Dada was created in the midst of the turmoil of the First World War – in 1916, at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The artists Hugo Ball and Richard Huelsenbeck sit together in Cabaret Voltaire. They are currently busy orakeling the artist’s name for a friend. They use a German/French dictionary to help them and finally tap on the word “Dada” (French for wooden horse) with a knife. Spontaneously, they decide to dedicate this name to the art style to which they have recently committed themselves.
Dada and the reaction to the war
Dada, fitting to the way of naming, is in its essence without concept and against all existing concepts. Founded in Switzerland, Dada quickly spread internationally. In addition to Zurich, Dada capitals become Berlin, Hanover, Paris and New York.
The First World War is a central theme for the Dada artists. Dada is hostile to the war and is declared pointless. Dada sees itself as a “protest” against society and against previous art styles. For the Dadaists, provocation is in the foreground.
In addition to the medium of language, Dada expresses itself in painting and breaks new ground here. The collage technique emerges and reaches a climax within the Dada with Kurt Schwitters. On a side note, the Dada artist with her works and the intention to provocatively address and irritate the viewer, set important cornerstones for the still young medium of “advertising”. The medium of advertising is becoming increasingly important for industry and commerce, and in the 1930s it gladly draws on the experience of artists.
The photomontage was also born in the Dada. The photomontage offers Dada artists new possibilities to give their works a previously unattained effect. At this time, photography is still young and people associate it with the touch of the “true”. By means of artistically and handcrafted photomontages, the Dadaists are able to relate people to one another in ways that would not be possible in reality. A striking example of this is John Heartfield, who strongly opposed National Socialism and the socialist idea with his rather political complete works of art.
The Ready Made
Another great aspect of Dadaist art is the ready made. It is created on the background of questioning the concept of art and the traditional understanding of art. As “Ready Mades”, simple everyday objects and deliberately selected industrial mass products come to the museums of Modern Art: on a pedestal and signed by the artist.
This was not solely a matter of provocation. What the Ready-Made artists particularly want to refer to is their point of view that art is not the actual object, but the “choice”. The choice that every observer makes when deciding what is and is not an object of art. The French-born and American-born Marcel Duchamp is regarded as the outstanding artist in the ready-made field.