July 01, 2006


"Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is Dada, and will not tolerate a rival..."

So wrote Man Ray to Tristan Tzara in 1921. Today, in 2006, New York is being taken over by Dada in the form of a major retrospective of the Movement now on at the Museum of Modern Art. This is the last stop of a three city show that was 4 years in the planning and opened in Paris at the Centre Pompidou last October, then travelled to the National Gallery in Washington DC in February (see my blog of 2/16/06), and has finally arrived here.

As the wife of a devoted Dadaist and lender to the exhibitions, I have visited every show several times. Each venue was unique and each had its pros and cons. The debut in Paris was fabulous, almost overwhelming in its scope and volume. The brilliant installation and the comprehensive display covering every art form from sound poems to sculpture inundated the visitor with pure Dada. The move to Washington and the U.S. demanded a smaller show with less emphasis on the literary aspect of the Movement. The unexpected result of this editing was a far more aesthetic look to the works of art. This probably would have horrified the Dadaists, but it made for a nicer experience for today's museum goer. Now, in New York, the exhibition has changed again. A new space means a new look and with the addition of more print material from MoMA's own collection it is a little more well-rounded than Washington. However, despite the same great material and the fine installation, I felt the show had lost a little of its exuberance and joy.

Dada is a little known movement but an important one. Begun as a reaction to the Establishment, World War I, and Classical Art, it rose meteorically and came to a sudden and definitive end with the Surrealist Manifesto of 1924. What it left behind is a huge œuvre of work including some of the the most revolutionary art of the 20th Century. Hausmann's "Mechanical Head", Kurt Schwitters' and Max Ernst's collages, Man Ray's "Rayographs"and Duchamp's "Ready Mades" (especially the infamous "Fountain/Urinal") are lasting reminders of this watershed period in art history. Hopefully shows like this one will awaken the public's interest and make people realize that the "avant garde" actually began almost a century ago.

P.S. This is where it all began in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland. We had the opportunity to visit the newly rennovated shrine two weeks ago. It had been saved from the wrecker's ball by the Swatch Corporation with the intention to make it into an artists' space where maybe the next Dada Movement could be born. While the ghosts of Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, Hans and Sophie Taeuber Arp, Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco, certainly inhabit the premises, we can only hope that the current incarnation brings the spark of originality, creativity and, yes, revolution, that these stalwart souls embarked upon so many years ago. DADA Soulève Tout.

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