Dada was one of the most influential movements in the world of art. It was a reaction to the violence of World War I. Dadaists criticized art institutions and rejected bourgeois notions of beauty. Members of the movement used different modes of expression, which often included collages and photomontages. Dada lasted for a relatively short period of time, from about 1915 to 1922. It was founded in Zurich by figures like Tristan Tzara and Jean Arp, but artists were also active in New York, Paris, Berlin, Cologne, and Hanover. Here are 8 Dada artists who are still remembered for their contributions to the Dada movement.
1. Marcel Duchamp: The Most Famous Dada Artist
Marcel Duchamp, the artist behind the infamous urinal, is probably the most famous Dada artist. He was born in 1887 and was one of six children. Duchamp experimented with Impressionism and Fauvism early in his career before creating his well-known painting Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) in 1912. After that, he didn’t paint much. He moved to New York in 1915 and together with Man Ray and Francis Picabia, he became the center of the Dada movement in New York.
Duchamp is known for his ready-mades, which consist of everyday mass-produced objects that he exhibited as works of art. In 1917, his urinal, titled Fountain, was submitted to the New York Society of Independent Artists exhibition anonymously. The work, signed by the anonymous R. Mutt, was rejected. The provocative piece questioned what art actually was, so Duchamp and his work became highly influential for later generations of artists.
2. Man Ray
Man Ray was born in Philadelphia in 1890 as Emmanuel Radnitzky. His family moved to New York in 1897. There, he studied art, architecture, and engineering while also working as a designer. He started painting and adopted the Cubist style after visiting the Armory Show in 1913. Man Ray met Marcel Duchamp in 1915 and they became lifelong friends and important representatives of the New York Dada movement.
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The artist also created ready-mades, like his piece featuring an iron with nails attached to it titled The Gift. He moved to Paris in 1921 where he joined the Dada movement as well as the Surrealist group. Man Ray is famous for his photographs and his rayographs, which are photograms created without a camera by putting things on light-sensitive paper and exposing them to light. He once said: I have finally freed myself from the sticky medium of paint, and am working directly with light itself.
3. Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia, born in 1879 in Paris, studied at the École des Arts Décoratifs and originally painted in the Impressionist style. He started making works in the Cubist style in 1909 and met the influential Marcel Duchamp three years later. Picabia went to New York in 1915 where he was active in the New York Dada movement. In his Dadaist work, he combined machines and sexuality. He lived in Zurich from 1918 to 1919, then went back to Paris and participated in Dadaist movements in both cities. The artist renounced Dada in 1921 because he felt it wasn’t new or shocking anymore. He became associated with the Surrealist movement and André Breton but later criticized this movement as well.
Picabia’s work Tableau Rastadada is a self-deprecating portrait of the artist himself. According to the chief curator of drawings and prints at the MoMA, Christophe Cherix, the work is Picabia’s first photo collage. Collages and photomontages were important techniques of the Dada movement.
4. Hannah Höch
Hannah Höch was born in 1889 in Gotha, Germany. She studied glass design at the School of Applied Arts in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Later on, she also studied painting and graphic design. She began a relationship with another important Dada artist called Raoul Hausmann, whom she met in 1915. Through him, Höch was introduced to the Berlin Dada group which also included the artist George Grosz.
After she started working with collages in 1916, she also began making photomontages. Höch is known for her political work and for criticizing gender roles. The artist’s famous piece called Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany shows a dancing woman holding the head of Käthe Kollwitz, a German female artist. The work was exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920, but Höch almost wasn’t included in the show. Hausmann even had to say that he wouldn’t participate if Höch’s work wasn’t in the exhibition as well. That way, she had to become a part of it. Höch even said that her male colleagues usually thought of women artists as amateurs rather than professionals.
5. Raoul Hausmann
Raoul Hausmann, a central member of the Berlin Dada group, was born in 1886 in Vienna. His father was an academic painter and conservator, and his family moved to Berlin in 1900. Eight years later, Hausmann started his formal training as an artist and later got involved with representatives of German expressionism. After being introduced to the ideas of Dada through Richard Hülsenbeck, Hausmann became a founder of the Berlin Dada movement in 1918. He also created photomontages and as well as Hannah Höch was a pioneer of the technique.
Michel Giroud described Hausmann’s photomontage The Art Critic as depicting the critic as exclusively preoccupied with fashion and women and whose analyses are no more than successions of words without meaning. Another well-known work by Raoul Hausmann is called Mechanical Head: Spirit of Our Age. The work consists of a hairdresser’s wig dummy with different objects like a tape measure or a tin cup attached to it.
6. Max Ernst
Max Ernst is known for his contributions to both Dadaism and Surrealism. The German artist was born in Brühl in 1891. He studied philosophy and psychology at the University of Bonn and became interested in the art of people who were mentally ill. He quit his studies to become a painter in 1911 but never went to art school.
Ernst served in World War I in the German army from 1914 to 1918. After that, he moved to Cologne, where he became one of the leaders of the Dada movement. Max Ernst was responsible for a famous Dada exhibition that took place in 1920, during which visitors could destroy the exhibited works with axes.
For his Dada collages, Ernst often used pieces from a directory for teaching materials from the year 1914 called Bibliotheca Paedagogica. His work The Horse He’s Sick is an example of this. The artist used the depiction of a cross-section of an insect and other images and rearranged them, so an entirely new picture was made. The newly created image resembled a horse. In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris, where he became a member of the Surrealist movement two years later.
7. Jean Arp
Jean (or Hans) Arp spoke both French and German fluently. He was born in Strasbourg in 1886 and was part of different avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. He studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Strasbourg, the Weimar Academy, and the Académie Julian in Paris. He then lived and worked in Switzerland and traveled to Munich where he met Wassily Kandinsky and showed his work at an exhibition of the German Expressionist organization Der Blaue Reiter.
Arp moved to Zurich in 1915 where he became one of the founders of the Dada movement a year later. He also met the artist Sophie Taeuber in Zurich whom he married in 1922. They collaborated as artists and made abstract works called Duo-Collges. During that time, Jean Arp also started to make abstract wood reliefs.
For his work Torn-Up Woodcut, Arp used parts of a Dada print he created in 1920, but the work itself was made decades later in 1954. The woodcut was apparently made by Arp for the Cinéma calendrier du coeur abstrait by Tristan Tzara, a poet, essayist, and one of the founders of Dada. Living in Cologne in 1919 and 1920, Arp was also active in the German Dada movement together with Max Ernst. During the 1920s he became part of the Surrealist movement.
8. Dada Artist Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters was a significant artist of the Dada movement, but in Hanover, he was also the only notable one. He was born in Hanover in 1887. There, he studied at the School of Arts and Crafts. He later also attended the Dresden Academy. After World War I, Schwitters became interested in the Dada movement, but he wasn’t accepted into the Berlin group, so he started his own branch of the movement in Hanover.
Schwitters started making collages out of everyday materials such as bus tickets, cigarettes, and newspapers in 1918. He also created poems out of newspaper headlines and slogans from ads. He called his artistic practice Merz. The name comes from the word Commerzbank. The word Merz was used by him as both a noun and a verb. Schwitters used the same principle for architecture and called it Merzbau, creating his Merz buildings. Unfortunately, his first Merzbau in Hanover and his second one in Lysaker, Norway were destroyed. His last and uncompleted Merzbau, which he made with support from the Museum of Modern Art in New York is still at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.