Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century
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Rasula (English/Univ. of Georgia; Modernism and Poetic Inspiration, 2009, etc.) follows an uprising of disaffected artists who burned through Europe during and after World War I, incinerating old ideas of art and literature and making way for new forms.

Dada was born in 1916, when Hugo Ball, fleeing the war in Germany, opened Cabaret Voltaire, where he and a cadre of creative thinkers, performers, and artists staged avant-garde poetry read by three speakers simultaneously, dancers in primitive masks, nonsensical songs, and recitations in deconstructed language. The core group of performers—Ball, singer Emmy Hennings, Rumanian poet Tristan Tzara, German poet Richard Huelsenbeck, and French artist Hans Arp—derided conventionality and complacency. They named this “anti-art” movement that wasn’t a movement Dada. The word has many different meanings; the one that seemed to please them most was “the tail of a sacred cow for an African tribe.” Attracting other artists along the way, Dada moved through Zurich, Berlin, Munich, and Paris, also touching down in New York City. Participants embraced the irrational, absurd, satirical, primitive, and provocative in performances, exhibits, and publications. Rasula gives a sense of the fluidity and magnitude of the art that passed through Dada’s portals—e.g., Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, Fountain; Otto Dix’s searing Forty-Five Percent Able-Bodied, which was later included in the 1937 Nazi “degenerate art” exhibition; Francis Picabia’s “mechanomorphic” drawings and paintings, and Kurt Schwitters’ collages from trash and found objects. This comprehensive study of artists, exhibits, writings, and events is a heady trip, but the cataloging fails to fully capture the audacity and energetic force of Dada. With its photomontages, aggressive graphics, performance art, and use of text and objects in art, Dada left a mark on surrealism, modern art, and pop culture. When factions tried to give Dada more structure, it began to fade. As Tzara said, “The true dadas are against DADA.”

A well-researched survey that shows the scope of Dada and its influence on the art world.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0465089963
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2015


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