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Cover of the first edition of the publication, Dada. Edited by Tristan Tzara. Zürich, 1917.

Dada, or Dadaism, was a cultural movement that involved visual arts, literature (mainly poetry), theatre, and graphic design, and began in neutral Zürich, Switzerland during World War I.



Dada activities included public gatherings, demonstrations, and publication of art/literary journals. Passionate coverage of art, politics and culture filled their publications.

Deliberate irrationality, the rejection of the prevailing standards in art, disillusionment, cynicism, nonsense, chance and randomness characterize Dada. The movement was a protest against the barbarism of World War I, the bourgeois interests Dada adherents believed inspired the war, and what they believed was an oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday society. The movement influenced later styles, movements and groups including surrealism and Fluxus.

According to its proponents, Dada was not art — it was anti-art. For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to have at least an implicit or latent message, Dada strove to have no meaning — interpretation of Dada is dependent entirely on the viewer. If art is to appeal to sensibilities, Dada is to offend. It is perhaps then ironic that Dada became an influential movement in modern art. Dada became a commentary on art and the world, thus became art itself.

Those who participated in Dada were attracted to a nihilistic point of view (nothing achieved by mankind was worthwhile, not even art), and created art in which chance and randomness formed the basis of creation.

Dada was a way to express the confusion felt by many people as their world turned upside down by World War I. There was not an attempt to find meaning in disorder, but rather to accept disorder as the nature of the world, using it as a means to express their distaste for the aesthetics of the previous order and carnage they believed it reaped. Through this rejection of traditional culture and aesthetics they hoped to destroy traditional culture and aesthetics.



In 1916, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Richard Huelsenbeck, Sophie Täuber — all living in exile in Zürich — along with others discussed art and put on performances in the Cabaret Voltaire expressing their disgust with the war and the interests that inspired it. By some accounts Dada coalesced on October 6 at the cabaret.

At the first public soiree at the cabaret on July 14, 1916, Ball recited the first Dada manifesto ( Tzara, in 1918, wrote a Dada manifesto[1] ( considered one of the most important of the Dada writings. Other manifestos followed.

Marcel Janco recalled,

We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the "tabula rasa". At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education , institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.

A single issue of Cabaret Voltaire was the first publication to come out of the movement.

After the cabaret closed down, activities moved to a new gallery, and Ball left Europe. Tzara began a relentless campaign to spread Dada ideas. He bombarded French and Italian artists and writers with letters, and soon emerged as the Dada leader and master strategist.

Zürich Dada, with Tzara at the helm, published the art and literature review, Dada,[2] ( beginning in July 1917, with five editions from Zürich and the final two from Paris.

When World War I ended in 1918, most of the Zürich Dadaists returned to their home countries, and some began Dada activities in other cities.

Origin of the word Dada

The origin of the name Dada is unclear. Some believe that it is a nonsensical word. Some believe it originates from the Romanian artists Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco's frequent use of the words da, da, meaning yes, yes in the Romanian language. Others believe that a group of artists assembled in Zürich in 1916, wanting a name for their new movement, chose it at random by stabbing a French-German dictionary, and picking the name that the point landed upon. Dada in French is a child's word for hobby-horse. In French the colloquialism, c'est mon dada, means it's my hobby.

According to the Dada ideal, the movement would not be called Dadaism, much less designated an art movement.


The groups in Germany were not as strongly anti-art, as other groups, instead their activity and art was more political and social with corrosive manifestos and propaganda, biting satire, large public demonstrations and overt political activities.

In February 1918, Richard Huelsenbeck gave his first Dada speech in Berlin, and produced a Dada manifesto later in the year. Hannah Höch and George Grosz used Dada to express post-World War I communist sympathies. Grosz, together with John Heartfield, developed the technique of photomontage during this period. The artists published a series of short-lived political journals, and held an International Dada Fair in 1920.

The Berlin group saw much in-fighting; Kurt Schwitters and others were excluded from the group. Schwitters moved to Hanover where he developed his individual type of Dada, which he dubbed Merz.

The Berlin group published periodicals such as Club Dada, Der Dada, Everyman His Own Football (Jedermann sein eigner Fussball), and Dada Almanach[3] (


In Cologne (Köln), Max Ernst, Johannes Theodor Baargeld and Arp in 1920 launched a controversial Dada exhibition, which focused on nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments.

New York

Like Zürich, New York was a refuge for writers and artists from World War I. Soon after arriving from France Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia met American artist Man Ray. By 1916 the three of them became the center of radical anti-art activities in the United States. American Beatrice Wood, who had been studying in France, soon joined them. Much of their activity centered in Alfred Stieglitz's gallery, 291, and the studio of Walter and Louise Arensberg.

The New Yorkers did not label themselves, Dada, nor did they issue manifestos or organize riotous events. However, they issued challenges to art and culture through publications such as The Blind Man, Rongwrong, and New York Dada[4] ( in which they criticized the traditionalist basis for museum art.

During this time Duchamp began exhibiting readymades (found objects) such as a bottle rack, and got involved with Society of Independent Artists. In 1917 he submitted his famous Fountain, a urinal signed R. Mutt, to the Society of Independent Artists show only to have the piece rejected.

Picabia's visits to Europe tied New York, Zürich and Paris groups together. For seven years he also published a Dada periodical, 391[5] (, in Barcelona, Spain, New York City, Zürich, and Paris from 1917 through 1924.

By 1921, most of the original players moved to Paris where Dada experienced its last incarnation. (Until later Neo-Dada movements.)


The French avant-garde kept abreast of Dada activities in Zürich with regular communications from Tristan Tzara, who exchanged letters, poems, and magazines with Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Max Jacob, and other French writers, critics and artists.

Dada in Paris got rolling in 1920 when many of the originators converged there. Inspired by Tzara, Paris Dada soon issued manifestos, organized demonstrations, staged performances and produced a number of journals (the final two editions of Dada, Le Cannibale, and Littérature featured Dada in several editions)[6] (

The first introduction of Dada artwork to the Parisian public was at the Salon des Indépendants in 1921. Jean Crotti exhibited works associated with Dada including a work entitled, Explicatif bearing the word Tabu.

Poetry, music and sound

Not strictly a visual arts or literary movement, Dada influence reached into sound and music. Kurt Schwitters developed what he called sound poems and composers such as Erwin Schulhoff, Hans Heusser and Albert Savinio wrote Dada music, while members of Les Six collaborated with Dada movement members and their pieces played at Dada gatherings.


While broad reaching, the movement was unstable. By 1924, Dada was melding into surrealism, and artists had gone on to other ideas and movements, including socialist realism and other forms of modernism.

By the dawn of World War II, many of the European Dadaists had fled or emmigrated to the United States. Some died in death camps under Hitler, who disliked the kind of radical art that Dada represented. The movement became less active as post-World War II optimism led to new movements in art and literature.

In 1967, a large Dada retrospective was held in Paris, France.

At the same time that the Zürich Dadaists made noise and spectacle at the Cabaret Voltaire, Vladimir Lenin wrote his revolutionary plans for Russia in a nearby apartment. He was unappreciative of the artistic revolutionary activity near him. Tom Stoppard used this coincidence as a premise for his play Travesties (1974), which includes Tzara, Lenin, and James Joyce as characters.

Cabaret Voltaire fell into disrepair until it was occupied by a group claiming to be neo-Dadaists in June-August of 2002. After their eviction the Cabaret Voltaire became a museum dedicated to the history of Dada.

Early practitioners

For a more complete list of Dadaists, see List of Dadaists.


Related links

External links

cs:Dadaismus da:Dadaisme de:Dadaismus el:Ντανταϊσμός et:Dadaism es:Dadaísmo fr:Dadaïsme he:דאדא nl:Dadaïsme no:Dadaisme ja:ダダイスム pl:Dadaizm pt:Dadaísmo ro:Dadaism fi:Dada sv:Dadaism


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