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Dada at The Tate
16, Sep 2020

The Dada Movement

Throughout his lifetime, Richard Hüelsenbeck, who lived until 1974 said “Dada is still existing,“ (Wikipedia). In February 1916 the beginning of that existence is revealed at the Cabaret Voltaire, a back-room bar named after the French intellectual and philosopher best known for his role in Europe’s Age of Enlightenment.

The ongoing conflict of World War I gave rise to the movement of Dada. Some of these artists, such as Hugo Ball, an enlisted German soldier, were sitting out the war in the nearby neutral country of Switzerland.  It was here where Hugo Ball decided to host an assortment of artists and activists who would redefine what many people across the world would come to know as modern art. The first attendees of the Zurich Dada collective at Cabaret Voltaire included guests from all over Western Europe, including Emmy Hennings, Jean Arp, Kurt Switters, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch from Germany; Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara from Romania; Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia from France, and Sophie Taeber-Arp from Switzerland among others.

The movement of Dada emerged as a direct response to address the underlying problems that were thought to have led to war. As an anti-art movement, it provided a harsh critique of societal norms. The question “What was Dada?” could also be answered by what it wasn’t. Dada was influenced by Futurism, Constructivism, Cubism, and Expressionism and rejected traditional norms and aesthetics. Dada’s own aesthetic influenced many other cities’ own movements, including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne. Dada works mocked bourgeois culture and nationalism.

Every Dada creation reveals a story. In Marcel Duchamp’s “LHOOQ” (1919), his work is able to communicate a strong disdain for contemporary art society. In this piece, he relocates the Mona Lisa to a postcard, thus diminishing the perceived value of the Mona Lisa from the start. By defacing the Mona Lisa with a goatee and a mustache, his work succeeds in its aim to reject the academic painting style that was such a prominent influence during this time. This disdain for contemporary art society was also seen in his previous work, Fountain (1917) which was simply a photograph of a porcelain urinal taken by Alfred Stieglitz. Duchamp submitted the image to an art exhibition and created an uproar as a result.  Other works during the Dada movement can have a lasting impact on the techniques used in subsequent movements. In Raoul Hausmann's Dada Triumphs (The Exacting Brain of a Bourgeois Calls Forth a World Movement) (1920), we see the photo montage effect that he and Hannah Höch are credited with creating.

Over the last one-hundred years, we can observe how the Dada movement and the styles associated with it have remained. The photo collage influence can be seen used in the late 20th century with notable examples like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Album cover and as a strong influence on Monty Python’s film style.  Its influence has even perhaps transcended the art world where modern society has a vehicle such as the internet to facilitate mockery and protest of the bourgeois. Through the Dada’s predisposition to questioning and redefining norms, many influences are still seen today across nearly all mediums from music, film and visual communication to literature, philosophy and science.

“Richard Huelsenbeck” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 August 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Huelsenbeck

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Steven Hughes is based in Austin, TX and is currently a student at Austin Community College.

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