DADA: 100 Years On

Dada meeting, from 'Frankfurter Zeitung', 11 January 1921 by French photographer; Bibliotheque Litteraire Jacques Doucet, Paris, France. From above to below and right to left: Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (1884-1974), French writer; Francis Picabia (1879-1

Horrified by the slaughter of the First World War, the Dadaists espoused irrationality to ridicule the logic that had led to war. But Dada’s influence has stretched far past 1918.

One hundred years ago, in a small nightclub on Spiegelgasse in Zurich, a revolution in art began. A group of writers and artists of different stripes gathered to host the first Cabaret Voltaire—the starting pistol for the movement that became known as Dada. Founded by Hugo Ball and his partner Emmy Hennings, the cabaret’s other artists and performers were Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean (Hans) Arp. The evenings were born out of the artists’ reaction as the horrors of the First World War became increasingly apparent. “Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts,” Arp later recalled. “While the guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might.”



“Dada was an open revolution against the hidden values behind art history”

Dada and punk are similar in that they represent a high-water mark of what it means to have a certain kind of integrity, to really be against the system rather than just claim you are. I’m interested in that line where Surrealism begins and Dada ends. We like to frame an easily drawn determination between the two, but these things tend to blend. Dada understood the power of the absurd to undermine a rationality going back to the Enlightenment; the Surrealists approached the irrational world—the unconscious or mysticism or the uncanny—in relation to other cultures in museums, in a way that had a scientific aspect. That idea of using logical methods for irrational conclusions is my take-away fr om Dada and Surrealism. The history of Modernism has a clear Oedipal logic: each generation tries to take down the generation before. And in Dada, with Picabia’s representation of the figure of Cézanne as a stuffed monkey, that relationship is made concrete: art is not a respectful looking back and assessing of art history, but an open revolution against the hidden values behind that history, which is an identification with the ruling class. Now, we’re in a crisis because subversion is what we’ve come to expect fr om art. Whether that’s legitimate subversion or just posing, today’s art world feels very far from the world of Dada or punk.


“Dada fought the absurdity of the world”

For me, Dada is in your mind—you live with Dada. I do feel like some kind of Dadaist myself, as the great Pontus Hultén [the first director of the Centre Pompidou] tried to be. I feel I have to keep the spirit of Dada in my mind to lead such a huge institution as the Musée National d’Art Moderne because Dada is about revolt, how you refuse things, and when you are involved in art in general you need not only to re-use but definitely to refuse. I belong to a generation that feels that art has to be against, it doesn’t have to be for things. Dada is not at all about destruction. It emerged during the war and was fighting against the absurdity of the world. If you look at what is happening today, it is more and more appropriate to keep in mind what Dada tried to trigger. The readymade is not an object, it is maybe a tool—in French you say “un accélérateur de la pensée”. A long time I ago I did a show called Poésure et Peintrie [at the Centre de la Vieille Charité in Marseille, 1993]. My wish was to explain that the roots of Modernism cannot be divorced from the spirit of poetry and Dada is about poetry, because at its roots are poets—Tzara, Huelsenbeck, Ball. If you believe in poetry you find a freedom in Dada that is definitely missing in contemporary art, wh ere everything is seen through the true reality of life.


“Dada is ectoplasmic, it is everywhere and nowhere”

All the avant-gardes, in a way, failed. It is the ontology of these forms to fail in order to be reinvented, as if, in a way, Modernism is all about ideas that are never a given and have to be renewed. In the history of Dada and Cabaret Voltaire, it has come back many times and takes a different shape, and then we forget it and reinvent it. And now, it’s 100 years, so we have to take it back again. But then you take it back through the filter of what it became when it was reinvented by the Situationists and these proto-forms that it took. One quality re-created every time is the idea of the game, of play. There was a line, not by the Dadaists, that the only true revolution is in the pleasure of play. And when I say play, it’s also humour that’s central to Dada. When I worked on Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp in Philadelphia in 2012, the conversations between those guys had that same humour. When Duchamp signed Rauschenberg’s Bottle Rack, the readymade was lost, but Rauschenberg found one of the same kind and asked Duchamp to sign it. Instead of the forgotten inscription, Duchamp wrote on the readymade: “Impossible for me to recall the original phrase.” It was all about games. For me, Dada is ectoplasmic, it’s everywhere and nowhere.


“Dada members were strategic: they realised the historical importance of what they did”

For me, it’s not a question of whether Lady Gaga is Dada or Thomas Hirschhorn is Dada. It’s not like a kind of marketing wh ere if it’s written down on a label that something is Dada, then there’s Dada inside. A lot of things are Dada without the label. In our exhibition Dada Universal at the Swiss National Museum, we stop at punk; you can trace a genealogy from Dada to that point by passing through the Situationists. But afterwards it gets more difficult, because avant-gardes don’t exist in the same spirit, when they said that they were post-Dada or Neo-Dada, like Fluxus. Dada was a kaleidoscopic, heterogenous thing. People say the group would have hated to have had exhibitions in museums, but it’s not true. They made exhibitions in their own galleries. And Picabia, Arp and Taeuber were already being shown at the Kunsthaus in Zurich in 1919; Tzara hung Picabia’s paintings on the wall himself to be sure it was done properly—he was like an Dada impresario. In our exhibition we have the Dossier Dada by André Breton—in the 1920s, he had a press agency collect clippings on two words, Dada and Breton, which shows how strategically they were thinking; they realised the historical importance of what they did.

• Everything Is Dada, Yale Art Gallery, until 3 July 2016; Dadaglobe Reconstructed, Kunsthaus Zurich, until 1 May, and then Museum of Modern Art, New York, 12 June-18 September; Dada Universal, National Museum, Zurich, until 28 March; Performa will have a special Dada event in April, see and RoseLee Goldberg will give a talk on Dada and Dance on 3 March; all events for Dada 100 Zurich 2016 are listed at

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Do Ho Suh: the fabric of life

Do Ho Suh. Photo Lee Juyeon © Do Ho Suh

The Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh has made moving around the world—fr om Seoul to New York and now London—his life’s work. His sheer fabric structures, which replicate the architecture of his past dwellings, give shape to the transience, dislocation and shifting identities that Suh has known. Now the sculptures themselves are hitting the road: in February, the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) opened Passage, a solo exhibition of predominantly new work (until 11 September), while the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is the latest US institution to host the artist’s mid-career survey (18 March-4 July) with a presentation of several of the cloth installations, along with videos and works on paper. 

The Art Newspaper: Your cloth houses evoke feelings of both rootedness and uprootedness. Does the fact that the sculptures themselves are now travelling around the country add anything to the way you think about the work?

“I see clothing as the smallest and most habitable space that you can carry with you”

Do Ho Suh: It’s a strange feeling. Previously I’ve had shows travel to a couple of different places, but never as extensively as this US tour. I feel like I’m in a rock band or something, going to all these small towns. It’s funny because the same pieces are travelling from one end of the US to the other, but each venue is completely different, so each time I show the piece in a different space or location it actually achieves a different layer of meaning. I think it’s kind of similar to my personal experience of leaving home and coming to a different country and moving around, but this time it’s the work itself that is experiencing different things. But because of the specificity of the museum space, I don’t think the Cincinnati show can be replicated. It is very much sitespecific; the whole show is about this transient experience, moving throughout the spaces within the museum and using your body.

KFt7IklEIjoiNTU2NDEiLCJQQVJBTSI6IiJ9XSk=The fabric homes that you are known for today look very different from some earlier works, like your 2001 jacket made of military dog tags, Some/One, or your assemblage of high-school uniforms from 1997. How do these relate to your architectural works?

The idea of the clothing is quite interesting because it is related to architecture as well. I see clothing as the smallest and most habitable space that you can carry with you. Architectural space is similar, it’s just a little bit bigger. They both protect you. All the architectural pieces are made in fabric as well, so for me it is a clothing for the space. I see architectural space as a body.

In recent years you’ve become a father and moved to London. Has this change of identity influenced your work?

There’s a three-channel video in the CAC show which is, for me, a more personal and intimate piece because my daughter is involved. My move to London from New York, roughly five years ago, coincided with the arrival of my first daughter. We were both new to this city of London and we were both exploring the area by my pushing her pram around the streets. I installed three GoPro video cameras on the top of her stroller, so one camera captures the front view and two cameras capture the right and left. The video is a kind of street scene, and it’s going to be projected in a small, immersive environment we created in the museum. There’s also a sound element: ambient sound from the street and conversation between father and daughter. My daughter is really young so some of the things she says are gibberish; other times she sings and talks to herself. Then we also talk together, both in Korean and English. We took some shots in Korea as well and cut them into the London scene. There’s a lot of crossing cultural and geographical boundaries within the film.

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Don’t Pooh-Pooh this museum post

Your new specialist subject: Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. Image: Peacay
A new post at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is worth exploring if you like a certain honey-loving bear who counts Tigger and Eeyore among his chums. An advertisement for “exhibition research assistant: Winnie-the-Pooh; salary: £21,214” was recently posted on the museum’s website. The position—a fixed-term contract until July 2017—will be based in the institution’s Word & Image department. The blog says that bagging the job would result in the world’s best intro at parties: “Oh, I’m the Winnie-the-Pooh specialist at the V&A.”

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March is art month in the Gulf

Map of Qatar, Sharjah and Dubai
The rest of the Middle East is in torment, but the Gulf remains an enclave of calm, where creativity, the art trade and reflection—some more, some less relevant—about what art can do for society can carry on. The ruler of Dubai has appointed a female Minister for Happiness and intends to build a great library. Barack Obama has emphasised America’s warm friendship with a region that some Westerners, who feel that it is the acceptable face of Arab culture, find reassuring. While the troubles continue, this is where to get beyond the dreadful headlines and find out what people are thinking when not overwhelmed by the misery of war and to see the world from a non-Western geo-political axis

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Cold War revisited

Marvel of the age: Kharkiv metro<br />© 2016 Artists Rights Society/VG Bild-Kunst, photo Peter Jacobs
Russian rebels are getting some love from the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Dreamworlds and Catastrophes (12 March-31 July) explores how artists whose work was not sanctioned by the Soviet state “responded to Cold War developments in science and technology through utopian fantasies and anxious realities”, says Ksenia Nouril, the show’s curator. US artists such as Robert Rauschenberg documented the Apollo 11 moon landing for Nasa, but Soviet photographers such as Boris Mikhailov captured the celebrations of slightly less glamorous technological advancements closer to home—like the metro system in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kharkiv.

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