Deliberately satirical or non-sensical in nature.


Despite its weird and wonderful nature Dada or Dadaism is an artistic movement that stemmed from a noble cause. Originating from the European Avant-Garde and flourishing in the first half of the 20th century, Dada was very important for building the foundations of Modern Art and indeed directly led to the formation of many Modern Art movements. It is one of the ‘silliest’ art movements, centred around rejecting anything that has to do with logic, reason, and structure. Instead, Dada embraced nonsense.

Dada artists were very disconcerted by the horrors of WW1, and the bourgeois sensibilities (middle-class materialistic values and conventional attitudes) that they perceived brought the world more harm than good. In revolt, they took a strong anti-war, left-wing political stance; expressed their disgust with war, violence and nationalism and began creating artwork that was deliberately satirical and nonsensical in nature. They aimed to breakdown the social structures that they believed were the cause of such follies in order to effectuate change.

In an artistic sense, their goal was to destroy traditional values in art and to create a new art to replace the old. The playful, satirical and nonsensical artistic process helped them to deal with the horrors of war and also reflected the state of shock they were in. Dada infiltrated all aspects of artistic life, including visual, literary, sound, performance, and sculptural arts, with collage, poetry and cut-up writing being very important.

History & Key Figures

Dada was an international movement which developed in three distinct phases, in three different geographical areas. The movement began in Zurich during WW1, a place of refuge from the war. It began when its founder Hugo Ball opened a satirical nightclub in the city in 1916 called the Cabaret Voltaire, and published a magazine called Dada, in which he printed the Dada Manifesto in the same year. Ball was joined by his contemporaries Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp, Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Sophie Taeuber, and Hans Richter. The movement spread from here across Germany to Berlin, where artists such as Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch and George Grosz experimented with Dada, and to Cologne, where artists Max Ernst, Johannes Barged and Jean Arp worked.

In New York, Dada ideas emerged when artists flocked to the city to escape the war in Europe. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Man Ray settled in the new world, and were joined artists Beatrice Wood, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and Arthur Cravan in developing an anti-art practice in the United States around 1915/16. Their work was supported by the influential Modern art figure Alfred Stieglitz. This movement eventually led to the development of Ready-mades and Abstract Art.

In France, artists such as Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Max Jacob, and Clément Pansaers were in frequent contact with Tzara in Zurich, and were influenced by the ideas of Dada he was involved with. They began experimenting with Dada ideas in their art in the early 1920s, and this eventually lead to the Surrealist movement. Around the same time, in the Netherlands, Dada was mainly lead by Theo van Doesburg, and other artists such as Kurt Schwitters and their work eventually formed the basis of the De Stijl movement.

Some famous Dada works:

Hannah Höch  Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany

Hannah Höch - Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany - 1919
Collage of pasted papers- 90 x 144 cm
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin/GE

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)  1920s

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) Untitled1920s
Gelatin silver print - 15.1 x 10.1 cm; 5 15/16 x 4 in.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York NY

Jean Arp  Sous les lois du hasard (According to the Laws of Chance)

Jean Arp - Sous les lois du hasard (According to the Laws of Chance), 1933
Sugar paper on plyboard - 15.9 x 17.3 cm
Tate, London/UK
Presented by Mr and Mr Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

Sophie Taeuber-Arp  Dada HeadSophie Taeuber-Arp  Dada HeadSophie Taeuber-Arp  Dada Head

Sophie Taeuber-Arp - Dada Head, 1920
Painted wood with glass beads on wire
23.5 cm; 9 1/4" high
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York NY
Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange) and Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Hans Richter  Rhythmus 21

Hans Richter - Rhythmus 21, 1921
35mm film (black and white, silent), 3 min.
Museum of Modern Art, New York NY
Film in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York, NY
© 2018 Hans Richter

Hugo Ball  Performance of ‘Karawane’

Hugo BallPerformance of ‘Karawane’, 1916
Club Voltaire
Zurich, Switzerland

Max Ernst  The Gramineous Bicycle Garnished with Bells the Dappled Fire Damps and the Echinoderms Bending the Spine to Look for Caresses

Max Ernst- The Gramineous Bicycle Garnished with Bells the Dappled Fire Damps and the Echinoderms Bending the Spine to Look for Caresses, c. 1921
Gouache, ink, and pencil on printed paper on paperboard - 74.3 × 99.7 cm; 29 1/4 × 39 1/4ʺ
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York NY
Purchase © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Francis Picabia  Mouvement Dada (Dada Movement)

Francis Picabia - Mouvement Dada (Dada Movement), 1919
Ink and pencil on paper - 51.1 x 36.2 cm; 20 1/8 x 14 1/4"
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York NY
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


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