortation to: "USE THESE MATCHES TO DESTROY ALL ART. SAVE THE LAST MATCH FOR THIS MATCH."

The use of collage in Dada, specifically Tzara's "cut up" techniques, had a profound influence on graphic design, advertising, poetry, and installation art. This technique was key to Beat Poets such as Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and became a popular technique for songwriters such as David Bowie. Dada's nihilistic call for destruction was influential on the 1970s Punk movement wherein a violent audience reaction became a goal and musicians scream, spit, and fight in a manner similar to what had been seen at the Café Voltaire much earlier. The Sex Pistols specifically adopted the "cut up" technique for the song titles in their typographic collage and photomontage on their Never Mind the Bollocks album. A less provocative reflection of the Dada mixed media performance ethic is evident in Neo-Dada works such as John Cage's Theatre Piece No 1 (1952) and David Bowie's costumes are usually considered the result of those seen in Tzara's play The Gas Heart.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Tristan Tzara
Interactive chart with Tristan Tzara's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Guillaume ApollinaireGuillaume Apollinaire
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
André BretonAndré Breton
Marcel JancoMarcel Janco

Friends

Hans ArpHans Arp
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Hugo BallHugo Ball
Hans RichterHans Richter
Richard HuelsenbeckRichard Huelsenbeck

Movements

CubismCubism
Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
ExpressionismExpressionism
SymbolismSymbolism
African ArtAfrican Art
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara
Years Worked: 1910s - 1963

Artists

André BretonAndré Breton
William BurroughsWilliam Burroughs
Robert MotherwellRobert Motherwell
David BowieDavid Bowie

Friends

Paul EluardPaul Eluard
Marcel JancoMarcel Janco
Julien LevyJulien Levy

Movements

DadaDada
Beat GenerationBeat Generation
SurrealismSurrealism
Neo-DadaNeo-Dada
Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Farren

Edited and revised by Caroline Igra

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Farren
Edited and revised by Caroline Igra
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Useful Resources on Tristan Tzara

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

The Dada Painters and Poets

By Robert Motherwell

TaTa Dada: The Real Life and Celestial Adventures of Tristan Tzara

By Marius Hentea

Dada & Surrealism

By Matthew Gale

Dada: Art and Anti-art

By Hans Richter (2004)

More Interesting Books about Tristan Tzara
Fonds Tristan Tzara

Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, Université de Paris, Paris, France

Cabaret Voltaire, Dada Zürich (German)

Dadaglobe Reconstructed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York,

June 12, 2016-September 18, 2016

Dadaglobe Recomended resource

By Kunsthaus Zürich
21 October 2015

Dadaglobe Reconstructed Recomended resource

By Paul J Sachs
Museum of Modern Art, New York
14 December 2015

Documents of Dada and Surrealism

By Irene E. Hofmann
Mary Reynolds Collection
Art Institute of Chicago
2001

The First Two Dada Manifestos Recomended resource

The Art History Archive
Retrieved 20 December 2015

More Interesting Articles about Tristan Tzara
Tzara interview (English and French) Recomended resource

1959

Germany Dada - An Alphabet of German Dada Recomended resource

Dada and Surrealism

Dali Museum
20 March 2013

Beat writer William S. Burroughs cut-up writing,

Open Culture
August 2011

More Interesting Videos with Tristan Tzara
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