I wish I was in Tijuana

The word ‘Dada’ was chosen at random by a group of young artists and writers from a dictionary in the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916; it soon came to represent a cause taken up by young utopians who were trying to counter the madness of the tumultuous years of the First World War.

From 1915 to 1925 the movement became international, with Dadaists in Zurich, Berlin, New York, Barcelona and Paris. Dada poets, painters, photographers and theorists – including Jean Arp, Johannes Bader, Hugo Ball, Marcel Duchamp, Raoul Hausmann, Marcel Janco, Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Tristan Tzara – overturned the prevailing aesthetic, changed art and redefined the relationship between the individual and society.

In this pocket-sized, profusely illustrated book, Marc Dachy sets out with passion to retrace the history of this infamous movement, which demanded works that were ‘strong, honest, precise and forever uncompromised.’

Dadaism is one of those movements in modern art which had an amazingly short life but a lasting influence. It flourished for not much more than the decade between 1915 and 1925, yet some of its legacy is still with us.

It's amazing to think that this very influential movement sprang up in the middle of the first world war - though there were pre-echoes of it in the work of abstract expressionism and Russian futurism which just preceded it. Tristan Tzara might have thought up the name Dada, but I doubt that anyone reads a word of what he wrote these days. However, the work of visual artists such as Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber still speaks as something of lasting value, almost one hundred years later.

Dadaism was certainly what we would now call a multimedia phenomenon. It involved painting and sculpture, poetry, typography, theatre, and performance art. At one point it even included a boxing match between Jack Johnson - first black world champion - and Arthur Cravan, a poet-boxer Dadist who was the nephew of Oscar Wilde.

What came out of it that will be of enduring value? Well, certainly the use of montage in graphic design is still with us, as is production in what we now call 'mixed media'. The work of Raoul Hausmann, Georg Groz, John Heartfield, and Kurt Schwitters still seems fresh today - though Schwitters was actually refused membership of the 'official' Dada group, to which he responded by setting up his own one-man movement, called Merz.

As a 'movement' (though it was never coherent) it spread quickly from its birthplace in Zurich to Berlin, Paris, and even New York. But its principal adherents were forever disagreeing with each other or even repudiating their own former beliefs. By the early 1920s Dada was ready to be swept up by the much stronger forces of surrealism.

This monograph is beautifully illustrated and it ends with a collection of the key declarations and manifestos of the period for those who want a taste of what was thought to be radical protest in art at the time. There's also a very good bibliography. Pocket size in format and price, it's an excellent introduction to the subject.
[Roy Johnson / MANTEX]

Dada: The Revolt of Art, by Marc Dachy
Thames and Hudson • ISBN 0500301190 • 2006 • 115 MOP$


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