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To evoke a "before", that is to try and establish Dada’s ancestry so as to better describe its history would be against the tenets of a movement that turned its back on all artistic, literary and cultural heritages. Dada considered itself as "born without a mother," or as Tristan Tzara’s said: "I don’t even want to know if there have been men before me." [Tristan Tzara, Manifeste Dada, 1918, cover]. The Dadaists, who wanted to make a tabula rasa of history, nevertheless maintained an ambiguous relationship with their recent past. Even though they admired certain figures such as Apollinaire, they rejected previous influences, especially those of the Futurists, to whom they owed much in the realm of typography.
Later, the Dadaists acknowledged a certain spirit of contention and anti-conformism in Lautréamont and Rimbaud, as well as in Jarry and his Père Ubu. "Cornegidouille! We will have demolished nothing if we don’t demolish the ruins as well." (A. Jarry, Oeuvres ([1900], 2004) 289]. The Dadaists were issued from the failure of 19th century European bourgeois culture and its most sacred form, Art. Before 1916 Dada appeared occasionally in the works of isolated individuals, but without taking the unified form of a movement – one that would not be christened until that year in Zurich, and which would play the role of revealer and catalyst for existing anti-establishment energies.

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Jeanne Brun, 'Avant Dada', translated from the French text, published in the catalogue Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 122-123. The translation was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 53-55 [Courtesy MNAM Centre Pompidou].

Marcel Duchamp, Roue de Bicyclette, 1913 [= Bicycle Wheel] 64.8 cm. diameter, mounted on painted wooden stool (60.2 cm. high). This replica is now in the Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, housed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


banner: (detail) Raoul Hausmann, 'Mechanischer Kopf' (Der Geist unserer Zeit), 1920 [Collection Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris].