Exhibit | Everything is Dada
George Grosz, Drinnen und Draussen (Inside and Outside), 1926. Oil on canvas, 311⁄2 × 463⁄4 in. (80 × 118.7 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Promised gift of Dr. and Mrs. Herbert Schaefer
At the height of World War I, a group of artists from across Europe came together in Zurich. The year was 1916 and the place was the Cabaret Voltaire. It was there and then that they staged dance, music, poetry, and performance art pieces designed to shock and surprise, blurring the lines between art and life. The group was firmly anti-war, anti-authority, and anti-bourgeois, Thumbing their nose at convention, they named their movement Dada. The term was coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1913, when he created his first readymades, thumbing his nose at the establishment as only the young could.
In celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of this revolutionary movement, Yale University Art Gallery presents Everything is Dada, on view now through July 3, 2016. The exhibition includes major paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs from the Gallery’s collection by Jean (Hans) Arp, Marcel Duchamp, George Grosz, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Beatrice Wood, and many others.
Dada arose out of the insanity of war. A response to nihilism, all bets were off. But a sense of humor was needed in order to maintain. As the artists left the safe haven of Switzerland and returned to their home countries or went abroad, Dadaist ideas spread across Europe and headed to New York. As Dada evolved, it took on different shapes and forms, always adapting itself to address contemporary issues and mores. The artists maintained a desire to provoke, to shock, and to break free from the moral, political, and aesthetic dogmas of the day that kept them tied to the status quo and its limitations.
As Dada seeped into popular consciousness, it found itself taking hold across the arts, speaking to people across the generations. By rejecting the idea that an object needed an aesthetic value to be considered art, Dadists lead the way for the punk movement of the late twentieth century. They incorporated everyday objects such as newspapers, lightbulbs, and mechanical parts into their works in order to capture the zeitgeist. Consider that at that time these were new inventions, radically introducing the idea of progress to the modern world. With these new advancements, Dadaists maintained a spirit of independence that allowed them the freedom to experiment with new techniques such as collage and assemblage. By invoking the element of chance into the creative process, Dadaists were quick to remind us about the unpredictability of the Universe.
With their mockery of elitism and tradition, Dadaists subverted the art world from the inside out, making people deeply uncomfortable with the idea that art did not need to be pretty, decorative, or empowering—and in doing so, they set the stage for a host of avant-garde movements including Surrealism, Pop Art, and Conceptual Art that would follow in the intervening years, reminding us of the power of art to transform our understanding of life itself. Art as a rebellious act has become more than a reaction; it has become the raison d’etre in its own right. As Marcel Duchamp observed, “A painting that doesn’t shock isn’t worth painting.”
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.