Who’s Your Dada? Punk Art In History.
Above Photo: Ubu Imperator, Max Ernst, 1923. A top spins in an empty landscape.
I was interested to read about the Dada art movement recently in an article on an art website (www.theartstory.org) which I have summarized and added to below. I was particularly struck by Dada’s anti-establishment origins and aims the movement shared with the Punk Revolution, which came over 50 years later.
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that began at the Cabaret Voltaire, a nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916. (Cabaret Voltaire also gave its name to a Punk and New Wave band from Sheffield too).
The Art Critic (1919-1920) by Raoul Hausmann. Hausmann, a founder member of the Berlin Dada group, developed photomontage as a tool of satire and political protest. Although the ‘art critic’ is identified by a stamp as George Grosz, another member of the group, the image was probably an anonymous figure cut from a magazine. The fragment of a German banknote behind the critic’s neck suggests that he is controlled by capitalist forces. The words in the background are part of a poem poster made by Hausmann to be pasted on the walls of Berlin. (Tate)
Dada arose as a reaction to World War I and the nationalism and rationalism which many believed had brought about that war.
Influenced by ideas from several early innovative artistic movements, Dada art was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage.
“Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time)” (circa 1919–1920). Raoul Hausmann constructed this piece from a hairdresser’s wig-making dummy, the piece has various measuring devices attached including a ruler, a pocket watch mechanism, a typewriter, some camera segments and a crocodile wallet. (WIkipedia).
Dada mocked materialistic and nationalistic attitudes, and it proved a powerful influence on artists in many European cities, many of which generated their own Dada groups of artists.
The Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich was named after the eighteenth century French satirist, Voltaire, whose play Candide mocked the idiocies of his society. As Hugo Ball, one of the founders of Zurich Dada wrote, “This is our Candide against the times.”
Merz Picture 32A. The Cherry Picture (1921), Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters, of Hanover, Germany tried to join the Dada movement as “an artist who nails his pictures together.” He was refused membership for being too bourgeois.
Schwitters made this work from scraps and objects he collected from the streets of Hanover, Germany. Although he scavenged the fragments, Schwitters carefully composed and affixed them with glue and nails to a painted board to make this collage. has many layers: light and dark paint on the board form the base of the collage and give an illusion of depth; affixed to the board are various fabrics, an image of kittens, candy wrappers, newspaper clippings, and a flashcard of cherries, onto which Schwitters penciled the ungrammatical phrase “Ich liebe dir!” (“I love she!”). Three-dimensional objects, including a broken pipe, protrude from the surface. (mona.org)
So intent were members of Dada on opposing all the norms of bourgeois culture that the group was barely in favor of itself: “Dada is anti-Dada,” was one often used quote.
Dada art varied so widely that there wasn’t really a coherent style. It was powerfully influenced by Futurist and Expressionist concerns with technological advancement, yet other artists also introduced a preoccupation with chance and other painterly conventions.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. (Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz). Porcelain urinal inscribed “R. Mutt 1917.” The board of the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit, of which Duchamp was a director, after much debate about whether Fountain was or was not art, hid the piece from view during the show.
Disgusted by the nationalism that had sped the course to war in 1914, the Dadaists were always opposed to authoritarianism, and to any form of group leadership or guiding ideology. Their interests lay primarily in rebelling against what they saw as cultural snobbery, bourgeois convention and political support for the war.
Dada events, including spontaneous readings, performances, and exhibitions, had been taking place for three years at the Cabaret Voltaire before Tristan Tzara claimed to have invented the word Dada, in his Dada Manifesto of 1918.
Hector and Andromache. (1917). Giorgio de Chirico.
The left figure can be identified as male, given the breadth of the shoulders and the tapering abdomen. The right figure contains more organic and curved geometric shapes as well as pronounced hip bones, identifying the figure as female. (r-veneratio.livejournal.com)
Various explanations have been given for the name of the group, but the most common is that put forward by co-founder Richard Huelsenbeck, who said that he found the name by plunging a knife at random into a dictionary.
Dada is apparently a colloquial French term for a hobbyhorse, yet it also echoes some of the first words of a child, and these suggestions of childishness and absurdity appealed to the group, who were keen to put a distance between themselves and the sobriety of conventional society.
“Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany” (1919-1920), Hannah Hoch. Hoch was a prominent female artist within the Dada movement in Germany after WWI. The above photomontage reflected her views of the political and social issues that arose during this transitional time in German society. The long drawn out war that had focused the countries attention for so long was lost and Germany was left in a state of political chaos (lbunit05.wordpress.com).
It also appealed to them because it might mean the same (and nothing) in all languages – as the group was avowedly internationalist.
Given the anti-establishment origins and aims of the Dada movement, I believe it properly and firmly falls into the category of early Punk art.
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Tableau Rastadada 1920, Francis Picabia. The title of Tableau Rastadada (Painting Rastadada) is a contraction between the word rastaqouere and dada. A rastaquouère was an exotic figure suspected of spreading luxury and bad taste. In the center is a photograph of Man Ray – an American modernist artist who spent most of his career in Paris. He was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements too. It is amazing to observe how much this creation from the 1920s is modern, with a kind of graffiti style, even pop and conceptual with the high heels that Picabia appropriated from a fashion magazine. (frenchwink.com).