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Our Dada Could Beat Up Your Dada

Opening at MoMA on June 18, “Dada” surveys the movement that started in Europe during World War I, borrowing freely from military and media culture, and came to New York around 1917 with the United States’ entry into the war. So how did our scene compare?

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Zurich



Ringleader:
Hugo Ball
Typical Scene:
Cacophonous performances at the Cabaret Voltaire, as described by Hans Arp: “Our replies” to laughter are “volleys of hiccups, moos and the miaowing of medieval Bruitists.”
Media Stunt:
Fake press release announcing a duel between Dada Manifesto author Tristan Tzara and Arp.
Slogan
“Dada m’dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.”
Act of Protest:
Evenings of antiwar performances featuring tribal chants and readings of obituaries.
Signature Work:
Arp’s collages of torn paper arranged by chance.
Female Artist-Muse:
Model, nightclub hostess, and lady-of-the-night Emmy Hennings.

Berlin


Ringleader:
Richard Huelsenbeck
Typical Scene:
The First Dada Evening of 1918, at the Berlin Sezession: readings of manifestos, jazz dancing, and the bouncing of soccer balls off spectators’ heads.
Media Stunt:
The satirical broadsheet Everyone Has His Own Soccerball holds a mock beauty contest between leading politicians.
Slogan:
“What is Dadaism and what does it want in Germany?”
Act of Protest:
“Care packages” were sent to German soldiers by George Grosz, including items like dog food, shirt protectors, and teabags customized with patriotic slogans.
Signature Work:
Photo-montages by John Heartfield and Raoul Hausmann.
Female Artist-Muse:
Hannah Höch, photo-montage artist and sometime lover of Hausmann’s.

Paris


Ringleader:
André Breton
Typical Scene:
Friday poetry readings hosted by the magazine Littérature (example: Tzara reads from the newspaper while other Dadaists drown him out with clanging bells).
Media Stunt:
Dadaists distribute false information to newspaper offices stating that Charlie Chaplin will be performing with them.
Slogan:
“Dada is the world’s biggest hoax.”
Act of Protest:
At the 1920 Festival Dada, the audience pelted performers with eggs, meat, vegetables, and coins; a brawl ensued.
Signature Work:
Man Ray’s sculptural object Cadeau, a flatiron with spikes on the plate.
Female Artist-Muse:
Artist Suzanne Duchamp (Marcel’s sister).

New York



Ringleader:
Marcel Duchamp
Typical Scene:
Louise and Walter Arensberg’s apartment at 33 West 67th Street—described by Francis Picabia’s first wife as “an inconceivable orgy of sexuality, jazz, and alcohol.”
Media Stunt:
Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp’s seductive female alter ego.
Slogan:
“Dada places doubt above everything.”
Act of Protest:
In 1917, Duchamp climbed to the top of the Washington Square arch with balloons, and declared Greenwich Village “a free republic, independent of uptown.”
Signature Work:
Duchamp’s Fountain, his urinal-as-readymade sculpture, rejected by the 1917 Society of Independents exhibition.
Female Artist-Muse:
The German war widow Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, known for wandering the streets dressed in a French military headdress and tin-can brassiere.

Dada
The Museum of Modern Art. June 18 through September 11.


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