National Gallery of Art

Origin of the word Dada

The origin of the name Dada is unclear; some believe that it is a nonsensical word. Others maintain that it originates from the Romanian artists Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco’s frequent use of the words da, da, meaning yes, yes in the Romanian language (Engl. equivalent: yeah, yeah, as in a sarcastic or facetious yeah, right). Still others believe that a group of artists assembled in Zürich in 1916, wanting a name for their new movement, chose it at random by stabbing a FrenchGerman dictionary with a paper knife, and picking the name that the point landed upon. Dada in French is a child’s word for hobby-horse. In French the colloquialism, c’est mon dada, means it’s my hobby.

It has also been suggested that the word “dada” was chosen randomly from the Larousse dictionary.

According to the Dada ideal, the movement would not be called Dadaism, much less designated an art-movement.

Zürich

In 1916, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Jean/Hans Arp, Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Sophie Täuber; along with others discussed art and put on performances in the Cabaret Voltaire expressing their disgust with the war and the interests that inspired it. By some accounts Dada coalesced on October 6 at the cabaret.

At the first public soiree at the cabaret on July 14, 1916, Ball recited the first manifesto (see text). Tzara, in 1918, wrote a Dada manifesto considered one of the most important of the Dada writings. Other manifestos followed.

Marcel Janco recalled,

We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the “tabula rasa“. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.

A single issue of Cabaret Voltaire was the first publication to come out of the movement.

After the cabaret closed down, activities moved to a new gallery, and Ball left Europe. Tzara began a relentless campaign to spread Dada ideas. He bombarded French and Italian artists and writers with letters, and soon emerged as the Dada leader and master strategist. The Cabaret Voltaire has by now re-opened, and is still in the same place at the Spiegelgasse 1 in the Niederdorf.

Zürich Dada, with Tzara at the helm, published the art and literature review Dada beginning in July 1917, with five editions from Zürich and the final two from Paris.

When World War I ended in 1918, most of the Zürich Dadaists returned to their home countries, and some began Dada activities in other cities.

Berlin

The groups in Germany were not as strongly anti-art as other groups. Their activity and art was more political and social, with corrosive manifestos and propaganda, biting satire, large public demonstrations and overt political activities. It has been suggested that this is at least partially due to Berlin’s proximity to the front, and that for an opposite effect, New York’s geographic distance from the war spawned its more theoretically-driven, less political nature.

In February 1918, Richard Huelsenbeck gave his first Dada speech in Berlin, and produced a Dada manifesto later in the year. Hannah Höch and George Grosz used Dada to express post-World War I communist sympathies. Grosz, together with John Heartfield, developed the technique of photomontage during this period. The artists published a series of short-lived political journals, and held the International Dada Fair in 1920.

The Berlin group saw much in-fighting; Kurt Schwitters and others were excluded from the group. Schwitters moved to Hanover where he developed his individual type of Dada, which he dubbed Merz.

The Berlin group published periodicals such as Club Dada, Der Dada, Everyman His Own Football , and Dada Almanach.

Cologne

In Cologne (Köln), Max Ernst, Johannes Theodor Baargeld and Arp launched a controversial Dada exhibition in 1920 which focused on nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments. Cologne’s Early Spring Exhibition was set up in a pub, and required that participants walk past urinals while being read lewd poetry by a woman in a communion dress. The police closed the exhibition on grounds of obscenity, but it was re-opened when the charges were dropped.[4]

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