Dictionary of Art and Artists








MODERN ART


Impressionism to Post-Modernism




 

 

 

 

Contents:

1 Impressionism

2 Symbolism and Art Nouveau

3 Fauvism and Expressionism

4 Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism

5 Dada and Surrealism

6 Abstract Expressionism

7 Pop

8 Pluralism since 1960


Appendix: Art Now

 

 

 


5. Dada and Surrealism

(DAWN ADES)

 


Dada

The bourgeois regarded the Dadaist as a dissolute monster, a revolutionary villain, a barbarous Asiatic, plotting against his bells, his safe-deposits, his honours list. The Dadaist thought up tricks to rob the bourgeois of his sleep....
The Dadaist gave the bourgeois a sense of confusion and distant, yet mighty rumbling, so that his bells began to buzz, his safes frowned, and his honours list broke out in spots.

(The Navel Bottle by
Jean Arp)

TO THE PUBLIC

Before going down among you to pull out your decaying teeth, your running ears, your tongues full of sores,
Before breaking your putrid bones,
Before opening your cholera-infested belly and taking out for use as fertilizer your too fatted liver, your ignoble spleen and your diabetic kidneys,
Before tearing out your ugly sexual organ, incontinent and slimy,
Before extinguishing your appetite for beauty, ecstasy, sugar, philosophy, mathematical and poetic metaphysical pepper and cucumbers,
Before disinfecting you with vitriol, cleansing ypu and shellacking you with passion,
Before all that,
We shall take a big antiseptic bath,
And we warn you
We are murderers.

(Manifesto signed by Ribemont-Dessaignes and read by seven people at the demonstration at the Grand Palais des Champs Elysees, Paris, 5 February 1920).

You are all indicted; stand up! Stand up as you would for the Marseillaise or God Save the King....

Dada alone does not smell: it is nothing, nothing, nothing.
It is like your hopes: nothing.
like your paradise: nothing.
like your idols: nothing.
like your politicians: nothing.
like your heroes: nothing.
like your artists: nothing.
like your religions: nothing.

Hiss, shout, kick my teeth in, so what? I shall still tell you that you are half-wits. In three months my friends and I will be selling you our pictures for a few francs.

(Manifeste cannibale dada by Francis Picabia, read at the Dada soiree at the Theatre de la Maison de l'Oeuvre, Paris, 27 March 1920.)


The
Dadaists believed that the artist was the product, and, traditionally, the prop, of bourgeois society, itself anachronistic and doomed. The war finally demonstrated its rottenness, but instead of being able to join in the construction of something new, the artist was still trapped in that society's death throes. He was thus an anachronism whose work was totally irrelevant, and the Dadaists wanted to prove its irrelevance in public. Dada was an expression of frustration and anger. But the Dadaists were after all painters and poets, and they subsisted in a state of complex irony, calling for the collapse of a society and its art on which they themselves were still in many ways dependent, and which, to compound the irony, had shown itself masochistically eager to embrace Dada and pay a few sous for its work in order to turn them into Art too.

The Dadaists wrote innumerable manifestos, each one colouring the concept of
Dada according to his temperament. But how else can you express frustration and anger? Dada turned in two directions, on the one hand to a nihilistic and violent attack on art, and on the other to games, masks, buffoonery. 'What we call Dada is a harlequinade made of nothingness in which all higher questions are involved, a gladiator's gesture, a play with shabby debris, an execution of postured morality and plenitude', Hugo Ball wrote in his diary, Die Flucht aus der Zeit. Picabia and Man Ray produced perfect Dada works of aggression in objects like Picabia's Portrait of Cezanne, a stuffed monkey, or Man Ray's Gift, an ordinary flat iron with sharp tacks stuck on the bottom, which, combined with Duchamp's suggestion for a Reciprocal Readymade: 'Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board', functions as a metaphor for Dada.

Art had become a debased currency, just a matter for the connoisseur, whose taste was merely dependent on habit. Jacques Vache, who died of an overdose of opium in 1918 before he had even heard of Dada, but whose flamboyant character and letters full of ironic despair, and humour, were powerful influences on the future Paris
Dadaists, wrote to his friend Andre Breton in 1917: 'ART does not exist, of course - so it is useless to sing - however! we make art because it is thus and not otherwise - ... So we like neither ART, nor artists (down with Apollinaire) AND HOW RIGHT TOGRATH WAS TO ASSASSINATE THE POET!' Picabia wrote disrespectfully in Jesus-Christ Rastaquouere: 'You are always looking for already-felt emotions, just as you like to get an old pair of trousers back from the cleaners, which seem new when you don't look too closely. Artists are cleaners, don't let yourself be taken in by them. True modern works of art are made not by artists but quite simply by men.' Or even, he might have said, by machines.

When
Marcel Duchamp in 1913 mounted a bicycle wheel upside down on a stool, and in 1914 chose the first readymade, a bottle-rack, from the Bazaar de l'Hotel de Ville, it was the first step in a debate that Dada was to do much to foster - did this gesture of the artist elevate the ordinary mass-produced object into a work of art, or was it like a Trojan Horse, penetrating the ranks of art in order to reduce all objects and works of art to the same level? Of course these are really two sides of the same coin. Anyway, at first the readymades just lay around in his studio, and when he moved to New York in 1915 his sister threw away the Bottlerack with the rest of his accumulated rubbish. (He chose another one later.) He only gave them the name Readymade in America, where he began to 'designate' more manufactured objects. Duchamp himself was quite clear that the point was not to turn them into works of art. He explained that the choice of readymade 'depended on the object in general. It was necessary to resist the "look". It is very difficult to choose an object because after a couple of weeks you begin to like it or hate it. You must reach something like such indifference that you have no aesthetic emotion. The choice of readymades is always based on visual indifference at the same time as a total absence of good or bad taste. . . . [Taste isj habit: the repetition of something already accepted.' So they were exercises in the avoidance of art (habit). Duchamp once exhibited a readymade, the Hat-rack, and the public unconsciously collaborated in the game by not recognizing it as an exhibit and hanging their hats and coats on it. At an exhibition in London, 'Pioneers of Modern Sculpture', the Bicycle Wheel and Bottlerack appeared enigmatic and intact after fifty years within the anti-art tradition.

 


Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle Wheel

 

Duchamp also interprets his mechanical drawings and paintings (at first paintings depicting machine-like organs, such as The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride, and then increasingly mechanical in execution, eliminating any interest in sensuous paint surface, texture, etc., like Chocolate Grinder Mo. 2, 1914) as ways of escaping the tyranny of taste. These culminate in one of the most deliberately obscure, esoteric paintings of the century, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, executed on glass between 1915 and 1923 when he abandoned it 'definitively unfinished'. It is accompanied by a number of notes by Duchamp, which reveal that it is a 'love machine', consisting of two parts, the upper one, the domain of the Bride, the lower one, the Bachelors.

 


Marcel Duchamp
Molinillo de chocolate nº 2
 

 

 


Marcel Duchamp
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).

 

Each part was scrupulously planned beforehand (many studies for the individual elements exist), and then placed within a very rigid if idiosyncratic perspective, which has the disturbing effect, in the lower half of the work, of making parts of the machine look literally three-dimensional while at the same time enforcing the flatness and transparency of the glass surface. Duchamp then incorporated several experiments with chance. For example, he left the glass by the open window of his New York studio for several months to gather dust, then wiped away the dust (after it had been photographed by Man Ray), leaving it only on the 'Sieves', the conical shapes arranged in a half circle, where he fixed the dust with glue.

After 1913, except for the single 'record of the readymades', Tu m' of 1918,
Duchamp abandoned conventional oil painting on canvas for good. In 1923 he apparently abandoned all artistic activity (apart from isolated objects such as Female Fig Leaf, and Surrealist exhibitions), preferring to play chess. His silence was perhaps the most forceful and disquieting of all Dada myths. However, after his death in 1968, it was revealed that he had spent over twenty years, 1944-66, secretly working on an assemblage, a room called Elant donnes: 1 La chute d'eau, 2 Le gaz d'eclairage, also traceable back to the Large Glass notes.

Duchamp and Francis Picabia had met and immediately became close friends at the end of 1910. Picabia was ebullient, rich and totally nihilistic, and liked the grotesque humour of Alfred Jarry. Duchamp was withdrawn, ironical and esoteric in his tastes. Both were looking for a way out of being trapped and type-cast among the Paris avant-garde, which was predominantly Cubist, and both had an extreme distaste for reverential attitudes towards the 'special nature' of the artist. In 1911, shortly after making contact with the avant-garde's chief spokesman, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, they attended a performance of Raymond Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique which seemed to them a monument of absurd humour. Among the incredible collection of objects and machines (which foreshadow the best Surrealist objects) is a painting machine, activated by rays of sunlight, which of its own accord paints a masterpiece. Roussel's demystification of the work of art, and his; systematic destruction of order by pursuit of the absurd, strengthened their own similar aims, while the bizarre linguistic games which Roussel describes as the genesis of many of his ideas and objects in Comment fai ecrit certains de mes livres are not unlike the esoteric way in which Duchamp set about constructing his works.

Francis Picabia began making machine drawings under the influence of Duchamp, developing the blasphemous potential of the sex/machine metaphor. He carried the machine drawing to its logical conclusion in 1919 in Zurich when, fittingly, he dismembered a watch, dipped the parts in ink and printed them (title page of Dada 4-5). He had published his first machine drawing in Alfred Stieglitz's magazine Camera Work at the time of the Armory Show in New York in 1913. The Armory Show had been the first real taste of advanced European art for the American public, and the uproar had centred on a painting by Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, so Duchamp was already notorious in New York when, in 1915, both he and Picabia arrived there from Europe. Picabia was furnished with a military commission and money to buy molasses from Cuba, which he immediately put out of his mind. They joined a group of equally insurrectionary poets and painters including John Covert and Man Ray. Arthur Cravan was there intermittently. He had been, in Paris, author of some vitriolic pamphlets, Maintenant, and once challenged the ex-heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, to a disastrous fight in Barcelona, and escaped with his fee. Duchamp and his friends arranged for Cravan to lecture to a glossy New York audience on modern art, but he arrived drunk, and, unsure what he was there for, began undressing on the platform. He finally disappeared while trying to row across the shark-infested Gulf of Mexico.

 


Francis Picabia
Parade Amoureuse

 

This group remained ignorant of the European 'movement' Dada, which had been given a name in Zurich in 1916. Picabia went to Barcelona for a few months, to recover from excesses of alcohol and opium, and there in 1917 produced the first numbers of his itinerant review jgi, best and longest lived of the many periodicals informed with a Dada spirit. The activities of the New York group culminated in the publication of the New York issues ofjgi in 1917, which coincided with a spectacular gesture of Duchamp's. Invited to serve on the jury of an exhibition at the Grand Central Gallery, which, modelled on the lines of the Independants in Paris, gave anyone the right to exhibit, Duchamp sent in a white porcelain urinal with the pseudonym R. Mutt roughly painted on the side . When it was rejected, he resigned from the jury, and the incident was publicized in the broadsheets The Blind Man and Rongwrong.


Dada in Zurich

Many people were momentarily
Dada, and Dada itself varied widely according to place, time and the people involved. It was essentially a state of mind, focused by the war from discontent into disgust. This disgust was directed at the society responsible for the terrifying waste of that war, and at the art and philosophy which appeared so enmeshed with bourgeois rationalism that they were incapable of giving birth to new forms through which any kind of protest could be made. In place of the paralysis to which this situation seemed to lead, Dada turned to the absurd, to the primitive, or the elemental.

Dada was christened in Zurich in 1916, although the circumstances and the intended meaning of the name are still disputed. Richard Huelsenbeck, then a young refugee poet, says that he and Ball discovered the word by accident in a German-French dictionary, and that the child's word (meaning hobby-horse), 'expresses the primitiveness, the beginning at zero, the new in our art'. It was adopted by the group of young exiles, mostly painters and poets, who had come to Switzerland to take refuge from the war on neutral ground, and gathered at the Cabaret Voltaire, a 'literary nightclub' organized by Hugo Ball at the beginning of 1916. There was for a while much discussion of a new art, and new poetry, which would revitalize a worn-out and debased language. A member of the group who was both painter and poet, Hans Arp, described the situation: 'In Zurich in 1915, losing interest in the slaughterhouses of the world war, we turned to the Fine Arts. While the thunder of the batteries rumbled in the distance, we pasted, we recited, we versified, we sang with all our soul. We searched for an elementary art that would, we thought, save mankind from the furious folly of these times. We aspired to a new order that might restore the balance between heaven and hell. This art gradually became an object of general reprobation. Is it surprising that the "bandits" could not understand us?

Their puerile mania for authoritarianism expects art itself to serve the stultification of mankind.'

The Zurich Dadaists included Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Hans Richter and Richard Huelsenbeck, from Germany,
Jean Arp from Alsace, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara from Romania, and occasionally the enigmatic Dr Walter Serner. Dada's public manifestations took place in riotous evenings at the Cabaret Voltaire. Tzara describes one in his Dada diary:

'1916 July 14 For the first time anywhere. Waag Hall.
'Ist Dada night

(Music, dances, theories, manifestos, poems, paintings, costumes, masks) 'In the presence of a compact crowd Tzara demonstrates, we demand we demand the right to piss in different colours, Huelsenbeck demonstrates, Ball demonstrates, Arp Erklarung [Statement], Janco meine Bilder [my pictures], Heusser eigene Kompositionen [original compositions], the dogs bay and the dissection of Panama on the piano and dock - shouted poem shouting and fighting in the hall, first row approves second row declares itself incompetent to judge the rest shout who is the strongest. . . . Boxing resumed: Cubist dance, costumes by Janco, each man his own big drum on his head, noise, Negro music/trabatgea bonooooo 00 00000/ 5 literary experiments: Tzara in tails stands before the curtain . . . and explains the new aesthetic: gymnastic poem, concert of vowels, bruitist poem, static poem chemical arrangement of ideas, Biriboom, biriboom . . . vowel poem a a 6, i e o, a i i. . . .'

A similar evening culminated in Ball's reading of his new abstract phonetic poem, 0 Gadji Bert Bimba. Encased in a tight-fitting cylinder of shiny blue cardboard, with a high blue and white striped 'witch-doctor's hat', he had to be carried up to the platform. As he began to declaim the sonorous sounds, the audience exploded in laughing, clapping, cat-calls. Ball stood his ground, and, raising his voice above the uproar, began to intone, 'taking on the age-old cadence of priestly lamentation: zimzim uralalla zimzim urallala zimzim Zanzibar zimzalla zam.'

It was as if he were illustrating his description of Dada in his diary Die Flucht aus der Leit: 'What we are celebrating is at once a buffoonery and a requiem mass. . . . The bankruptcy of ideas having destroyed the concept of humanity to its very innermost strata, the instincts and hereditary backgrounds are now emerging pathologically. Since no art, politics or religious faith seems adequate to dam this torrent, there remain only the blague and the bleeding pose.'

Dada works have their only real existence as gestures, public statements of provocation. Whether at exhibitions or demonstrations (and the distinction between them as far as Dada was concerned was deliberately blurred), the Dada object, painting or construction was an act which expected a definite reaction.

Inevitably, some of the experiments of the Dadaists in poetry and the plastic arts seem to some extent to be borrowing the voices of other movements. Hans Richter's Visionary Self-portrait is an Expressionist work. Above all, Dada is full of echoes of Italian Futurism, in the violent language of its manifestos, and in its experiments with noise (bruitism) and with simultaneity.
George Grosz's Dadaist Funeral Procession, Dedicated to Oscar Panizza of 1917, like the Futurist Carlo Carra's painting Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (1911), suggests a funeral that has become a riot. Its dynamic criss-crossing lines and the interpenetrating houses, lights and people also owe a great deal to Umberto Boccioni's more sophisticated concept of simultaneity. Arp referred, in Futurist terms, to the 'dynamic boomboom' of the strong diagonals in his early abstract collages. Arthur Segal's hectic Harbour, with its parodied Cubist facets, owes a great deal to Futurism. Very often a style, a device is borrowed in order to satirize itself, to be turned into a grotesque parody. Tzara's 'Simultaneist Poem' is an example - a poem composed of banal verses in three languages, read simultaneously to the accompaniment of noises offstage, mimicking the idea of expressing simultaneous impressions. The Futurists' serious and optimistic attempts at portraying the dynamism, or heroism, of modern life were easy prey for the Dadaists, who regarded this particular branch of artistic activity as the most futile of all.

There was, however, a gulf between the artist in the privacy of his own studio and the same person joining in Dada's public activities. Marcel Janco, for instance, was experimenting with purely abstract plaster reliefs and at the same time making masks for the Dada demonstrations, which Arp remembers happily in 'Dadaland': 'They were terrifying, most of them daubed with bloody red. Out of cardboard paper, horsehair, wire and cloth, you made your languorous foetuses, your lesbian sardines, your ecstatic mice.'


George Grosz
Funeral Procession, Dedicated to Oscar Panizza


Marcel Janco
Dada, Military Armour

 

Jean Arp was one of the group's most loyal members; although he had little taste for the violence and noise of the Cabaret, he had a very definite idea of the value and meaning of Dada. In this respect he was very close to Hugo Ball. In an essay called 'I become more and more removed from aesthetics' he wrote, 'Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order. Dada wanted to replace the logical nonsense of the men of today by the illogically senseless. That is why we pounded with all our might on the big drum of Dada and trumpeted the praises of unreason. Dada gave the Venus de Milo an enema and permitted Laocoon and his sons to relieve themselves after thousands of years of struggle with the good sausage Python. Philosophies have less value for Dada than an old abandoned toothbrush . . . Dada denounced the infernal ruses of the official vocabulary of wisdom. Dada is for the senseless, which does not mean nonsense. Dada is senseless like nature. Dada is for nature and against art. Dada is direct like nature. Dada is for infinite sense and definite means.'

Dissatisfied with the 'fat texture of expressionist paintings',
Arp began constructing works with simple lines and structures. He made severely geometric collages, and also abstract designs which Sophie Taeuber (later his wife) executed in tapestry or embroidery. He and Sophie were working in ignorance of Mondrian's similar experiments with straight lines and coloured squares and rectangles, and it was only in 1919 that they saw reproductions of them in the Dutch magazine De Stijl.
Perhaps one of the reasons why
Dada in Zurich came close to being a modern art movement was that Zurich, unlike Paris, was shocked and horrified by all new art. Richter remembers the occasion when Arp and Otto van Rees were asked to paint the entrance to a girls' school: 'On either side of the school entrance appeared two large abstract frescoes (the first to be seen so near the Alps) intended to be a feast for the eyes of the little girls and a glorious sign to the citizens of Zurich of the progressiveness of their city. Unfortunately all this was fearfully misunderstood. The parents of the little girls were incensed, the city fathers enraged, by the blobs of colour, representing nothing, with which the walls, and possibly the little girls' minds, were sullied. They ordered that the frescoes should at once be painted over with 'proper' pictures. This was done, and Mothers, Leading Children by the Hand lived on the walls where the work of Arp and Van Rees died.'

Arp soon abandoned oil painting on canvas in favour of using other materials like wood, embroidery, cut-out paper, newspaper, often collaborating with Sophie in his desire to get away from the 'monstrous egoism' of the artist to an ideal of communal work. He described some of these works as 'arranged according to the laws of chance' (although compared with torn papers of the 1930s they look carefully planned). 'We rejected everything that was copy or description, and allowed the Elementary and Spontaneous to react in full freedom. Since the disposition of planes, and the proportions and colours of these planes, seemed to depend purely on chance, I declared that these works, like nature, were ordered "according to the law of chance", chance being for me merely a limited part of an unfathomable raison d'etre, of an order inaccessible in its totality.'

In his poetry at this time
Arp used chance in a more radical, Dada-like, manner, taking words and phrases at random from newspapers and building them into a poem. Some of his wood reliefs were made from bits of rotten wood that look like flotsam and jetsam. Many of the reliefs of 1916 17 are deliberately left with the wood rough and unpainted, and nail heads protruding. Other wood reliefs, like the Forest or Egg Board, are brightly painted and made up of highly concentrated forms which later open out into the biomorphic abstraction of his sculptures. It was a flexible morphology. Richter remembers painting an enormous backcloth with Arp for a Dada demonstration. Starting at opposite ends, he says, they covered the roll of paper with yards of 'giant cucumber plantations'. Arp's development towards organic abstraction was helped by the automatic drawings he was experimenting with at this time, a technique later to be taken up and systematized, for rather different reasons, by the Surrealists.

 


Jean Arp
Forest

 

For the first couple of years in Zurich Dada was thus still seen, particularly by Ball and Arp, as offering possibilities of a new artistic direction. Ball's desire to restore magic to language, Arp's search for directness in art, can be seen in this way. Ball said: 'The direct and the primitive appear to [the Dadaist] in the midst of this huge anti-nature as being the supernatural itself. It was even presented publicly in this light; Tzara was to describe the Zurich review Dada, when he introduced it to Picabia, as a 'modern art publication'. But with Picabia's arrival in Zurich in August 1918, there was a radical change. The Dadaists had never experienced anyone with such a total disbelief in art, and such an acute sense of the meaninglessness of life. Richter says that meeting him was like an experience of death, and that after such meetings his feelings of despair were so intense that he went round his studio kicking holes in his paintings.

Tzara, the chief impresario and publicist of Zurich
Dada, immediately fell under the spell of Picabia's overpowering and magnetic personality; and in his famous Dada Manifesto 1918 harnesses his extreme verbal agility to the service of nihilism.
'Philosophy is this question: from which side shall we look at life, God, the idea or other phenomena? Everything one looks at is false. I do not consider the relative result more important than the choice between cake and cherries after dinner. The system of quickly looking at the other side of a thing in order to impose your opinion indirectly is called dialectics, in other words, haggling over the spirit of fried potatoes while dancing method around it.
'If I cry out:

Ideal, ideal, ideal,
Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge,
Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom,

'I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all the other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so many books.'


Francis Picabia
Feathers


Dada in Paris

It was Tzara's 1918 Manifesto ('I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos as I am also against principles' that seduced Andre Breton and other members of the Parisian Litterature group. Tzara reached Paris at the very beginning of 1920, and immediately, with the help of Picabia, Breton, the poets Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and others, set about making the
Dada revolt public through outrageous works such as Picabia's Feathers. On 23 January the first Dada demonstration took place at the Palais des Fetes, and as it set the tone for subsequent manifestations it is worth describing in some detail. A talk billed as 'La crise du change' ('The Exchange Crisis') by Andre Salmon, which had attracted the small shopkeepers of the quarlier in expectation of financial enlightenment, turned out to be about the overturning of literary values since Symbolism.

The audience began to melt away. But Breton's presentation of some Picabia paintings (Picabia never liked to present himself on the stage) began the real event. A large canvas was wheeled on, covered with inscriptions: 'top' at the bottom, 'bottom' at the top, and underneath in large red letters the obscene pun L.H.O.O.Q. (Elle a chaud au cul). As the insult began to sink in, the audience started to shout back at the stage, and with a second 'work' there was uproar. A blackboard appeared, covered with more inscriptions, under the title Riz au nez, which Breton immediately rubbed out with a duster. Not only was this not a work of art; it was destroyed before the audience's very eyes. The culmination of the evening was the arrival on stage of Monsieur Dada from Zurich, Tristan Tzara, to present one of his works. He immediately began to read Leon Daudet's latest speech from the Chamber of Deputies, accompanied in the wings by Breton and Aragon energetically ringing bells. The audience, which included figures like Juan Gris who had come to encourage the younger generation, reacted violently. One avant-garde editor began to shout 'Back to Zurich! To the stake!' Dada had set a fine trap, and after this its audience came ready.

 


Dada in Germany

After the war
Dada spread with the dispersal of the Zurich Dadaists to other places in Europe, where often only the name was needed to consecrate already protoDada activities. In Cologne, in 1919, Johannes Baargeld and Max Ernst were joined by Arp, whereupon, as Arp put it, they produced 'the finest fruits on the Dada tree', fruits which included the Falagagas, collages made by Arp and Ernst in collaboration. Baargeld distributed his anti-patriotic radical periodical Der Ventilator at factory gates: and in the atmosphere of post-war Germany, already showing signs of a new, militaristic nationalism, Dada took on a more obviously political role. One of the most successful Dada events in Cologne was an exhibition at a beer-hall, the Brauhaus Winter, held in a small courtyard reached through the lavatory, where on the opening day a young girl dressed in a white first-communion dress recited obscene poems. At the entrance stood a wooden 'sculpture' by Max Ernst, with an axe attached and the invitation to destroy it. Some of the objects in the exhibition had the enigmatic quality of later Surrealist objects for instance Baargeld's Fluidoskeptrick der Rotzwitha van Gandersheim, a fish tank filled with red-stained water, with an alarm clock at the bottorn, a fine head of hair floating on the top, and a wooden dummy's hand sticking out. In the course of the exhibition this was destroyed.

 


Max Ernst
The Beautiful Season
 

 

Ernst and Baargeld were summoned to police headquarters and charged with fraud, on the grounds that they had demanded an entrance fee for an art exhibition that manifestly had nothing to do with art. Ernst replied, 'We said quite plainly that it is a Dada exhibition. Dada never claimed to have anything to do with art. If the public confuses the two that is no fault of ours.'

It was in Berlin that
Dada's potential for political action came nearest to being fulfilled. Huelsenbeck arrived, in pursuance of his medical studies, in 1917. Berlin at that time, its people half-starved and desperate, near to defeat, where 'men's minds were concentrating more and more on questions of naked existence', was very different from the 'smug, fat idyll' of Zurich that he had left behind.

He immediately wrote a strident manifesto to redirect
Dada: 'The highest art will be that which in its conscious content presents the thousandfold problems of the day, the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week, which is forever trying to collect its limbs after yesterday's crash. The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who with bleeding hands and hearts hold fast to the intelligence of their time. Has Expressionism fulfilled our expectations of such an art, which should be an expression of our most vital concerns? No! No! No!'
A Club Dada was formed, its members including Hannah Hoch, Johannes Baader,
George Grosz, Wieland Herzfelde and his brother John Heartfield (who had Anglicized his named during the war), Raoul Hausmann, and Huelsenbeck. Numerous periodicals appeared under the Dada flag, were banned and reappeared under a new name. The 'First International Dada Fair' was held in 1920, and homage was paid to the new revolutionary art in Russia: 'Art is dead. Long live the new machine art of Tatlin.' From the ceiling hung a dummy dressed in a German officer's uniform, with the head of a pig and a placard, 'Hanged by the Revolution'.


Hannah Hoch
Dada-Review


John Heartfield
Die Arena


Raoul Hausmann
Spirit of Our Time

 

Dada was presented in Berlin with a real problem of identity. It had in a sense to compete directly with the serious revolutionary fervour of the activist wing of the literary Expressionists. The Dadaists immediately singled them out as their enemy, hating their lofty and pompous rhetoric about the Value of Art, which they treated as a kind of social therapy. On the other hand, although actively involved in the post-war social upheavals, in the brief occupation of Berlin by the Communists in November 1918 (during which Huelsenbeck even held an official post), and after that in unceasing propaganda against the Weimar Republic, the Dadaists kept their Dada autonomy. The Communists mistrusted them as dilettante anti-artists, and the bourgeoisie inevitably saw them as Bolshevik monsters.

Partly as a reaction to this position, they wrenched their work forcibly back into contact with real life in the transformation of collage into photomontage, creating a unique weapon for visual polemics. The Berlin Dadaists called themselves Monteure - fitters or assemblers, as opposed to artists. After
Dada had ceased to exist in Germany, Heartfield went on using pure photographic montage to attack the growing power of Nazism (Das ist das Heil, das sie bringen).

The Berlin group were critical of Zurich Dada. Huelsenbeck wrote, 'I find in the Dadaism of Tzara and his friends, who made abstract art the cornerstone of their new wisdom, no new idea deserving of very strenuous propaganda. They failed to advance along the abstract road, which ultimately leads from the painted surface to the reality of the post office form.' But the manifesto he and
Hausmann drew up, 'What is Dadaism and what it wants in Germany', in its violent swings from rational to extravagant demands, mirrors Dada's uneasy position. 'Dadaism demands: the international revolutionary union of all creative and intellectual men and women on the basis of radical Communism. . . . The Central Council demands the introduction of the simultaneist poem as a communist state prayer.'

Kurt Schwitters, who operated 'merz', a one-man movement with Dada leanings, in Hanover, tried to join the Berlin group but was rejected. He had, in fact, more in common with those Zurich Dadaists like Arp whom he called 'kernel' Dadaists as opposed to 'husk' Dadaists. The 'kernel' Dadaists include Arp, Picabia, and rather surprisingly, the sculptor Alexander Archipenko, an indication that the range of Dada sympathizers and friends was much wider than the handful of names usually associated with the movement would lead one to expect. Unembarrassed at calling himself an artist, Schwitters was looking for a renewal of the springs of artistic creation, outside conventional means. He nailed or glued his pictures together from scraps of material, string, wood, bus tickets, chicken-wire and odds and ends he picked up in the street, and then painted them. The result, as in his apparently irrational poems like Anna Blume, was an almost lyrical beauty. 'Every artist must be allowed to mould a picture out of nothing but blotting paper, for example, provided he is capable of moulding a picture.'

 


Kurt Schwitters
Merz Picture 25A: The Star Picture

 

Dada was a genuinely international event, not just because it operated across political frontiers, but because it consciously attacked patriotic nationalism. Its total effect was far in excess of the energy any individual Dadaist put into it. Each Dadaist brought something different to it and came out with a different idea of what Dada was. The splinters from the bombshell altered the face of art for good.


The 'Sleep Period'


Dada in Paris lasted two years. In 1922 it collapsed in a series of internal quarrels which laid bare the differences between the old Dadaists, Tzara and Picabia, and the younger French group, including Breton. Perhaps the latter were never really Dadaists at all: Breton had certainly attempted to organize several grand projects which had little or nothing to do with Dada. The 'Trial of Maurice Barres', patriot and man of letters, whom Breton could not forgive for the early fascination he had exercised over him, took place in 1921; it disgusted Ribemont-Dessaignes, who said, 'Dada could be criminal, coward, plunderer, or thief, but not judge.' Breton, acting as a judge, sternly brought back 'witnesses' when they strayed into irrelevancies or Dada irrationalities, and the interrogations produced a mingled philosophical quest and painful truth game, of a kind which was to be characteristic of Surrealism. With Jacques Rigaut, who was to kill himself in 1929, Breton had the following conversation:

BRETON: 'According to you, nothing is possible. How do you manage to live, why haven't you committed suicide?'

RIGAUT: 'Nothing is possible, not even suicide. . . . Suicide is, whether you like it or not, a despair-act or a dignity-act. To kill yourself is to admit that there are terrifying obstacles, things to fear, or just to take into consideration.'

There was a gap of two years between the dissolution of Dada in Paris in 1922 and the publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto by Andre-Breton in the autumn of 1924. The interlude, 1922 to 1924, was spent in a series of experiments, a tentative search for something positive that could lead out of the Dada impasse. Breton wrote:

Leave everything.
Leave Dada.
Leave your wife leave your mistress.
Leave your hopes and your fears.
Sow your children in the corner of a wood.
Leave the substance for the shadow. ...
Set out on the road.

One even that falls historically within
Dada in Paris was of great importance for the future development of Surrealism. This was an exhibition of collages by Max Ernst, which was planned for the summer of 1920 but did not in fact take place until 1921. As they unpacked the collages, Breton, Aragon and the other Dadaists felt an overpowering excitement, seeing a new kind of poetic image in key with their own ideas. Also, probably, they saw in Ernst an artist capable of challenging Picabia, who as far as the Paris public was concerned was the incarnation of Dada, but whose mixture of nihilism and cynical worldliness disturbed Breton, who was already searching for a positive formula to escape from Dada's death grip.

Breton wrote a preface to the exhibition in which he defines the collages in terms that are almost identical to his later definition of the Surrealist poetic image: 'It is the marvellous faculty of attaining two widely separate realities without departing from the realm of our experience, of bringing them together and drawing a spark from their contact; of gathering within reach of our senses abstract figures endowed with the same intensity, the same relief as other figures; and of disorienting us in our own memory by depriving us of a frame of reference it is this faculty which for the present sustains Dada. Can such a gift not make the man whom it fills something better than a poet?' In the Surrealist manifesto of 1924 he uses the same electrical metaphor of the spark to describe the bringing together of 'two distant realities', although this time he lays emphasis on the necessarily unpremeditated nature of the image. What he saw in Ernst's collages was the visual equivalent of Lautreamont's famous phrase, 'as beautiful as the chance encounter on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella'. The collages, small in format, use old engravings, pieces cut out of old magazines (often geological ones showing sections of rock formations which exercised a special fascination for Ernst), and photographs, to create a scene in which the spectator, deprived of a frame of reference, is disoriented.

The disorientation of the spectator is a step towards the destruction of his conventional ways of apprehending the world and dealing with his own experiences according to preconceived patterns. The Surrealists believed man had shut himself into a straitjacket of logic and rationalism which crippled his liberty and stultified his imagination. Inheriting this attitude from
Dada, Breton found in the revelations of Sigmund Freud about the unconscious a possible guideline for the liberation of the imagination. Without too much respect for the detail of Freud's model of the mental processes, he seized on the idea that there is a vast untapped reservoir of experience, thought and desire, hidden away from conscious, everyday living. Through dreams (whose direct connection with the unconscious Freud had proved in The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1 goo), and through automatic writing (the equivalent of the free-associative monologue of psychoanalysis), Breton believed that access could be gained to the unconscious, and the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious, maintained in the interests of order and reason, could eventually, in a sense, be broken down. 'Man proposes and disposes. It is up to him to belong to himself altogether, that is to say to maintain in an anarchic state the band, every day more powerful, of his desires.' This was, of course, to ignore the whole point of Freud's psychoanalytic theory, which was to cure disturbances in the psyche and enable the patient to lead an ordinary, orderly life. Many of the Surrealists, including Aragon, thought Freud was a bourgeois reactionary; and Freud for his part had little sympathy or understanding for the young Surrealists and the curious use to which they were putting his discoveries. 'I believe,' Breton said, 'in the future resolution of the two states, apparently so contradictory, of dream and reality, in a sort of absolute reality, of surreality.'

By 1922
Breton was already using the term 'Surrealist' originally coined by Apollinaire, probably by analogy with Nietzsche's superman (Surhomme) and Jarry's Surmdle, and used to describe his play Les Mamelles de Tiresias to mean 'a certain psychic automatism which corresponds quite well to the state of dream'. But he believed at this time that 'psychic automatism' could be produced through hypnotic sleep, and this is the source of the term periode des sommeils. The future Surrealists, including Breton, Aragon, Soupault, Rene Crevel, Robert Desnos and Max Ernst, experimented with group and individual hypnosis. Breton himself never succeeded in becoming hypnotized. Desnos was the most adept at falling into a self-induced sleep, and in this state produced monologues and drawings that he felt he would not have been capable of in ordinary-waking life. Hypnotic sleep seemed to offer a direct source of poetic imagery from the unconscious. But after a series of disturbing incidents it became clear that these experiments were dangerous and could become uncontrollable; also, perhaps, the results, after the initial excitement at the mysterious phenomenon, were not as spectacular or as sustained as originally expected. The 'Sleep Period' brought out too clearly a tension always inherent in Surrealism, between the idea of artists or poets as unconscious transmitters, 'modest recording devices', of images, and that of their status as conscious creators with a predetermined sense of what is beautiful. The balance between the two shifted, with Breton periodically reaffirming the necessity for the springs of Surrealist activity to remain unconscious, to flow underground. The problem was greatest for the painters, many of whom refused to submerge their creative, active personality by using exclusively those automatic techniques proposed by-Breton. It was not a question of the self-important, egoistic artist intervening. Arp, for instance, always longed for an anonymous collective art, and yet, the most naturally 'unconscious' artist, he did not really like Surrealist theories of automatism: 'I am no longer doing the forming' ('Ce n'estplus moi quiforme').

 

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