Subversive and irreverent, Dada, more than any other movement, has shaken society's notions of art and cultural production. Fiercely anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical, Dada questioned the myth of originality, of the artist as genius suggesting instead that everybody should be an artist and that almost anything could be art. Surrealism, Constructivism, Lettrism, Situationism, Fluxus, Pop and OpArt, Conceptual Art and Minimalism: most twentieth-century art movements after 1923 have roots to Dada. Dada works still have a radicality and freshness that attracts today's culture jammers and disrupters of life as usual.
Emerging during the crisis period of the First world war, Dada's strategies of critiquing the dominant culture have been used by radical groups ever since. The Dada Cabaret was re-enacted by young German and Austrian writers and artists immediately after the Second World War, and Dada slogans were painted on buildings in Paris during the protests of 1968. Greil Marcus traces the connections between Dada, the Situationists and the Sex Pistols, suggesting that Dada was a model of revolt for these later movements. He quotes Henri Lefebvre, a close friend of the Situationists, who wrote: "To the degree that modernity has a meaning, it is this: it carries within itself, from the beginning, a radical negation - Dada, this event which took place in a Zurich café." Similarly, Stuart Home, in his The Assault on Culture, points to the impact of Dada on Lettrism, Situationism, Punk and Neoism.
Dada artists and writers were among the first to intervene in mass media; indeed interventions made up much of their activity. They cut out reproductions of photographs in the daily press and critically recontextualized them. Walter Benjamin recognized the importance of Dada when he wrote in 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' that when authenticity ceases to be an important part of making art, "the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual it begins to be based on another practice, politics." Dada photomonteurs rearranged the cultural and political myths propagated by the press. The Berlin Dadas even presented themselves as an advertising agency; they exploited the desire for sensationalism by feeding the mass media improbable and ridiculous stories.
Exhibitions, catalogues and books on twentieth-century art have generally presented Dada solely as an art movement, which they insert into Modernism's evolution from Cubism to Italian Futurism, Russian Futurism, Expressionism, Constructivism and Surrealism. Dada is often described as a transitory phenomenon, as late German Expressionism, or as the preparatory phase for Surrealism or Constructivism.
Yet considering it as ending or initial stage assesses Dada in terms of those other movements: a study that describes Dada as a precursor of Surrealism emphasizes the proto-surrealist dimensions of Dada at the expense of other aspects of the movement. Dada writers and artists did have connections to earlier movements, and some joined other groups after 1923. But they changed their orientations during the cultural crisis of the First World War.
From Rudolf E. Kuenzli, 'Survey', in Dada / edited by Rudolf Kuenzli. Themes and Movements (Phaidon Press : London etc. 2006) 14-16. Translation citation Raoul Hausmann: Hey hey, young man ... Dada is not an art trend.
Jean (Hans) Arp, The Entombment of the Birds and Butterflies (Head of Tzara), 1916-1917 [Collection Estate of the artist/on loan to the Musée d’Art et d’ Histoire, Geneva].
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banner: (detail) Raoul Hausmann, 'Mechanischer Kopf' (Der Geist unserer Zeit), 1920 [Collection Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris].