“Art needs an operation” – Tristan Tzara
Exactly 100 years ago, at the height of the First World War, in 1916 the Dadaist art movement began. To escape the conflict, refugees, artists, intellectuals, anarchists, political dissidents and pacifists fleeing war torn Europe and gathered in neutral Switzerland. It was in Zurich, at the Cabaret Voltaire nightclub, that a chaotic gathering gave birth to one of the 20th centuries most influential art styles.
Romanian artist, Marcel Janco captured the evening in a painting that clearly shows the anarchic, chaos and mayhem that stylised the Dadaist approach to art. The scene depicted is a noisy, uncontrolled riot, which reflects perfectly the anti-art standpoint the Dadaists wanted to promote.
Then, as now, six nights a week the Cabaret Voltaire resounded to nonsensical music, wordless poems, tribal masks and primitive art. It embraced African influences, European folk traditions and constantly explored new ways of creating and celebrating art and culture. The live events brought together visual arts, costume, poetry, music and dance in a way that defied the bourgeois conventions of the day.
The group included such famous names as Hugo Ball, Emmy Hemmings, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp Kurt Schwitters and Hans Richter who were at the forefront of the revolutionary art movement. They were joined by the likes of Andre Breton, Phillippe Soupault, Hannah Hoch, Sophie Taeber, Otto Dix and Max Ernst.
Their unbound energy and artistic creativity continued into the mid-nineteen twenties when the group went on to pastures new. Taking on solo projects or became involved in other art groups.
Thought is made in the mouth
However, Dada’s legacy was far reaching and is still felt in the works of art movements, musicians and performers of today. In 2004, Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 sculpture “Fountain” was voted the most influential art piece of the 20th century. This was ahead of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, Matisse’s “Red Studio” and Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Diptych”.
Surrealism, Photo collage, Pop Art, Assemblage, Happenings, Punk and Rap music all have their origins in the anti-establishment sentiments of the Dadaist movement. Their strongly held desire to break with tradition and create a new form of expression were picked up by later artists and performers. The rebellious displays and offending images of today all have, at their core, a little of the Dadaists intentions.
Not bad for a drunken, Wednesday evening down the club in 1916.