The Dada movement was a protest against the barbarism of World War I, the bourgeois interests that Dada adherents believed inspired the war, and what they believed was an oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday society. Dada was an international movement, and it is difficult to classify artists as being from any one particular country, as they were constantly moving from one place to another.
Dada thought that reason and logic had led people into the horrors of war, so the only route to salvation was to reject logic and embrace anarchy and irrationality. However, this could also be thought of as the logical side of anarchy and rejection of values and order; it is not irrational to embrace the systematic destruction of values, if one thinks them to be flawed.
According to its proponents, Dada was not art – it was “anti-art”. It was anti-art in the sense that Dadaists protested against the contemporary academic and cultured values of art. For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art were 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. Ironically, Dada became an influential movement in modern art, a commentary on order and the carnage Dadaists believed it wreaked. Through their rejection of traditional culture and aesthetics they hoped to destroy them.
The ABC’s of DADA – Part 1
A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that “The Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.” Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, “in reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide.”
Years later, Dada artists described the movement as “a phenomenon bursting forth in the midst of the postwar economic and moral crisis, a savior, a monster, which would lay waste to everything in its path. It was a systematic work of destruction and demoralization…In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege.”
While broad, the movement was unstable. By 1924 in Paris, Dada was melding into surrealism, and artists had gone on to other ideas and movements, including surrealism, social realism and other forms of modernism. Some theorists argue that Dada was actually the beginning of postmodern art.
The ABC’s of DADA – Part 2
By the dawn of World War II, many of the European Dadaists had fled or emigrated to the United States. Some died in death camps under Hitler, who persecuted the kind of “Degenerate art” that Dada represented. The movement became less active as post-World War II optimism led to new movements in art and literature.
Dada is a named influence and reference of various anti-art and political and cultural movements including the Lettrists and the Situationists.
The ABC’s of DADA – Part 3
Bonus: 1928 Dadaist Film by Hans Richter
Image above: Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919, collage of pasted papers, 90×144 cm, Staatliche Museum, Berlin