Why 2021 Will See a Resurgence of the Dada Art Movement

The Dada Art Movement was formed as a reaction to the inner turmoil wrought by World War I, and due to similar circumstances 2020 could see its revival.

Nov 11, 2020By Idalis Love, BA Studio Arts & Art History
dada art resurgence
Mustache Hat by Jean (Hans) Arp, 1923; with L.H.O.O.Q. (La Joconde) by Marcel Duchamp, 1964 (replica of 1919 original); and Nathan Apodaca celebrating his gift from Ocean Spray, photographed by Wesley White, 2020


2020 has been a year that defied expectations for many. It cannot be said that it rivals the years of World War I that preceded the Dada Art Movement, however, for many this year feels like one no one has ever seen, a year that could not be predicted. But what exactly is the Dada Art Movement, and why could we see a resurgence of it in 2021? 


Where Did the Dada Art Movement Come From?


The Dada Art Movement began during the first World War, in Zurich. The Dada is most recognized for its nonsensical and satirical nature in reaction to the war itself. No one felt they could have predicted this war. The Futurist Movement that came before believed that war was change and weapons were innovation, but for most the war held larger scale brutality than the world had ever seen. World War I was an era of invention and innovation, with cruel weaponry and tactics that no one had seen prior, which includes the advent of the machine gun, trench warfare, the flame thrower, and mustard gas (which was banned under the Geneva Protocol of 1925).


rites of spring
Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins, 2000, via Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt


Not only that, World War I was the first war to take place during the emergence of mass media. For example, in Modris Eksteins’s Rites of Spring (2000) the people of Berlin, in response to the ultimatum given by Austria to Serbia  “t[ore] open newspapers, and read… with fierce involvement. …[Then, cries] erupt[ed]: Et jeht lost — a Berliner’s way of saying ‘It’s on…’” (p. 56-57). With media involvement people were more involved in the war than they had been before, they were affected by it easier. The masses kept up with death tolls, which battle was happening where, and that in turn created panic and existential horror and dread. 


Distortion Of Reality: Expressionism And Futurism

dynamism dog leash giacomo bella
The Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla, 1912, via The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York


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In order to understand the Dada Art Movement, there has to be an understanding of people’s mindset before Dadaism and how the Expressionist Movement and Futurism were the precursors to the nonsensical movement that is the Dada. Just prior to the Dada Art Movement, there were already meditations on existence and people’s place in the world. The Expressionist Art Movement had been in full swing, and people were slowly becoming secondary in art as a subject matter. The Expressionist movement was about the psyche and understanding the mind, and the world around us through feeling. 


The Futurist Movement was much the same in that the art represented, movement, and speed, and technology. Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla was a study done to convey the movements of the dog, the leash, the ground, and the dress the owner wore. The painting conveys Balla’s understanding of the movements and his overall experience distorted, quick, blurred movements. Art was no longer just about the what, it was now about the why and the how


Four years after the start of the Expressionist Movement (1905), the Futurist Movement began, a sister movement, as they both rejected reality. Artists were already heading in the direction of the Dada but World War I was the catalyst. They both sought to understand the world around them through a different lens, and from these movements, these ideologies, came the Dada Movement. 


Hugo Ball’s Karawane: A Coping Mechanism That Began The Dada

hugo ball karawane
Hugo Ball Reciting Karawane, 1916, via Tate, Londo


Hugo Ball is the founder of the Dada Art Movement. His poem, Karawane was recited at Cabaret Voltaire, where he both shocked and awed his audience. His poem was a mix of sounds and gibberish to evoke a sense of insanity. That was the entire point of the Dada Art Movement, to convey that the world no longer made sense. The war broke Europe, in body and soul, so Ball’s Karawane was deeply relatable to those who felt the same. It was odd, uncomfortable, and unknown, which completely exemplified the times. 


It is easy to parallel the next coming year to the times where people made pieces like Mustache Hat by Jean (Hans) Arp (shown below), a representation of chance, playfulness, and self-importance. This is because this year has jarred many to the point of not even caring about the year itself anymore. People have begun to care more about what to do with themselves, in the realm of this year and the next, more than what is actually going on.  


What Is 2021’s World War I? 

mustache hat jean hans arp
Mustache Hat by Jean (Hans) Arp, 1923, via MoMA, New York


The real question is: What hasn’t happened in 2020 that will undeniably affect 2021? This year was tough: There were the Australian bush fires; COVID-19, which brought about unemployment numbers comparable to the Great Depression; a nuclear war scare; killer wasps; the death of a basketball legend; the impeachment of a US president, the death of George Floyd which sparked Black Lives Matter protests all over the world; rumors where people thought that Kim Jong Un was dead; the return of the hacktivist group Anonymous, and so much more


How could people not seek to escape it all? How could people not just want to sit back and ramble on about nothing, making something called a Mustache Hat, or state that a urinal is a fountain, like with The Fountain (see below), by Marcel Duchamp? For many, life has become ambiguous, much like the people of World War I, where they saw no end to the madness, and so too do the people of 2020. 


Social Media Is To Us What Newspapers Were To Them

death of conversation
The Death of Conversation 4 by Babycakes Romero, 2014, via Babycakes Romero’s Website


Earlier in the article, Modris Eksteins’s’ Rites of Spring (2000) was mentioned, and here’s why. The news controls how we feel, how we absorb the information, and what we should value. The newspaper was the way news traveled far and wide during World War I, and as stated prior, with that people are now more inclined to be involved in whatever is going on. Imagine how the people of Berlin felt but maximize that by a million. Social media holds sources of not just news agencies or one-off journalists, it holds everyone’s knowledge, everyone’s information, and people are consistently using it.


Due to the mass usage of social media, it is difficult not to feel personally invested in the most minute things. For a year like 2020 to happen during the social media age there has been mass hysteria, an increase in violence and discrimination, depression, and death. When a person remains glued to their phone it is hard to say that they would not become invested and then affected by a lot of what they consume. 


Social media has become a large part of how people perceive the world and those around them. For many, including myself, social media is a source of a wealth of information as well as entertainment. It is where I was informed that Donald Trump and his wife tested positive for COVID-19, and what came with this?


A slew of other people’s opinions, what they value, who they are voting for, and of course memes. It is hard not to bring up a resurgence of the Dada Art Movement without talking about meme culture.


Meme Culture Vs Dadaism

L H O O Q La Joconde
L.H.O.O.Q. (La Joconde) by Marcel Duchamp, 1964 (replica of 1919 original), via Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena


Meme culture is anything that brings amusement to others. It sounds vague but that’s because meme culture is vague. It is to be understood by many or a few, to bring amusement or irritation — it just is. It is something that pokes fun, or reminisces, or gives off a certain emotion or feeling, and that is exactly what was happening during the Dada Art Movement all the way back in the early 1900s.


The La Joconde was one of many readymade pieces by Duchamp during the Dada Movement. At first glance, it is absurd and weird, but oddly funny. It is the desecration of a work of art that is considered a masterpiece in the art world, something sacred and untouchable, but Duchamp dared to scribble on the Mona Lisa and put L.H.O.O.A.Q on the bottom of it. It was supposed to be a play on French to sound like “Elle a chaud au cul” which translates to “There is fire down below.” There is something satisfying about seeing Duchamp, a known Futurist, scribble upon the Mona Lisa. There was probably a cacophony of people who allied themselves with the Futurist Movement saying “Ah, yes! I agree.” Which was the point! Well, one of many to this piece that keeps on giving.


All of this begs the question…


Has The Dada Art Resurgence Already Begun?

wesley white ocean spray
Nathan Apodaca celebrating his gift from Ocean Spray, photographed by Wesley White, 2020, via Associated Press 


Yes and no. Have we seen a mass resurgence of “just because” actions? Yes. However, there will be a rise in Dada content. 10 months into 2020 and already we are seeing performative pieces on Tiktok of people skating and drinking cranberry juice because of a man named Nathan Apodaca skating, vibing to a song, and drinking Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice and it went viral. 


A Tiktok video seems like an unconventional example of Dada, but Dada is both big and small actions. Dada is an art movement, yes, but everyone’s definition of what is art is different. There are many who would argue that film of any kind is a form of media but not a form of art. Many did not see La Joconde or The Fountain, which was initially a jab at someone, as a work of art either, yet they were displayed as works of art because they represented the movement.


the fountain marcel duchamp
The Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, 1917 (replica 1964), via Tate, London


The only conceivable reason that something like the Ocean Spray Challenge could have gone viral is because it is everything many people want. To just sit back and pretend the world isn’t burning. To be able to cope and enjoy life, despite the sense of futility during the last year. 


It must be stated that meme culture has been around since the 2000s. It did not just pop up yesterday. Has it always been Dada? I think so, to an extent, but that futility and frustration and fear hadn’t completely evolved into what it is yet. 2020 has seen unprecedented times, on an international scale. People have been in a constant state of sadness, loss, anger, and pain in a way that many have stated they had not ever experienced so frequently. We will undeniably begin to see larger-scale acts of Dada in the year to come.


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By Idalis LoveBA Studio Arts & Art HistoryIdalis Love graduated with her BA in Studio Arts and Art History from Oglethorpe University in 2020. During her time as a Studio Arts major, she found passion in Far Eastern and European art histories, which enabled her to double major. When she isn’t gushing about other people’s art she is making it as well.