The Dada art movement was an international phenomenon with centers in Zurich, Berlin, and New York City. Almost everyone is familiar with Dadaism artists like Marcel Duchamp or Tristan Tzara, but not as many know the female voices of the movement. Dadaists were against war, institutions, norms, and the bourgeois culture. It is safe to say that Dadaism heavily influenced how we think about art today. Women Dadaists were often ignored in writings about the history of the movement. Since many were in personal relationships with other Dadaism artists, they are mostly mentioned as their partners and not artists themselves. Here, we look at the life and work of Hannah Höch, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Mina Loy, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and Emmy Hennings.
1. Hannah Höch: Woman Artist Of The Berlin Dada Art Movement
Hannah Höch was the only woman artist of the Berlin Dada. She was born in Berlin in 1889.
The German part of the Dada art movement started in 1918 with a soiree held at the Gallery Neuman and lasted for five years. Höch is known for her collages and photomontages which were a frequent art form in the Dada art movement. While a member of the Berlin Dada, she was in a relationship with another artist of the movement – Raoul Hausmann.
Höch, like other Dadaism artists, used images found in magazines, newspapers, and posters when creating her artworks. Höch herself worked in the publishing industry at the Ullstein Press for 10 years, starting in 1916. Therefore, the artist was very familiar with the media culture of the Weimar Republic. Höch’s pieces showed her feminist viewpoints as she often portrayed the position of women in patriarchal culture in her photomontages.
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In 1920, the First International Dada Fair was held in Berlin and Höch was the only female Dadaism artist to have her works exhibited. Her photomontage humorously named Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany was displayed at the fair. By piecing magazine fragments together Höch satirically showed the political chaos of the Weimar Republic after World War I. Höch also acknowledged her position as a female artist in the title of the work by specifying the use of a kitchen knife. Even beyond her years with Dada, Höch’s work was often critical of the misogynist ways in which women were treated.
2. Sophie Taeuber-Arp: The Multitalented Woman Of Dada
Sophie Taeuber-Arp was one of the earliest members of the Dada art movement in Zurich. The home of Zurich Dada was Cabaret Voltaire. Along with Galerie Dada which opened in March of 1917, it was a place where Dadaist performances were held at.
Known for her relief sculptures, textiles, designs, and dolls, Taeuber-Arp worked in many fields of applied and fine arts. It is good to know that craft and applied arts were often considered feminine and were wrongfully less valued than fine arts. Taeuber-Arp specialized in textiles at art schools in St. Gallen and Hamburg. Out of all the Dadaists, she was the one with a steady job and a regular income. She worked as a professor of textile design, embroidery, and weaving at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich until 1929. Since she worked as an artist, teacher, and dancer, it is safe to say that Taeuber-Arp was a very active and prolific member of the Dada art movement in Zurich. She was also the only member of the group born in Switzerland.
The fact that Taeuber-Arp performed as a dancer is important for understanding the true nature of Dadaism. The Dada art movement was a very performative phenomenon. Taeuber-Arp started studying dance with the famous choreographer Rudolf von Laban in 1916. Tristan Tzara even wrote about Laban’s Dance School in Dada 1 journal. Tauber-Arp’s dancing was also described in the magazine.
A lot of Dadaism artists were simultaneously singers, poets, and dancers. In many fields of Dadaist art, the human body itself was the medium. The idea of the body as the art object was to be further developed a few decades later in Performance art and Happenings. Dance also influenced Taeuber-Arp’s paintings and textiles. Her geometric abstractions seem to reflect a certain rhythm and motion within them.
In 1915, Sophie met a fellow Dadaist Jean Arp at an exhibition of tapestry in Gallery Tanner in Zurich. The couple married in 1922. Taeuber-Arp helped her husband both financially and artistically. For an exhibition of textiles at the Kunstsalon Wolfsberg, Taeuber-Arp executed eight out of eleven pieces credited to Jean Arp. When the activity of the Dadaists subsided in Zurich in 1919, many artists moved to Paris. However, because of her teaching position in Zurich, Taeuber-Arp stayed in Switzerland.
3. Mina Loy: The Female Voice Of Literary Dadaism Artists
Mina Loy was a poet and a visual artist born in London in 1882. Around 1900, Loy went to Munich to study painting. Later on, she continued her studies in London and Paris. Loy moved quite a lot and even lived in Florence from 1907 until 1916. While in Italy, she ran in the circles of Futurists and had love affairs with artists like F. T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini.
After living in Florence, Loy moved to New York City in 1916. New York Dadaism artists shared the same anti-war feelings, and they were against the bourgeoise culture and all of the old rigid perceptions of art. Loy became a part of the New York Dada, especially its literary branch. The American Dada consisted of many artists who moved from Europe to the United States like Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. In her memoir Colossus, Loy referred to Duchamp as “King Dada.” American artists like Man Ray and Beatrice Wood were also a part of the New York Dada.
While in New York, Loy wrote poetry, helped create Dada magazines, acted in a play by Alfred Kreymborg, and wrote two one-act plays herself. She wrote for the New York Dada Journal The Blind Man and contributed to Duchamp’s publication named Rongwrong.
While living in New York City, Loy met and married another Dadaist figure – Arthur Cravan. Cravan was an artist, poet, and boxer. The couple was only married for a short time until Cravan mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Mexico in 1918.
Loy embraced multiculturism and always led a nomadic lifestyle like many Dadaism artists. She was a multitalented artist who wrote poetry, plays, painted, acted, designed stages, clothing, and lampshades.
4. The Flamboyant Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven
Often described as very bohemian, stylish, and radical, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is a key figure in the New York branch of the Dada art movement.
She is yet another Dadaist involved in the performative aspect of this avant-garde movement. Like Mina Loy, Von Freytag-Loringhoven also wrote poetry.
Born in a middle-class family in Pomerania, Germany, Elsa ran away from home when she first moved to Berlin and then to Munich. While in Berlin, Elsa attended an acting school where she started experimenting with cross-dressing when playing male roles. After two failed marriages, she ended up marrying the German Baron von Freytag-Loringhoven.
In 1913, Elsa came to New York where she met a number of Dadaism artists. During her time in the city, the Baroness settled in Greenwich Village, an area known for its social scene where all kinds of artists and bohemian figures met. The Baroness carefully chose her outfits and became famous for her flamboyant public image. Feminist art historian Amelia Jones notes that Baroness Elsa had a queer sexual persona. She was open to sexual experimentation, she desired homosexual men, and had intense friendships with many lesbians. Everything she represented was contrary to the patriarchal culture of the time.
Works that Dadaist artists created such as readymades changed the ways in which we perceive art objects and think about artistic authorship. Duchamp is of course the key figure when we talk about the readymades, but it is important to know women artists like Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven who also created them. The same year Duchamp presented his famous Fountain, von Freytag-Loringhoven made a readymade piece out of a plumbing tube in collaboration with Morton Schamberg. Their piece was humorously named God.
The Baroness referenced Duchamp in her 1920 assemblage Portrait of Marcel Duchamp. The now-lost work consisted of feathers, rubber, champagne glass, and different fabrics. Another readymade created by the Baroness is called Cathedral. This 1918 piece resembles a skyscraper made out of a piece of wood.
5. Emmy Hennings: The Founding Member Of The Dada Art Movement
Emmy Hennings was born in Flensburg, Germany in 1885. She is another female Dadaism artist connected to the Zurich Dada art movement. Hennings is also known as one of the founding members of Cabaret Voltaire. She wrote poetry, created dolls, and worked as a performer.
Like many other Dadaism artists Hennings was in an intimate relationship with a fellow Dadaist. In her case, it was Hugo Ball whom she met in Munich in 1913. After meeting him, Hennings joined Ball in Berlin where she worked as a singer and an artists’ model. When World War I started the couple fled to Switzerland. Zurich represented a safe place for foreigners who were running away from war and nationalism. The core values of the Dada art movement were anti-war sentiments and pacifism.
At Cabaret Voltaire, Hennings sang, recited poetry and prose, and danced. Already well experienced in performing in cabarets, Hennings sang songs from different countries and cultures, while also presenting her own artistic material. In the first Dada soiree that was held at the Waag hall, Hennings danced three “Dada dances” while dressed in masks designed by Marcel Janco.
During her years with Dada, Hennings designed dolls for puppet shows that were an integral part of Dadaistic soirees. Two of her poems and a photograph of her puppets were published in the only edition of Cabaret Voltaire magazine in 1916. After their involvement with the Zurich Dada, Ball and Hennings relocated to a swiss village in the canton of Ticino where they turned to religion.