The artwork in this lesson is from the years of 1917 and 1919 in Zurich, Switzerland, highlighted in the timeline below. Switzerland is where the Dada movement developed or began in 1916.
One of the interesting things about Dada is that it was not so much an artistic style as an artistic philosophy. The overarching theme of this form of artwork was very much anti-war. Artists used collage, assemblage art, photomontage, and readymade to create shocking and provocative material that grabbed the attention of their audience.
One of the goals of artists that engaged in Dada was to essentially create an awareness of their position. The bourgeoisie was a particular target of Dada artists, who protested against bourgeoisie ideals and felt that the bourgeoisie were so apathetic that they would rather fight a war among themselves than change their ways.
It is also important to point out that there were many authors and poets within the Dada movement. In fact, the Dada movement's impetus is often credited to the poet Hugo Ball. After moving to neutral Switzerland, Ball established the cabaret called the Cabaret Voltaire. Many other artists that fled to Switzerland in opposition of the war and to avoid being drafted congregated at the Cabaret Voltaire.
Hugo Ball’s reading of his poem “Karawane,” below, sparked the Dada movement.
It was a performance reading in which he dressed up in a cardboard outfit, complete with lobster-like hands, a witch doctor’s hat, and cape. The poem itself was essentially nonsensical babble, which may have inspired the name “Dada,” which is “baby talk” in German. Dada questioned the idea of art itself in response to the reality of the war and the moral and ethical questions it raised.
In response to the unimaginable death toll and what was considered the utter waste of human life in the trenches, Dada artists, such as Jean Arp, explored the aesthetic of garbage. This was done with little bits of paper and discarded items using collage and assemblage art.
Arp’s “Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance” is an example of this aesthetic exploration.
For artists such as Arp, who helped found the Dada movement, randomness was a way of removing the personalization and control over art that had existed up until this time, and possibly influenced later artists such as Jackson Pollock, who explored similar themes.
Dada eventually spread to Berlin, Germany, where artists such as Hannah Höch, George Grosz, and John Heartfield used photomontage and other techniques to create works of art that function as political satire.
This next image of Höch's artwork is an example of political satire.
This piece also wins the award for the longest title to a work of art we’ve covered in all of our art history lessons to this point. Höch uses images and text from the press and other sources to create a piece that critiques the Weimar Republic, which was in charge of Germany at the time, and was eventually replaced by the fascist regime of the National Socialists, or Nazis. Her imagery depicts masculinized images of women slicing through figures of the Weimar Republic.
Marcel Duchamp created one the most controversial examples of modern art with his “Fountain” piece, an example of readymade art and, of all things, a urinal.
You might have seen Duchamp’s work before, and not just in the public restroom. His painting of the “Mona Lisa” with a mustache has become iconic. But it’s important to look beyond the obvious and ask yourself, what is he trying to say?
There are many interpretations. Connecting it to the art of the time, it’s been suggested that Duchamp was making a commentary on the use of readymade. Or, possibly, he was bypassing traditional craft employed by modern artists. He’s exploring the threshold that marks the shift between a simple object and art by using an extreme and debased example.
Source: THIS WORK IS ADAPTED FROM SOPHIA AUTHOR IAN MCCONNELL.
A 20th-century European avant-garde art movement characterized by performances and anti-war themes.
A French word meaning "a pasting", it is artwork created by using the technique of layering unrelated scraps or fragments into a composition.
The technique of making art using three and two-dimensional objects in one composition.
To assemble unaltered found objects into a composition.
A technique used to create a composite photograph by cutting and pasting photographs to create on seamless photographic print.