Dadaism began in Zurich, Switzerland during the First World War. It started as a
reaction to the horror of the war and against society, which Dadaists believed had
caused the war. Dadists wanted to destroy traditional values, not only in art but
in society generally.They thought society’s complacency had led to the World War
1 and wanted to bring in a new art which would encourage new thinking. One artist
wrote, “revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves
to the arts”. Switzerland was neutral and did not take part in the war.
Shown Left, Le Jardin de la France
Many artists found themselves in Switzerland during the war having fled their own
countries to escape the fighting. This artistic community came together to discuss
and collaborate and the result was Dada. Dada’s official founder was Hugo Ball. He
started a satirical nightclub called Cabaret Voltaire and a magazine which he called,
An interesting historical note about The Cabaret Voltaire is that Vladimir Lenin
was writing his revolutionary plans for Russia in an apartment near the club at the
same time. He was said to be less than impressed.
The Dada movement spread throughout Europe and the USA and laid the foundations of
Surrealism in Paris. According to Dadaists, Dada was not art but anti-art. Its proponents
wanted to be the opposite of all that art stood for. Some wanted to break down society
and start again to create a future without the possibility of war.
Thus Dada chose to ignore such artistic conventions as composition by creating unconventional
works. Instead of having meaning, it chose to be meaningless. Instead of appealing
to the viewer, it chose to offend. Instead of being art, it declared itself anti-art.
Randomness formed the basis of their artwork because they claimed that ‘planning’
had led to war. Dada was seeking to communicate the chaos and confusion that many
people felt had been thrust upon them by an unwanted war.
Amongst the most famous exponents of Dadaism were the artists, Marcel Duchamp, Max
Ernst and Man Ray.
Marcel Duchamp questioned the nature of art itself and he exhibited “ready mades”
or ‘found objects’ as art. His most famous piece was a urinal, which he signed R
Mutt. He submitted this for an exhibition for The Society of Independent Artists.
He called it The Fountain, (shown left) and perhaps not surprisingly, it was rejected
by the Society. For anti-art one can only assume this was ironic. Or was it?
Ridiculed at the time it has since become a benchmark for some. In 2004 the judges
at the Turner prize in the UK called The Fountain, “The most influential work of
In an attempt to make the spirit of Dada live on, artist Pierre Pinocelli urinated
on The Fountain in 1993 and as if this wasn’t enough, he smashed it with a hammer
in 2006. Classic Dada!
Dada was an influential art or anti art movement which had a significant influence
on subsequent art and culture. It injected a sense of humour and undoubtedly shook
up the art establishment at the time by questioning what is art?
Dada paintings are amongst the best selling prints, posters and canvases gracing
living rooms, bedrooms and offices the world over. We hope you’ve enjoyed our facts
about Dadaism and we’ve inspired you to own some Dada art for yourself.
Shown above right, Marcel Duchamp’s Mona Lisa with a moustache. He entitled this
piece,” L.H.O.O.Q.”, the letters when said in French spell out “elle a chaud au cul”
translated means “she is hot in the ass” What a scamp.
Started in Zurich, Switzerland. 1916-1922 Quickly spread throughout Europe and the
Reaction to horrors of World War One, Dadaists were disillusioned with society that
created the war but also with traditional art which they saw as part of the bourgeois
society that had been complicit in the war
Claimed to be not art but anti-art
Cabaret Voltaire, a satirical nightclub
Founded by Hugo Ball a Swiss artist in collaboration with other European artists
who ended up in neutral Switzerland during the war
Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 work, called The Fountain, was in fact a urinal. He submitted
it to an exhibition to question the nature of art itself. It was signed, R Mutt.
The organisers refused to exhibit it.
Claimed to be meaningless and nonsense, random and chance
As you would expect from an art movement with no rules it is hard to identify because
individual artists interpreted Dada in their own way. Works produced were often radically
different and only the artists could decide if their work was Dada or not
Led to the Surrealist movement in Paris
Vladimir Lenin was producing his revolutionary plan for Russia in an apartment near
The Cabaret Voltaire at the same time, he was said to be less than impressed with
his artistic neighbours
Dadaists wanted to offend, rather than please the eye