In 1916, a group of young men and women from across Europe came together in Zurich and shook the foundations of the art world. Firmly anti-authoritarian, they started an art movement that is being celebrated in “Everything is Dada,” a new exhibit at the Yale University Art Gallery.
Marking the movement’s centennial, “Everything is Dada” presents major paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs from the gallery’s collection by Jean (Hans) Arp, Marcel Duchamp, George Grosz, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Beatrice Wood, and many others. The exhibition also features a Dada-inspired installation and a series of programs that highlight the provocative and performative aspects of this avant-garde movement.
Dada artists questioned established norms and academic traditions and created works that blurred the line between fine and applied arts. They rejected the idea that an object needed aesthetic value to be considered art, and they claimed that everyone could be an artist. Dadaists incorporated everyday objects — such as newspapers, mechanical parts, light bulbs, and other random items — into their works to capture the zeitgeist. They also experimented with new techniques such as collage and assemblage and invoked the element of chance in the creative process. At the Café Voltaire in Zurich, Dada artists staged innovative and often shocking shows that included dance, music, poetry, and puppetry, laying the ground for postmodern performance art.
Dada was linked to the events of its time, and many of the artists, such as Grosz and Picabia, expressed in their works the irony and absurdity they saw during and after World War I. When the artists left Zurich — which had served as a safe haven in neutral Switzerland during the war — to return to their home countries or move abroad, Dadaist ideas spread to other cities, including Berlin, Hanover, Cologne, and Paris. New York was another incubator of Dada ideas, and the work of American and European artists there, such as Duchamp and Man Ray, was infused with a similar irreverent approach to artistic traditions.
Although Dada took on very different shapes over the years and evolved into other movements, all of its artists shared an enthusiasm for provocation and a desire to break from the moral, political, and aesthetic dogmas of the time. With their mockery of elitism and tradition, their use of mass media and popular culture, and their experimental methods, Dada artists challenged the concept of what constitutes a work of art, setting the stage for many later avant-garde movements including Surrealism, Pop art, and Conceptual art.
Frauke V. Josenhans, the Horace W. Goldsmith Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and curator of “Everything is Dada,” explains that “rather than giving a single definition or a historical survey, this exhibition investigates Dada’s irreverent, humorous, and unconventional approach. It illustrates how, 100 years after its birth, Dada’s impact on art can still be felt today.”
'Dada Lounge' and 'Dada Ball': Fostering dialogue between the original works of art and the gallery environment, “Everything is Dada” includes Dada-inspired interactive elements and a specially designed gallery space conceived in collaboration with Christopher Sleboda, director of graphic design, and students from the Yale School of Art graphic design program. The space features a “Dada lounge,” where visitors can listen to original sound poetry, a revolutionary literary form with seemingly nonsensical content that uses language broken down into abstract parts and phonetic sounds. In addition, a selection of seven Dada and Surrealist short films — including works by Man Ray, Hans Richter, René Clair, Fernand Léger, and Charles Sheeler — are screened in an adjacent gallery.
A series of performances and programs throughout the run of the exhibition — on view through July 3 — incorporates dance, music, gallery talks, lectures, and even a Dada ball. Together the programs comprise an “un-symposium,” a fittingly non-traditional format for exploring the irreverent aspects of the Dada movement. The first of these events is a gallery talk titled “Everything Is Dada: 100 Years of Art and Anti-Art” by Josenhans on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 12:30 p.m.
The Dada Ball will take place on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m. Dada-inspired costumes are encouraged at this event, which will feature music, poetry, photography, refreshments, and more.
“‘Everything is Dada’ draws on one of the cornerstones of the gallery’s holdings of modern art — the Société Anonyme Collection, which was given to Yale in 1941 by the collection’s founders, Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp,” says Pamela Franks, the Seymour H. Knox Jr. Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and deputy director for exhibitions, programming, and education. “The Société Anonyme Collection includes major works by influential Dadaists, including Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp, Angelika Hoerle, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, and Kurt Schwitters — that comprise the heart of the exhibition. The spirit of Dada is reflected in the extraordinary collaborations involved in the exhibition’s design, installation, and ‘un-symposium.’ Partnerships with the Yale School of Art, Yale Dance Theater, and the Yale student music ensemble Black Is the Color create dynamic exchanges that are only possible at a university where creativity permeates the campus atmosphere.”
The exhibition was made possible by the Société Anonyme Endowment Fund. For a complete schedule of events associated with the exhibition, visit the Yale University Art Gallery website.