08/07/07 - dada

In today's excerpt - Dada, an international anti-war movement involving visual arts, literature, design and theatre, that began in Switzerland during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1920. The movement was a protest against the barbarism of World War I and its 23 million casualties. Adherents thought that reason and logic had led people into the horrors of war, so the only route to salvation was to reject logic and embrace anarchy and irrationality. Dada was not art—it was 'anti-art.' Ironically, it influenced such modern art movements as Surrealism and Pop Art. Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a prominent Dada and Surrealist artist:

"Max Ernst was drafted into an artillery regiment of the German army in 1914. He was wounded twice in the Great War—once by a gun recoil and once by a mule kick— and earned the nickname 'Iron Head' for these troubles. 'We young people came back from the war in a state of stupefaction', Ernst later wrote. In his autobiographical sketch, 'Some Data on the Youth of M.E. as Told by Himself' (1942), he presents the entire war as a loss of consciousness, indeed of life: 'Max Ernst died the 1st of August 1914. He resuscitated the 11th of November 1918.' This emphasis on shock is suggestive, as is the alienation of the first-person voiced by that of the third person, for his Dada work often deploys such tell-tale signs of narcissistic disturbance. ...

"If Dada stands for anything, it is for and against. For and against unity; for and against affirmation and negation; for equations as long as they don't equate against them when they do. The stance extends to the label Dada itself, which means nothing and everything. Dada is any word—cow, cube, bar of soap, nurse, yes, hobby horse—yet Dada is also the heart of words, a modernist mantra, a machine-age tetragrammaton. This simultaneous stance of for and against is never reducible to clowning about. Rather, it is integral to a global strategy of contradiction: the positive Dada response to a cluster of negatives."

Click here for examples of the art of Max Ernst.


Leah Dickerman with Matthew Witkowsky, eds.


The Dada Seminars


National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.


Copyright 2005 Board of Trustees National Gallery of Art Washington


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