DADA OUTSIDE ZURICH
|A Brief History of Dada|
Francis Picabia brought to Paris the discoveries of those in America who had gone down the Dadaist road. The American avant-garde knew nothing of the Dadaists of Zurich, yet they were motivated by the same nihilism that had become a generalized feature of this artistic generation.
The movement for freedom in art got underway earlier there than in Europe. In 1913, an international exhibition of modern art took place in New York, now well-known under the name of the “Armoury Show”.
The modernist tendencies of European painting were represented in it; in particular, Marcel Duchamp’s picture Nude Descending a Staircase, and two pictures by Picabia, Dances at the Spring and Procession to Seville, were on display — they all provoked outrage and enjoyed success.
He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs, and from 1899 he showed his work at the Salon des Indépendants. In 1909, he painted his first abstract picture, Rubber.
In 1910, he met Marcel Duchamp. In the nihilist movement in the United States, along with Americans, there were Europeans who had taken refuge from the war.
Several avant-garde groups arose in New York. Artists and poets gathered around journals or galleries.
Duchamp was exempted from his military service, and preferred to take refuge from the ostentatious patriotism of a warlike Paris in the United States.
Picabia had been mobilized in the capacity of a driver to one of the generals and ordered to a post in Cuba, but he preferred to remain in New York.
The three Duchamp brothers and their sister, like their grandfather before them, chose the path of the artist.
Marcel came to Paris in 1904, where he studied at the Académie Julian. In 1910 and 1911, he was passionate about mathematics.
Along with Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger and Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp organized an association called the “Section d’Or”.
They were all engaged in an enthusiastic search for the mathematical foundations of art. In 1912 Marcel Duchamp painted Nude Descending a Staircase — a Cubist picture, close to Italian Futurism.
Duchamp conveyed the movement of a human figure through multiple repetitions of its outlines.
Picabia’s friends founded a journal which they named 291 from the number of the house on Fifth Avenue where Stieglitz’s gallery was located.
To the American intellectuals, Duchamp and Picabia were the incamation of the revolt against bourgeois art.
Duchamp strove to put an end to traditional, customary easel-painting. Although they were unfamiliar with the positions of the Dadaists of Zurich, they were traveling in the same direction.
“Every pictorial or visual work is useless”, Tristan Tzara declared. At the same time in New York, Duchamp was exhibiting what was called ready-mades, not pictures, but objects of everyday use elevated to the status of a work of art merely by virtue of his choice.
Man Ray was the most prominent among the many Americans who understood the point of Duchamp’s original lessons.
His individual exhibition took place on October 1915 at the Daniel Gallery, where he demonstrated his solidarity with his French friend, as well as his talent and his sense of humor.
The real explosion in the artistic life of New York was an exhibition at the Grand Central gallery in March 1917.
It was organized in the manner of the Paris Salon des Indépendants — each contributor who put in $6 had the right to show any work without the need for it to be approved.
Under the invented name Richard Matt, Marcel Duchamp submitted to the exhibition an everyday enameled urinal which he called Fountain. When the organizers refused to exhibit it, Duchamp stormed out of the exhibition’s organizational committee.
In June 1917, Picabia published in New York three numbers of his own journal, which he named 391, in the wake of Stieglitz’s journal 291.
In this way, the most an important consequence of the emergence of the American Dadaists was the formation in New York of three outstanding personalities – Duchamp, Picabia and Man Ray.
During another visit to New York, Duchamp and Man Ray were involved in bringing out the journal Societé Anonyme, which publicized avant-garde art.
In the summer of 1921, they both arrived in Paris where Dadaists from other European capitals were gathering.
Its author was someone from Zurich, Huelsenbeck, but it was also signed by Tzara, Janko and Dadaism’s Berlin adherents — the writer Franz Jung, the psychoanalyst Otto Gross, the poet Raoul Hausman and Gerhard Preiss.
It was aimed against Futurism and German Expressionism and advocated the renewal of poetic forms.
Young artists joined them as well, the most brilliant of whom were the caricaturist Georg Gross and the committed Marxist Johann Hartzfeld.
Hartzfeld even changed his German name to the English-sounding John Hartfield as agesture of protest against German patriotism. Hartfield got the nickname “the Dada-Fitter’ for the witty works he produced using the photomontage technique.
The Berlin Dadaists publicised their movement and read lectures on Modernist art.
The turbulent political events in Germany — hunger strikes, spontaneous worker demonstrations, the brutal repression of the Sparticist uprising, the murder of its ring-leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemberg — presented the artistic avant-garde with a choice and they had no hesitation in taking the side of socialist forces.
Their journal, called Der Dada, openly incited revolt. At the beginning of 1920, the Berlin Dadaists organized a demonstration on a grand scale.
In the gallery of Dr. Otto Burkhardt, they amassed 170 Dadaist works, not only from various cities in Germany, but also from Amsterdam, Antwerp, Zurich and even Paris. The exhibition was titled “Erste Internationale Dada Messe”.
Kurt Schwitters, who lived and worked in Hanover, was one of the most brilliant representatives of Dada, embodying its individualistic, anarchistic character.
A pupil of the academies of painting in Dresden and Berlin, he completely rejected traditional painting, and created his own individual aesthetic.
He collected rubbish, bus tickets, scraps of posters and so on, which he used instead of painting materials to produce abstract compositions.
In one of them, a scrap of the word “KomMERZbank” turned up, and he started to call his creative work “Merz”, which was no less absurd a name than Dada itself.
The spontaneous method of work on the Merz compositions, together with the results of the method — the abstract “colors without form” — positioned Schwitters in the first rank of those artists from Dada who became the founders of Surrealism.
Max Ernst lived in Cologne. Drafted into the army for the duration of the war, Ernst returned to his native Westphalia in 1919.
Hans Arp came to him in Cologne, bringing with him his experience of the Zurich Dadaists. Ernst and Arp were joined by a Cologne artist and poet who was well-known under the pseudonym of Johannes Theodor Baargeld.
The young Cologne intellectuals, like their counterparts in Berlin, were involved in the revolutionary movement of 1918 and 1919. Under the influence of Arp, the Cologne Dadaists preferred to confine their activity entirely within the framework of aesthetics.
It is particularly interesting that these three — Ernst, Arp, and Baargeld — worked in the field of collage. Ernst used images he had cut out of didactic works.
Arp chaotically distributed the configurations that he had arbitrarily cut out over cardboard. Baargeld made extremely varied Dadaist compositions.
Together they created anonymous works which, as a joke, they called “Fatagaga” — “Fabrication de tableaux garantis gazometriques”.
The culmination of the Dadaist performances in Cologne was a scandal at the back-door of the Wintera beer-cellar in April 1920, when the exhibitors’ defiant behavior irritated viewers.
In the exhibition, objects were shown which the viewers could not understand, and which were painted with a very individual sense of humor.
The displays foreshadowed the future works of Surrealism. Breton invited Max Ernst to the Dada exhibition in Paris. However, as a result of political complications, Ernst was unable to travel outside Germany, and he only met Breton, Tzara, and Eluard in the summer of 1921 when he visited the Tyrol.
A year later, Ernst moved to Paris where all the important figures in the Dadaist movement had come together after the war. The first shoots of Surrealism grew out of their experience.
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