"DADA, as for it, it smells of nothing, it is nothing, nothing, nothing."
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Francis Picabia Signature
"The history of art is a parody of the history of politics."
2 of 10
Dada Maxim
"I feel sorry for nonsense, because up to now it has so seldom been artistically molded.."
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Kurt Schwitters Signature
"Dada does not mean anything.. We read in the papers that the Negroes of the Kroo race call the tail of the sacred cow: dada. A cube, and a mother, in certain regions of Italy, are called: Dada. The word for a hobby-horse, a children's nurse, a double affirmative in Russian and Rumanian, is also: Dada."
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Tristan Tzara Signature
"The beginnings of Dada, were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust."
5 of 10
Tristan Tzara Signature
"Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Au, oi, uh. One shouldn't let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words."
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Hugo Ball's manifesto
"We attempted perfection; we wanted an object to be without flaw, so we cut the papers with a razor, pasted them down meticulously, but it buckled and was ruined... that is why we decided to tear prewrinkled paper, so that in the finished work of art imperfection would be an integral part, as if at birth death were built in."
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Hans Arp Signature
"Every word that is spoken and sung here (the Cabaret Voltaire) represents at least this one thing: that this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect."
8 of 10
Hugo Ball
"Dada is like your hopes: nothing
like your paradise: nothing
like your idols: nothing
like your heroes: nothing
like your artists: nothing
like your religions: nothing"
9 of 10
Francis Picabia Signature
"I speak only of myself since I do not wish to convince, I have no right to drag others into my river, I oblige no one to follow me and everybody practices his art in his own way"
10 of 10
Tristan Tzara - Dada Manifesto 1918

Summary of Dada

Dada was an artistic and literary movement that began in Zürich, Switzerland. It arose as a reaction to World War I and the nationalism that many thought had led to the war. Influenced by other avant-garde movements - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting, and collage. Dada's aesthetic, marked by its mockery of materialistic and nationalistic attitudes, proved a powerful influence on artists in many cities, including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York, and Cologne, all of which generated their own groups. The movement dissipated with the establishment of Surrealism, but the ideas it gave rise to have become the cornerstones of various categories of modern and contemporary art.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • Dada was the direct antecedent to the Conceptual Art movement, where the focus of the artists was not on crafting aesthetically pleasing objects but on making works that often upended bourgeois sensibilities and that generated difficult questions about society, the role of the artist, and the purpose of art.
  • So intent were members of Dada on opposing all norms of bourgeois culture that the group was barely in favor of itself: "Dada is anti-Dada," they often cried. The group's founding in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich was appropriate: the Cabaret was named after the 18th century French satirist, Voltaire, whose novella Candide mocked the idiocies of his society. As Hugo Ball, one of the founders of both the Cabaret and Dada wrote, "This is our Candide against the times."
  • Artists like Hans Arp were intent on incorporating chance into the creation of works of art. This went against all norms of traditional art production whereby a work was meticulously planned and completed. The introduction of chance was a way for Dadaists to challenge artistic norms and to question the role of the artist in the artistic process.
  • Dada artists are known for their use of readymades - everyday objects that could be bought and presented as art with little manipulation by the artist. The use of the readymade forced questions about artistic creativity and the very definition of art and its purpose in society.

Overview of Dada

Detail of <i>L.H.O.O.Q.</i> (conceived in 1919) by Marcel Duchamp

Aiming to both to help to stop the war and to vent frustration with the nationalist and bourgeois conventions Dada artists ultimately revolutionized the artmaking of the future.

Key Artists

  • Francis Picabia was a French artist who worked in Dada, Surrealist, and abstract modes, often employing language and mechanical imagery. He published the Dada journal 391 in Barcelona and America.
  • The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
  • Man Ray was an American artist in Paris whose photograms, objects, drawings, and other works played an important role in Dada, Surrealism, modern photography, and avant-garde art at large.
  • Hannah Hoch was a German-born Dada artist. She and Raoul Hausmann were among the first artists to work in photomontage. Hoch is most famous for her works dating from the Weimar years, most notably 1919's 'Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany,' which critiqued Weimar Germany.
  • Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a Swiss artist, painter, sculptor, and dancer who is considered to be one of the most important artists of geometric abstraction of the twentieth century. Arp was married to Jean Arp, the major Dada artist, and the two worked together until her early death.
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Do Not Miss

  • This ground-breaking practice of photography was inspired by Dada's improvisational practices and the Surrealist's foray into the unconscious, dream, and fantasy realms. Many artists contributed various works that ultimately stretched the possibilities of the medium.
  • Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
  • Neo-Dada refers to works of art from the 1950s that employ popular imagery and modern materials, often resulting in something absurd. Neo-Dada is both a continuation of the earlier Dada movement and an important precursor to Pop art. Some important Neo-Dada artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris and Allan Kaprow.

Important Art and Artists of Dada

Ici, C'est Stieglitz (Here, This is Stieglitz) (1915)

Artist: Francis Picabia

Picabia was a French artist who embraced the many ideas of Dadaism and defined some himself. He very much enjoyed going against convention and re-defining himself to work in new ways a number of times over a career that spanned over 45 years. At first he worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz, who gave him his first one-man show in New York City. But later he criticized Stieglitz, as is evident in this "portrait" of the gallerist as a bellows camera, an automobile gear shift, a brake lever, and the word "IDEAL" above the camera in Gothic lettering. The fact that the camera is broken and the gear shift is in neutral has been thought to symbolize Stieglitz as worn out, while the contrasting decorative Gothic wording refers to the outdated art of the past. The drawing is one of a series of mechanistic portraits and imagery created by Picabia that, ironically, do not celebrate modernity or progress, but, like similar mechanistic works by Duchamp, show that such subject matter could provide an alternative to traditional artistic symbolism.

Reciting the Sound Poem "Karawane" (1916)

Artist: Hugo Ball

Ball designed this costume for his performance of the sound-poem, "Karawane," in which nonsensical syllables uttered in patterns created rhythm and emotion, but nothing resembling any known language. The resulting lack of sense was meant to reference the inability of European powers to solve their diplomatic problems through the use of rational discussion, thus leading to World War I - equating the political situation to the biblical episode of the Tower of Babel. Ball's strange costume is meant to further distance him from his audience and his everyday surroundings, making his speech even more foreign and exotic. Ball described his costume: "My legs were in a cylinder of shiny blue cardboard, which came up to my hips so that I looked like an obelisk. Over it I wore a huge coat cut out of cardboard, scarlet inside and gold outside. It was fastened at the neck in such a way that I could give the impression of wing-like movement by raising and lowering my elbows. I also wore a high, blue-and-white-striped witch doctor's hat."

Untitled (Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance) (1917)

Artist: Hans Arp

Hans Arp made a series of collages based on chance, where he would stand above a sheet of paper, dropping squares of contrasting colored paper on the larger sheet's surface, and then gluing the squares wherever they fell onto the page. The resulting arrangement could then provoke a more visceral reaction, like the fortune telling from I-Ching coins that interested Arp, and perhaps provide a further creative spur. Apparently, this technique arose when Arp became frustrated by attempts to compose more formal geometric arrangements. Arp's chance collages have come to represent Dada's aim to be "anti-art" and their interest in accident as a way to challenge traditional art production techniques. The lack of artistic control represented in this work would also become a defining element of Surrealism as that group tried to find paths into the unconscious whereby intellectual control on creativity was undermined.

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Dada Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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