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  Dada (‘hobbyhorse’) was an anti-art art movement of the 1910s to 1920s. It began in Zürich with the collaboration of a group of artists seeking refuge from World War I, and included the Romanian poet Tristan Tzara, the French fine artist Hans Arp and the German writer Hugo Ball. In 1916 Ball founded the Cabaret Voltaire, where Dada ‘manifestations’ took place, backed up by the publication of manifestoes, pamphlets and magazines (whose anarchic graphics later became influential in avant-garde circles). In 1917 Dada spread to the rest of Europe and beyond (notably to Australia and the Americas). Tzara and Ball opened the Galerie Dada in Zürich, Francis Picabia published the magazine 391 in Barcelona, and Marcel Duchamp brought out the magazines The Blind Man and Wrong~Wrong in New York. After the war Dada became influential in Germany round Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp and Max Ernst, and in France where Paris Dada was animated by André Breton and Louis Aragon.

The name Dada, reputedly selected at random by sticking a knife in a dictionary, was adopted to symbolize the antirational, anarchic and anti-traditionalist stance of its members. The idea was to demolish bourgeois standards in the arts by mocking them. The Dadaists printed nonsense poetry set in a random selection of typefaces, exhibited such ‘found objects’ as Duchamp\'s Fountain of 1917 (a urinal signed ‘R. Mutt’) or a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool, and performed anti-music consisting of rude noises and random shouts. Such tactics of shock and unreason challenged accepted values in the arts (such as the cult of beauty), which the group regarded as hypocritical and out of keeping with 20th-century militaristic and industrial civilization.

The Dada movement itself was short-lived, a matter of a few dozen exhibitions, publications and cabaret performances. After 1919 its nihilistic principles were moderated under the dual influence of a nascent institutionalization of the Dadists\' work (for example, Dada was incorporated into the Paris Salon des Indépendants in 1920), and a replacement of the shock of disjunction with an interest in juxtaposition as an aesthetic principle—notably, after 1923, in Surrealism. Although Dada\'s life was little more than an artistic mayfly dance, the feeling of alienation, of challenge, of art as a ‘happening’, which it restored to our experience of the arts was seminal to the theatre of the absurd, Cubism, neoclassicism and Surrealism—in fact, to just about every major development in the arts this century. PD MG KMcL

Further reading H. Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art.



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