Summary of Neo-Dada
The term Neo-Dada was applied to the works of artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Allan Kaprow who initiated a radical shift in the focus of modern art during the 1950s. Neo-Dada artists are known for their usage of mass media and found objects, as well as a penchant for performance. These artists rebelled against the emotionally charged paintings of the Abstract Expressionists that dominated the art world in the 1950s. By introducing mundane subject and emphasizing performance, the Neo-Dada artists ushered in the radical changes modern art underwent during the 1960s and paved the way for Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Unlike the militant declarations of Dada artists, Neo-Dada artists provoked through covert strategies more suitable to the cold war climate. Neo-Dada simultaneously mocked and celebrated consumer culture, united opposing conventions of abstraction and realism, and disregarded boundaries between media through experimentation with assemblage, performance, and other hybrid fusions.
- Neo-Dada artists often encouraged viewers to look beyond traditional aesthetic standards and interpret meaning through a process of critical thinking generated by contradictions, absurd juxtapositions, coded narratives, and other mixed signals, rather than the internal emotions the action painters referenced in their abstract works.
- Neo-Dada artists adhered to Marcel Duchamp's premise that works of art are intermediaries in a process that the artist begins and the viewer completes. In the historical context, Neo-Dada revived this long dormant theoretical framework and provided the foundation for many of the contemporary art movements that followed.
- Encouraging the shift toward the viewer as part of the artwork, many Neo-Dada artists adhered to a notion that the viewer's interpretation of a work - not the artist's intent - determined its meaning. This was emphasized through the use of chance, found objects, and mass media, which helped eliminate the artist's predetermined significance and instead placed the focus on the viewer's reading of the piece.
Overview of Neo-Dada
The Neo-Dada movement was initiated by the composer John Cage, artist Robert Rauschenberg, and the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1952. At the school, Cage lectured about embracing aleatory processes - the role of chance - and Eastern philosophies like Zen Buddhism in the creation of art and in daily life. A student in Cage's classes, Rauschenberg began working in less-traditional artistic processes, like using an automobile tire to create a print or painting a canvas pure white so that it would reflect its surroundings as the main subject matter. In the same context, Cunningham focused on synthesizing aspects of modern dance and classical ballet with his own natural ability and "animalistic" grace, aligning dance with performance art. While many individual works and moments contributed to the definition of the Neo-Dada aesthetic, Cage's "The Event," or Theatre Piece No. 1 (1952), performed at Black Mountain College, summarized the movement's interests in the emphasis on chance, individuality, interaction with the audience, and multiple media all combined into a singular work. After moving to New York City, Rauschenberg and Johns were neighbors and often discussed their ideas about artistic practice in their studios, further refining the aesthetic, particularly the idea that the artist's intent should not be legible or present in the final work.