Artworks and Artists of Dada
Progression of Art
Ici, C'est Stieglitz (Here, This is Stieglitz)
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has been thought to symbolize Stieglitz as worn out, while the contrasting decorative Gothic wording refers to the outdated art of the past.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.
Ink, graphite, and cut-and-pasted painted and printed papers on paperboard - Alfred Stieglitz Collection
Reciting the Sound Poem "Karawane"
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."
Photograph - Kunsthaus Zürich (reproduction of original photograph)
Untitled (Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance)
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.
Cut-and-pasted colored paper - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Duchamp was the first artist to use a readymade and his choice of a urinal was guaranteed to challenge and offend even his fellow artists. There is little manipulation of the urinal by the artist other than to turn it upside-down and to sign it with a fictitious name. By removing the urinal from its everyday environment and placing it in an art context, Duchamp was questioning basic definitions of art as well as the role of the artist in creating it. With the title, Fountain, Duchamp made a tongue in cheek reference to both the purpose of the urinal as well to famous fountains designed by Renaissance and Baroque artists. In its path-breaking boldness the work has become iconic of the irreverence of the Dada movement towards both traditional artistic values and production techniques. Its influence on later 20th-century artists such as Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Damien Hirst, and others is incalculable.
Urinal - Philadelphia Museum of Art
This work is a classic example of Dada irreverence towards traditional art. Duchamp transformed a cheap postcard of the Mona Lisa (1517) painting, which had only recently been returned to the Louvre after it was stolen in 1911. While it was already a well-known work of art, the publicity from the theft ensured that it became one of the most revered and famous works of art: art with a capital A. On the postcard, Duchamp drew a mustache and a goatee onto Mona Lisa's face and labeled it L.H.O.O.Q. If the letters are pronounced as they would be by a native French speaker, it would sound as if one were saying "Elle a chaud au cul," which loosely translates as "She has a hot ass." Again, Duchamp managed to offend everyone while also posing questions that challenged artistic values, artistic creativity, and the overall canon.
Collotype - Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Cut with a Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany
Hannah Höch is known for her collages and photomontages composed from newspaper and magazine clippings as well as sewing and craft designs often pulled from publications she contributed to at the Ullstein Press. As part of Club Dada in Berlin, Hoch unabashedly critiqued German culture by literally slicing apart its imagery and reassembling it into vivid, disjointed, emotional depictions of modern life. The title of this work, refers to the decadence, corruption, and sexism of pre-war German culture. Larger and more political than her typical montages, this fragmentary anti-art work highlights the polarities of Weimer politics by juxtaposing images of establishment people with intellectuals, radicals, entertainers, and artists. Recognizable faces include Marx and Lenin, Pola Negri, and Kathe Kollwitz. The map of Europe that identifies the countries in which women had already achieved the right to vote suggests that the newly enfranchised women of Germany would soon "cut" through the male "beer-belly" culture. Her inclusion of commercially produced designs in her montages broke down distinctions between modern art and crafts, and between the public sphere and domesticity.
Cut paper collage - National Gallery, State Museum of Berlin
The Spirit of our Time
This assemblage represents Hausmann's disillusion with the German government and their inability to make the changes needed to create a better nation. It is an ironic sculptural illustration of Hausmann's belief that the average member of (corrupt) society "has no more capabilities than those which chance has glued to the outside of his skull; his brain remains empty". Thus Hausmann's use of a hat maker's dummy to represent a blockhead who can only experience that which can be measured with the mechanical tools attached to its head - a ruler, a tape measure, a pocket watch, a jewelry box containing a typewriter wheel, brass knobs from a camera, a leaky telescopic beaker of the sort used by soldiers during the war, and an old purse. Thus, there is no ability for critical thinking or subtlety. With its blank eyes, the dummy is a narrow-minded, blind automaton.
Ernst's use of photomontage was less political and more poetic than those of other German Dadaists, creating images based on random associations of juxtaposed images. He described his technique as the "systematic exploitation of the chance or artificially provoked confrontation of two or more mutually alien realities on an obviously inappropriate level - and the poetic spark that jumps across when these realities approach each other".
Between 1919 and 1920, Ernst made a series of collages that combined illustrations of war machinery with those of human limbs and various accessories to create strange hybrid creatures. Thus the fear generated by weaponry was combined with benign elements and often lyrical titles. This catharsis no doubt had a personal resonance for Ernst who was injured in the war by the recoil of a gun. In The Chinese Nightingale, for example, the arms and fan of an oriental dancer act as the limbs and headdress of a creature whose body is an English bomb. An eye has been added above the bracket on the side of the bomb to create the effect of a bizarre bird. Thus Ernst's whimsy defuses the fear associated with bombs. The title was taken from a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.
Merzpicture 46A. The Skittle Picture
This is an early example of assemblage in which two and three dimensional objects are combined. The word "Merz," which Schwitters used to describe his art practice as well as his individual pieces, is a nonsensical word, like Dada, that Schwitters culled from the word "commerz", the meaning of which he described as follows: "In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me.... Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz". In his Merzpictures, which have been called "psychological collages," he arranged found objects - usually detritus - in simple compositions that transformed trash into beautiful works of art. Whether the materials were string, a ticket stub, or a chess piece, Schwitters considered them to be equal with any traditional art material. Merz, however, is not ideological, dogmatic, hostile, or political as is much of Dada art.
Assemblage of wood, oil, metal, board on board, with artist's frame - The Tate Modern, London
Man Ray was an American artist who spent most of his working years in France. He termed his experiments rayographs, which are photographs made by placing objects directly on sensitized paper and exposing them to light. The random objects leave behind a shadowy imprint that dissociates them from their original context. These works, with their often strange combination of objects and ghostly appearance, reflected the Dada interest in chance and the nonsensical. As other Dada artists liberated painting and sculpture from its traditional role as a representational art, Ray did the same for photography - in his hands it was no longer a mirror of nature.
Ray's discovery of the rayograph was itself based on chance: after he had forgotten to expose an image and was waiting for an image to appear in the dark room, he placed some objects on the photo paper. Upon seeing them, Tzara called them "pure Dada creations" and they were an instant hit among like-minded artists. While Man Ray did not invent the photogram, his were the most famous.