Discovering Dada




Dada, also known as Dadaism, was an short-lived art movement in the early 20th century.  The beginnings of Dada were deeply rooted in the avant-garde movement in Europe.  However, Dada also had heavy influences from the negative reactions and responses to WWI.   Because of this beginning, Dadaists was extremely anti-war and anti-bourgeois and expressed this in anti-art works.  Dada rejected reason and logic because it believed that these things had started the war.  It valued intuition and absurdity claiming to be “nothing and everything.”  Dadaism was the foundation for many other art movements including abstract art, pop art, surrealism, and postmodernism.

While Dada was an international movement, it got its start from artist and poets in the Cabaret Voltair in Zurich.  In 1916, the Cabaret recited the first manifesto which basically declared the ideas of Dada.  In 1917, the second manifesto was written and it was published in 1918.  The Cabaret started publishing a magazine to showcase art forms of the new movement and to express ideologies.  When WWI ended in 1918, most of the Zurich Dadaists returned home and began to spread the art movement in their own countries.


In Germany, Dadaists were not as anti-art as in other countries.  The art movement appeared more in political andsocial demonstrations, speeches, and propaganda.  George Grosz and John Heartfield developed photomontage as a technique of Dadaism.  In those days, photomontage required hours of carefully cutting out pictures and clueing them to other pictured to create non-real images.  Dadaists also developed the techniques of collage and assemblage.  In 1920, Berlin hosted the First International Dada Fair.  200 art works were shown and although the ticket prices were extremely high, the exhibition lost a lot of money and only made one sale.  Cologne also hosted an exhibition that year that was focused on anti-bourgeois ideas.  People who came to the exhibition, had to walk into the pub and past a wall of urinals.  They also had to listen while a women in a communion dress, read inappropriate poetry.  The police tried to close the exhibition for obscenity but the charges were dropped.


In New York, while there were Dadaists, they did not produce manifestos.  They published things like “The Blind Man” and “New York Dada” to question and challenge art and culture.  It was here, that Marcel Duchamp started to produce readymades.  Readymades were objects that were found, or had just been purchased, and were called art.  In 1917, he submitted Fountain, a urinal, to the Society of Independent Artists.  It was rejected and was scorned as art, but today it is a well-known Dada piece.

In Paris, the French avant-garde kept Dadaism alive.  While Dadaists in Paris did create manifestos, journals, and demonstrations, they was best known for their ballets.  Erik Satie, Picasso, and Cocteau collaborated to create the ballet, Parade.  It was first performed in 1917 by the Ballets Russes.  Parade immediately created a scandal because it was obviously making fun of itself.  Because France had a culture deeply rooted in classicalism, traditionalists had several problems with this new type of art and ballet.  While there where also Dada movements in the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Italy, Japan, Ireland, Russia, and the USA, these were the three most famous areas.  Dadaism, while perhaps one of the more abstract art movements, was not the only art form in the 20th century.


Dadaism preceded surrealism and laid some of the groundwork for this art movement.  Surrealism began in the 1920’s and was based in illogic and nonsense, like Dadaism.  However, surrealism aimed to represent the dreamworld and the unconscious while Dadaism tried to question the limitations of art.  Both styles where unnerving and went against all the predictable ideas of art but were both different from each other.  While Dadaism was against logic for political reasons and sought to question boundaries, surrealism came from the dreamworld and changed everyday

Unknown-3objects to imaginary creatures and objects in their art.

Cubism was also another art movement in the early 20th century.  Cubism was the use of geometric shapes and designs to depict images of people and everyday objects.  It used three dimensional drawings and multiple viewpoints to show the object from all sides and in greater detail.  Dadaism was never that intricate and never used geometrical shapes like cubism.  Both featured mainly people and everyday objects rather that landscapes.  Both can also be considered abstract art forms.


Expressionism also came around in the early 20th century.  It was very different from Dadaism. It tried to show reality in a completely distorted way.  The point was to get the viewer to feel a certain mood, idea, or emotion.  Both styles were developed from the avant-garde movement and can be considered abstract.  Dadaism didn’t try to evoke an emotion, but rather, tried to evoke a questioning of logic and reason.



Dadaism, while a short art movement, was extremely important.  It, along with the other art movements of this time began to question logic and reality, while drifting towards the unknown.  Dadaism made the viewer question cultural and personal limitations of art while expressing anti-war anti-bourgeois ideologies through anti-art.  While Dadaism is unlike any other art movement it has laid the foundations for historical art movements and will continue to inspire new ones in the present day.