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SURREALISM  1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Surrealism officially emerged as a movement in art, although not necessarily a movement in the visual arts, with the 1924 publication of a manifesto by the French poet Andre Breton. Breton's sensibilities, like those of Surrealism in general, were sharply denned by the broad and preceding development of ideas in the European art world.

But Surrealism embodied a contradiction. Like the avant-garde, their dream of revolution was a radical break from the past into something new. At the same time, they argued that their moment of "revolution" was heralded by history—if one selected the right history! Surrealism was to be the heir of a new, modern spirit at the same time that it was also an historical accretion, slowly emerging from broader, older streams of human creativity. The broad tapestry provided individual threads to be rewoven—from the naturalism of the Italian Renaissance to the ideas of the major avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Metaphysical Art, and Dadaism. So important are these multiple fibers that the first two chapters of this book are given to them.

The central shaping force was the energy of the nascent century, the feeling embodied in the coming of electricity, the airplane, and the motorcar. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the First World War, a conflagration that began on horseback and ended with tanks. The Second World War served as a bracket to energies that defined the European avant-garde before, during, and after the Surrealists.

One thread begins, ironically, with Pablo Picasso and the Cubism in Paris. Little could seem further from the rebellions of the Surrealists than this art, with its clean, almost machinelike edges of flat "cubes." But not only was Picasso Breton's favorite artist, Cubism was also the origin of a basic pictorial language and attitude for the avant-garde of the new century. The techniques developed by Cubism during the years 1912 to 1914—such as the use of collage and the inclusion of found objects— were applied by many artists and movements throughout Europe to ends quite different than the Cubism had envisioned. Nowhere was this more true than among the German Expressionists, many of whom became members of the Dada movement after 1916. By 1919, collage in the hands of an artist like Max Ernst was considered to be proto-Surrealist. Thus Surrealism drew upon the earlier elements in Cubism and Expressionism. And there were other sources.

The young hellions of the Italian Futurisst movement began in 1909 to develop an art and philosophy of energy and dynamism to force their classically laden past to merge with the future of a speeding automobile. Much of the nihilism and many of the tactics they developed were picked up several years later by the Dadaists, whose cabaret's drums and performances beat steadily against, or perhaps in tune with, the drums of war.

By 1919, Andre Breton and his group of French poets were direct heirs to Dadaists ideas that had developed across Europe and were beginning to congeal in Paris. By 1922, they began to break away from the Dadaists to form a less negative program. Breton, especially, turned to the ideas of Sigmund Freud to establish a psychoanalytic foundation for the Surrealist dream of revolution. Two years later, Breton published the "First Surrealist Manifesto." Within one year the Surrealists mounted their first exhibition of visual art in Paris, and by 1926 they opened their own art gallery. In 1929 dissension in the Surrealist ranks broke into an open schism against Breton's authoritarian leadership and political alignment with the French Communist Party. This period of crisis in the movement opened a second branch of Surrealism associated with the more radicalized ideas of Georges Bataille. Ironically, new members arrived in the early 1930s, and the movement became known worldwide with a series of international exhibitions that lasted into the 1950s.

By 1939, with Franco's Fascist victory in Spain, the Russo-German pact, and the beginning of World War II, the Surrealists, already international in membership and orientation, spread away from the Continent. Many arrived in the United States by 1941 and their presence profoundly affected the development of art in New York. By the end of World War II, the Americans had accumulated sufficient information from the Europeans to begin their own synthesis of ideas, culminating in Abstract Expressionism. But the impact of Surrealist ideas did not end there.

Many of the Surrealists continued to work into the 1950s and '60s, and they provided a focus to two more generations of artists. Young Americans, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, exhibited with them in the 1950s. Other artists in the late 1950s and 60s involved in Happenings and the beginnings of performance art felt the shaping force of the Surrealists. Assemblage artists, such as Lee Bontecou, and those using organic shapes and psychological motifs, like Louise Bourgeois, owed much of their aesthetic to the first systematic explorations of the psyche employed by Surrealism.

A book on Surrealism also becomes a book addressed to the avant-garde spirit, a span of time and ideas which forms a large part of the most stimulating art and ideas in the twentieth century. It was a period of great promise, a Utopia, where they dreamed the dream of revolution.

Surrealism aimed to revolutionize life through art. It succeeded in revolutionizing the history of modern art by opening new doors of perception, but this was neither a simple nor a linear development.

The general histories we have come to accept as the pathways of the radically new in the history of modern art were generally rejected by the Surrealists as irrelevant if not downright stupid. They countered with a different construction of history from selections bounded by their particular desires. To study those histories and selections is to learn a great deal about the nature of Surrealism.

Men Adoring Beast with Two Horns.
From Commentary on the Apocalypse.
Belgium, 3d quarter of 15th century.

The New History

In the late nineteenth century, young radicals in the visual arts across Europe agitated for their art and ideas as direct descendants from the early part of the century. In Paris, they wrote a new history that ran from the broken brushwork, "modern" subject matter, and brightened outdoor colors of the painter Eugene Delacroix, through the experiments in light and atmosphere of Impressionists like Claude Monet in the 1870s and '80s, to arrive at their own Post-Impressionist easels and Symbolist ideas. They constructed a new and progressively "modern" historical lineage outside the approved channels of recognition and support, government-sponsored salons, and academies of art. This was the avant-garde art, and it is this history that is widely accepted today as the origin of modern art.

In the early twentieth century, artists and commentators alike recognized that their concerns and styles were directly related to this line of avant-garde art. The now "scientifically" systematized colors and compositions of Georges Seurat's quiet scenes were said to correct the lack of structure in Impressionism while maintaining its bright palette and concerns for outdoor effects. Paul Cezanne's structural slabs of paint also were proclaimed to lead out of the lessons of Impressionism through a revitalized concern for surface structure, and into the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Concurrently, the lessons learned from the Impressionists led Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin through a revitalized concern for expression and a symbolism located less in subject matter and more in the newly modern language of colors and lines.

The two accepted roots of twentieth-century art— structure and expression—were formed with a newly modern pedigree accepted by today's "academy of the new." But to understand Surrealism is to know there neither was nor is a single history of modern art or the avant-garde. The Surrealists chose from a far less restricted understanding of art, and rejected or rewrote much of what was to be "modern" within their own history of modernism.

The New Old History

On one hand, Andre Breton considered labels such as "Cubism"—and even "Surrealism"—too restrictive to encompass the true powers of creativity: To worry "whether X or Y succeeds in passing himself off as a surrealist, are matters for grocers' assistants." Art history was for clerks; Surrealism was beyond that. On the other hand, Breton spent great energy clerking—by claiming, proclaiming, and eliminating various artists from the lists of Surrealism.

Breton was convinced that the issues Surrealism addressed were age-old. He asked in 1928, "Am I to believe then that everything began with myself? There were so many others, heedful of the dash of gold lances under a black sky—but where are Uccello's Battles? And what is left of them for us?" Uccello serves as a good example to demonstrate both the historical perspective of Surrealism and the idiosyncrasies of its approach.

Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) was a Renaissance artist preoccupied with geometry and elements of the newly invented linear perspective, to a degree recognized in his own time as excessive. His three versions of a battle scene show the lances Breton mentioned, but it is not the clash of armies Breton's words were meant to evoke. Rather, the Surrealists saw the battle as being between the real and the unreal, for Uccello's excessive use of a technique applied to the natural world gave an unnatural look to his figures. In this way, Paolo Uccello was part of the Surrealists' history, just as excess was considered surrealist wherever and whenever it existed.

Paolo Uccello


Uccello, an Italian painter of the early-Renaissance, was the only historical figure mentioned in the first Surrealist Manifesto of 1924. Like Bosch, he was admired because he was obsessed by a particular vision which used—but perverted—"normal" vision.

The Surrealists used the same criteria to sift through the immediate past of art. Where they rejected Seurat's art as an advance in the scientific study of optics, they admired the "magic" and confusion of his lighting, which gave "disturbing" effects. Gauguin may have developed decorative flat colors that affected Henri Matisse, but this was art history of no interest. It was Gauguin's attempts at primitive innocence and reimpowering myths that the Surrealists felt brought him close to their own aims. Seurat and Gauguin were accepted as part of modern art but rewritten as a new history, equivalent to poets like Arthur Rimbaud and the Count of Lautreamont, who attacked the world of appearance.

Henri Matisse


Paul Gauguin


The Problem of the Visual

The roll call of visual artists active in the Surrealist movement is a list of many of the most visually powerful and disturbing creators in the twentieth century. So it comes as a surprise and even a problem that Breton and the Surrealist poets were, at first, not at ease with the issue of visual arts or many of its ideas in Surrealism. It was a movement begun by poets within literature; there were no illustrations in their first, transitional journal, Litterature. In his first manifesto in 1924, Breton makes exceedingly limited reference to the visual arts, except in one place. To a list of writers, all of whom he calls Surrealist for one or another reasons, he attached a footnote as if an afterthought:

I could say the same of a number of philosophers and painters, including, among the latter, Uccello, from painters of the past, and, in the modern era, Seurat, Gustaves Moreau, Matisse (in "La Musique," for example), Derain, Picasso (by far the most pure), Braque, Duchamp, Picabia, Chirico (so admirable for so long), Klee, Man Ray, Max Ernst, and, one so close to us, Andre Masson.


Art is Not the Issue

As late as 1953 Breton restated the case that everyone who argued for an "aesthetic" component for Surrealism placed its history "in a false light." For Breton, anyone concerned with "art" was bound to be misguided. Art took you into illusion and away from the "real." Surrealism had been born into a relation to language, but it was a search for the "prime matter" of language. This search led to the regions of the human unconscious where desires arose unbidden and unconstrained. This was the proper domain for art in a new understanding, and anything accepted as "art" needed to lead to the "real" by way of this path.

Those visual artists who had felt such a compulsion— and compulsion is the key concept here—and given it concrete form throughout history were admitted to the Surrealist pantheon. Surrealism constructed their "modern" history from those driven by compulsion, not from those who used colors and lines in innovative ways. As late as their 1947 international group exhibition, they planned to present from history several such "Surrealists despite themselves" alongside their own work, such as the Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, famous for his grotesque figures composed from fruits, vegetables, and animals.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Another such artist is Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516), whose strange vision and grotesque sense of fantasy has long appealed to modern audiences. Despite his devout religious beliefs and otherwise normal life, Bosch's vision existed outside the main line of development for the rest of the Low Countries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Even his painted themes are normal, most based on the life of Christ. But it is in the marginalia that his imagination created a world of demons, half-animal, half-human creatures doing fantastic things set within imaginary landscape and architecture.

Bosch's superbly realistic painting style rendered images that fit Breton's criteria of clarity and concreteness but they also were part of a history Breton saw of a primitive vision made manifest, one which included a number of naturalistic artists. Bosch as an artist was able to impose simultaneously the reality of his images on the beholder while also altering normal relationships to the images. By means of images he created the real, but the real now included, by necessity, the unreal.

Hieronymus Bosch

(c. 1450-1516)


Rethinking the Visual

Breton expressed his opinion about Bosch in the 1928 essay "Surrealism and Painting," in which the poet wanted to do for visual language what he had done for poetic language in 1924—call visual art to task, disclose its real goals, and outline those who had done so in the past, like Bosch, or in the present, like Picasso. The central argument Breton used was an important and widely shared one for Surrealists.

The visual arts are based on the most powerful of physical faculties. It is vision that allows us control over the world, and the Surrealists took it seriously because they valued reality, or their own definition of it. Breton recognized that a "few lines" and "blobs of color" could give immediate power. The formal elements of painting lent a power to painted objects that compelled us to move into the illusion of the world represented. This happens through all visual art and the subject does not matter. We could therefore conclude that any work that so transported us would do. But the Surrealists wanted something more specific, and not all works either called to them or answered their call. Visual art must give a sense of following an internal vision or model more than an external one, yet never abandon one for the other.

This makes a great deal of Surrealist writing about the nature of art confusing, especially with its insistence on reality. The Surrealists wrote a variation on the theme of "I-know-it-when-I-see-it" but purposefully avoided prescribing a formula for its accomplishment. It was a revision of reality, one which moved to include what had been excluded, what was "invisible" to the normal, conscious eye. It was a different vision—the ability to see a primitive world—that they desired. In a sense, they were opposed to vision, but only as it had been used merely as an organ of perception.


The Savage Eye

Breton opened his major defense of the visual arts, "Surrealism and Painting," with the assertion: "The eye exists in its savage state." The only possible witness to the "marvels" of the world is the "wild eye." But this eye could not be inscribed within any one arena or category. It existed in academic painting as well as in the avant-garde; in some but not all fantasy art; most certainly in art from "primitive" cultures; in the art of those considered to be untrained; and especially in those psychologically displaced from the mainstream of society. But perhaps the greatest challenge was to locate it in those working in the world at the moment and to develop it within themselves. In either case Breton possessed a secular-made-holy priestly power to select, bless, and excommunicate those moments, artists, and works.

When Breton was sixteen he visited the Gustaves Moreau museum in Paris and found in the women and mythology of this nineteenth-century French academic artist both a temple and a magical brothel whose luxuriant tones evoked the forbidden sensuality so adored by the Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire. That Breton, like Baudelaire and Moreau, should write his fantasy onto the body of woman as simultaneously saintly and erotic tells us much about the orientation of Surrealism. Indebted to the Symbolist femme fatale, woman was adored but served the male libido as sensuous muse, an embodiment of eros to which the Surrealists would attach the constructions of madness and pornography.

Gustaves Moreau

(1826 - 1898)

When Moreau's liberal teaching methods were later praised by his more radical students, such as Matisse, Breton chastised their inability to see him also as "a great visionary and magician." The issue of "vision" was taken in a primal sense in Surrealism, since only the "wild eye" of the visionary could see into the abyss. Indeed, one of Breton's central criteria for painting was that it be a "way of thought directed entirely toward the inner life." This was a thin paraphrase of Moreau's own statement about art. Yet interiority had to reveal itself in nonliteral ways. Many artists who apparently painted internal fantasies, such as Swiss painter Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901), were provocative but finally too direct, too literary in their symbols. However, the breadth and diversity of the artists associated with Surrealism guaranteed appreciation for the broad current of fantastic painters. While Bocklin seems to have escaped Breton's list, he was admired by Max Ernst and by the most often cited and important precursor to Surrealism, Giorgio de Chirico.

Arnold Bocklin


Famous for his moody landscapes peopled by mythological and symbolic figures, this Swiss painter is mostly absent from Breton's lists, although admired by others.

The Unconscious

Odilon Redon (1840-1916) derived his visions from his dreams and was perhaps the first artist to openly accept the role of the subconscious in creativity. Breton embraced Freud's dream therapy and ranked Redon among those who waged the battle against the "retinal" painters. Redon's source was the eye turned inward, so admired by many Surrealists. That Redon was far more conscious of the plastic values of art set him apart from many Surrealists but his compulsion and biologically derived dream world of weird amoeboid creatures with symbolic titles—admired by his poet friends, such as Stephane Mallarme—made him an important precursor. In a black-and-white lithograph Redon has an eye move toward the infinity of the abyss; a perfect image for Surrealist intentions.

Odilon Redon


The Surrealists placed Redon with Seurat and Gauguin as those working against "retinal" modern painting, which propagated "utterly superficial values." Redon's mysterious symbolism and poetic sensibility separated him from the Romantics, who merely illustrated dreams.

The Naive

Vision was best that came unbidden, hence compulsively defeating the process of will—from Redon's dreams, for example. Those who were untrained were often less restricted and more open to this type of vision. The Surrealists were not the first to celebrate the naive artist. For instance, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), the French poet and spokesperson for much of the Paris avant-garde, was a great defender of art from outside the mainstream of Western culture. And his example was closely followed by Breton and others, who were most vocal in support of the naive.

The greatest of the untaught modern so-called primitive painters was Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), best known as "Le Douanier Rousseau." He began painting part-time after his retirement from the Paris civil service as a gatekeeper and his "naive" visions were much admired by leading artists of the day. Rousseau wanted to be like the academic painters, not the avant-garde. Yet contrary to an academic belief in an objective world he made no such rational distinctions between phantoms and reality. It was in such an arena, where the possible and impossible could meet, that marked him for admiration. Rousseau's works, like the man, were enigmatic, even to those in the avant-garde, and thus an inspiration to the poetic sensibility.

Henri Rousseau


The Primitive

Nowhere is the primitive or savage eye more readily apparent than outside Western culture, which we assume in our own naivete to be unmarked by the restrictions of rational discourse. Interest in "primitive" art was marked by the development of ethnographic collections in the 1880s and '90s. And it has been justly remarked that "modern" art, no matter how one defines it, is impossible without the influences of non-Western art and traditions. The specific sources and their uses varied according to the ideas and programs of modern Western artists. Many painters, such as Picasso and Matisse, were taken with the structural simplifications of broad planes seen in figures and masks from Africa, Oceana, and prehistoric Spain. In addition, both used the mask as a metaphor for their excursion into the primitive. Others, such as the early twentieth century German Expressionists and the influential forerunners to Surrealism, the Dadaists, were moved by the power and cadences of African forms and music.

The Surrealists were interested both in the general visionary quality of the so-called primitive state, and with a far more specific, even scientific, ethnographic attitude. Many had large collections of primitive art, ranging with knowledgeable distinction through Africa, Oceana, and the First Peoples of North America. Writers such as Michel Leiris published learned volumes on languages and customs of African peoples. Despite the wide-ranging debates as to which culture was more important to the Surrealists, they generally valued the earlier cultures for their ability to accept in concrete ways the forces in the world invisible to and excluded by the civilized eye.

Alternative Visions

The Surrealists embraced not only naive and primitive art but that from mediums, compulsive visionaries, and those judged psychotic. Although Breton developed his concept of the interior model for art in 1928 without making reference to the art of the insane, he spent much of his time developing an aesthetic whose cornerstone was madness ("la folie"). Much of this stemmed from his and Max Ernst's early interest and training in medicine and psychology. But the Surrealists were also part of the parallel interests of a larger community. Apollinaire had certainly been interested in psychotic art, as he had that of the naive and native peoples, and there had been French surveys of psychotic art circulating in Paris. Principle for the Surrealists was the collection of images produced by institutionalized psychiatric patients across Europe published by the art historian and physician Hans Prinzhorn in 1922, The Artistry of the Mentally III. Commentators have remarked that it was the images in this text, alongside their own predispositions, that turned the Surrealists from a concentration on art produced by mediums and visionaries to those of the clinically insane. One of the best known cases of psychopathological art was that of the schizophrenic Adolph Wolfli, whose drawings Breton collected as they circulated through Paris and whom he praised in his last published work (1961) as having produced one of the several most important bodies of work in the twentieth century. By 1925 the Surrealists had penned an open letter under the editorship of the playwright Antonin Artaud (himself interned in an asylum decades later) to the directors of lunatic asylums, proclaiming their patients social victims rather than victims of mental disease. With it we understand how much they romanticized reality in their desire to forge links with unreality.

The Here and Now

The Surrealists admired what they desired but recognized that they did and could not possess it without special effort. Once they accessed their unconsciousness, they felt they could actualize it in the material world, a world in need, so they believed, of a more systematic and positive "vision" than was present in the here and now. By this reasoning the Surrealists claimed two artists as their own, one a famous painter, another an unknown photographer, both quite unrelated except through a Surrealist viewpoint.

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was an Italian painter who developed the basic ideas of a philosophy toward painting he called "Metaphysical Painting." De Chirico's ideas exerted the most direct and strongest single influence on Surrealism and he is often considered, wrongly, as a member of the Surrealist movement. His ideas were formed by 1911 and solidified by 1915, almost a decade before the advent of Surrealism. His paintings were purposefully "enigmatic." He made them inexplicable by creating scenes using common objects placed in empty spaces with strange perspectives, intended to strip away the common associations which give viewers a context for meaning. In place of the ordinary now stood the unexplainable, a place he felt was prehistoric; a time that presaged that of conscious recording.

Giorgio de Chirico

The Enigma of a Day


The net result was the construction of a type of spatial theater within the painting, which became a staging arena for dreams. Many Surrealists utilized de Chirico's visual stage of dreams and the value he placed on exploring the enigmatic relationships that are possible within the everyday sense of the world. Even as the Surrealists recognized that de Chirico's creative powers were lost in the 1920s, they admitted that "often have we found ourselves in that square where everything seems so close to existence and yet bears so little resemblance to what really exists! It was here, more than anywhere else, that we held our invisible meetings. It was here that we were to be found . . ."

Far more naive was the photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927), who taught himself photography in his early forties in order to make a living by providing visual documentation of the older and disappearing architecture and avenues in Paris. With no pretensions to art, Atget seemed single-mindedly devoted to recording the real and was accepted for that. But the Surrealists in the 1920s—particularly Man Ray's assistant, the American Berenice Abbott, later to be quite renowned herself as a photographer—recognized in Atget's works a vision that went well beyond description, to pass into a disturbing, hence profoundly more real, interpretation of the world. The Surrealists published several of Atget's photographs and at his death, Abbott rescued Atget's ten thousand plates for posterity.

Eugene Atget

Magasin, avenue des Gobelins

The Real

For the Surrealists, the real had to be maintained as a platform for both departure and return, just as dreams and desires were grounded in discoveries made in the world. Photography had the inherent strength of creating a sense of actuality in the world; it began as a document of reality and could continue to use reality as a reference point. This opened up many possibilities for the Surrealists, who employed photography more so than any previous art movment. The academicized painting style of de Chirico offered a similar reference to reality. Eugene Atget and de Chirico, from a Surrealist point of view, shared the ability to dislocate normal conventions of time and space by reference to the real. Once dislocated, a viewer was more open to a less linear and rational, more suggestive, or poetic, sense of presence.


Surrealism - Preface

From its very beginning, surrealism resisted all attempts to turn it into a doctrine. Instead of teaching a system, the surrealists set out, by means of appropriate actions and productions, to create new demands on reality. They set out to liberate the workings of the subconscious, disrupting conscious thought processes by the use of irrationality and enigma, and exploiting the artistic possibilities of terror and eroticism. In this way they created a new form of sensibility which had a profound influence on modern art, and which was able to meet an enormous range of personal requirements and to find expression in the greatest possible variety of creative processes. Surrealist artists and writers became international masters whose influence was so fertile that any study of them seems to lead right to the heart of the most important avant-garde work of our era.

Unlike romanticism, with which it has often been compared, surrealism was able to establish, between the language of the plastic arts and the language of poetry, a relationship which was not limited to the illustration of the one by the other. It set poetry at the centre of everything, and used art to make poetry into something which could be seen and touched. The surrealist painters and sculptors, moreover, were themselves poets.

Rene Magritte, two months before his death, wrote me a splendid letter in which he said : 'I conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image emerge. . . . There are no "subjects", no "themes" in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable.' If surrealist art avoided being literary, it was by invoking poetry as the opposite of literature, and because it was supported by poets, like Breton, Eluard and Aragon, who were well-informed collectors of art, and who encouraged its technical innovations.

The evolution of surrealism is merged almost completely with that of Andre Breton, its founder; although he did not invent the word, he made the fortune of the idea, whose purity he strove constantly to protect. To be a surrealist, one had first to be granted the title by Breton; no one ever raised a murmur of protest against this obligation, so self-evident did it seem. His manifestos, however personal in style, were emanations of the will which moved his companions of the moment. He was able to impose on those who approached him not only a discipline of action, but also, which is far more surprising, a discipline of dreaming.

However, an artist did not necessarily stop being a surrealist when, after having been a part of this common enterprise, he was driven by his individual development to withdraw from it. Any artist who worked with the surrealists acquired, and kept forever, principles and stimuli which he would never have found on his own; for everything, from the passionate diatribes about books down to the games the surrealists played, had the unconditional aim of maintaining the poetic climate.

From 1947 onwards, I myself was a member of the surrealist group ; my conversations with Breton and my contacts with other artists are my most valuable source of information.

To understand the surrealist artists one must be aware that they all believed that art was not an end in itself, but a method of creating an awareness of all that is most precious, most secret and most surprising in life. They wanted to be neither craftsmen nor aesthetes; they wanted only to be 'inspired ones' and gamblers. When I visited Francis Picabia in his Paris home in 1949, he showed me photograph albums which contained the memories of his past pleasures; he was prouder of these than of his paintings. As he once wrote: 'How little I care about my painting, if only the vital spirit, which is the art of celebrations, remains with me!' This sublime nonchalance cannot diminish the scope of a creative adventure which became a tragedy for so many: the surrealist revolt, despite its frequent use of humour, often reached the depths of despair. It is not difficult to conclude, it one opens one's mind to its works, that surrealism, the product of its century, transcends the limitations of dates and events; it is not so much a category of art as one of those living forces which imagination has always in reserve.


There are certain precursors whom the surrealists claimed as their own, and to whom they constantly paid homage in their periodicals and their exhibitions. Andre Breton said, in an interview towards the end of his life, 'Surrealism existed before me, and I firmly believe that it will survive me.' However, although the movement was based on the cult of the strange and the exaltation of the imaginary, we should avoid the common error of believing that all the masters of fantastic art, of mannerism and baroque, were its ancestors. Surrealism has no room for the fantastic when it is elaborated without inner need : it is not so much the description of the impossible as the evocation of the possible, supplemented by desire and dream. Thus, there are painters of strange universes who have no connection with it at all. For instance, Odilon Redon, in his charcoal drawings and etchings, created fantastic animalcules and nightmare landscapes with the avowed intention of putting 'the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible'; but the surrealists firmly refused to acknowledge any kinship with this artist, whom they considered insipid. Conversely, there are some works by classical painters which are undeniably surrealist in the ambiguity of their content or their execution. Ingres, for instance, in Jupiter and Thetis (1811, Aix-en-Provence, Musee Granet), produced the image of a regal couple which has all the enigmatic effulgence of the figures in the work of Paul Delvaux.

The surrealists assembled for their own use an 'ideal museum' made up of a small number of works which they admired. They did not wish to destroy existing libraries or art galleries, but merely to give them a thorough shaking-up, to sweep away hallowed glories, and to bring unappreciated geniuses into the full light. Surrealism is based on the belief that there are treasures hidden in the human mind. It was this that brought the surrealists to claim that in the cultural legacy of the past there remained undiscovered personalities and works which were to be preferred to the names and titles revered by official teaching.

If we consider only those forerunners of surrealism whom the surrealists themselves recognized as such, and whom they regarded as authorities, we find that they all fall into one or another of three groups : visionary art, primitive art and psycho-pathological art. It was this triple influence which gave birth to surrealism, which is in a sense a fusion of the principles behind each of these three forms of art.

Paolo Uccello was one of the great visionary artists, those who show objects not merely as they actually appear, but through the mind's eye. He was honoured by the surrealists for paintings like the Desecration of the Host (1465-7, Urbino, Galleria Nazionale). It was the lyricism of his conception that they consciously admired, and they were indifferent to the legend of 'Paolo the bird-lover', and to his mania for perspective. Uccello freed painting from the slavish imitation of nature by giving arbitrary colours to animals, houses and fields, and by arranging his figures as a function of a combination of converging lines. These means also allowed him to endow reality with a sense of irrationality.

Paolo Uccello
Miracle of the Desecrated Host

According to Vasari's account, another painter of the Italian Renaissance, Piero di Cosimo, would spend long periods in the contemplation of stains on a wall or clouds in the sky. In the stains or in the clouds he saw great processions, cities and magnificent landscapes, which he used as models. For a festival in Florence he organized a macabre masquerade which both terrified and delighted those who saw it. His powers of transfiguration enable him, in paintings like The Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths (London, National Gallery) and the Misfortunes of Silenus (Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum), to evoke the Dionysiac ecstasies of the Golden Age.

Piero di Cosimo
The Misfortunes of Silenus
c. 1505-1510

The most important pre-surrealist visionary was Hieronymus Bosch, and it was on his example that the surrealists relied most. In The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Haywain (Madrid, Prado) and the Temptation of St Antony (Lisbon, Museu Nacional), he parades an exhaustive repertoire of prodigies. There are wheeled dragons, fish with legs, hybrid demons, contortionists, living rocks, weird vegetables, birds larger than men, delirious processions and dizzy battles, people walking on their hands or vomiting frogs, rebel angels transformed into dragonilies. All these are part of the heritage of Gothic Art, but Bosch's meditative genius reinvents them and
offers an obsessive spectacle of the prodigality of nature, of humanity's feverish squandering of life, and of the universal triumph of unreason. There have been many attempts to explain the philosophical preoccupations which make Bosch's painting, to an even greater degree than that of the elder Bruegel, something which remains a secret - in other words, by definition a surrealist form of painting.

Hieronymus Bosch
Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)
c. 1500

There were more forerunners of surrealism among sixteenth-century German painters. Albrecht Durer's woodcuts and copper engravings gave episodes from the Apocalypse and various allegories the force of hypnagogic images. Albrecht Altdorfer, an architect at Regensburg in Bavaria, applied miniaturist techniques to his large painting The Victory of Alexander (1529, Munich, Alte Pinakothek), and by this method was able to make hundreds of warriors, lit by dawn in the heart of a mountain landscape, swarm over the canvas in a hallucinatory way. Matthias Grunewald, the greatest colourist of the German school, reached the heights of the fantastic in his Isenheim altarpiece, and did so through a very excess of realism. Hans Baldung Grien's frenzied imagination, shown in his linking of Pleasure and Death, and in his witches' sabbaths, compelled the intense attention of the surrealists.

Antoine Caron, the court painter of the Valois, whose job it was to commemorate the festivities of the court of Charles IX, has a place of honour in the surrealists' ideal museum. He painted two pictures of massacres, in particular the Massacre of the Triumvirs (1566, Paris, Musee du Louvre), in which the convulsions of the beheaded victims and the bloody rage of the soldiers contrast with the smiling calm of the statues and the harmony of the architecture to create a nightmare of cruelty. There is a strange quality, too, in other paintings by Caron, such as the Apotheosis of Semele and The Elephant Carousel, and also in his engravings for Le Livre de Philostrate, which had a great success during his lifetime.

Matthias Grunewald
Isenheim Altarpiece. The Temptation of St Antony
c. 1515

The 'double image' technique which some of the surrealists used to great effect was anticipated by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, official portrait painter to the Holy Roman Emperors, who lived at the Hapsburg court from 1560 to 1587. He was noted for his 'composite heads', in which he used assembled objects to make up allegories and portraits. He also painted Summer (1563, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), a figure composed of a pile of vegetables, fruit and flowers, and The Librarian, made up of a heap of books. Some of the minor Flemish masters, among them Joos de Momper, imitated Arcimboldo and painted anthropomorphic landscapes.

Joos de Momper ( Flemish, 1564 - 1635)
Anthropomorphic Landscape


Giovanni Battista Braccelli (1600-1650)
Bizzarie di Varie Figure, 1624

The figures who play instruments and dance in the fifty engravings in the series Bizarrie di varie Figure (1624), by the Florentine painter Giovanni Battista Braccelli, are made up of chains, drawers, springs and set-squares, rather like some of the drawings produced in the surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse.

Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Fussli), a Swiss-born painter who lived in England, liked to paint dreams in which a sleeping creature was surrounded by unreal figures; his most successful picture in this genre was The Nightmare (1782, Frankfurt, Goethe-Museum). His taste for tragic lighting effects and his fondness for fairy landscapes, where wyverns mingle with winged toads, redeem his over-literary inspiration : most of its subjects were drawn from Shakespeare. The poet-engraver William Blake was more openly a visionary. He had genuine hallucinations during which he saw into the future and conversed with angels and with the dead. In his visionary epics, illustrated with engravings, and in his illustrations to Dante, he expresses Chaos and the Forces of Good and Evil with frenetic brilliance.

Henry Fuseli
The Nightmare

William Blake
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman

Francisco de Goya
Thery Spruce Themselves Up

Goya's Proverbs are deeply surrealist, both in the spontaneity of line and in the originality of the subjects. He is surrealist, too, in other works where his merciless grip inflicts violent twists on reality, forcing it to bring forth monstrous truths. Charles Meryon, the romantic engraver, descends from Goya's line. From the time when he was first afflicted by the persecution mania which led to his detention in the Charenton asylum, his etchings of Paris were enlivened by disturbing apparitions in the sky. Typical of these is the aerial flotilla in his Ministry of the Marine (1865).

Rodolphe Bresdin, who lived an eccentric and miserable existence, made etchings containing extraordinary landscapes, with trees scaled like fish, contused jumbles of rocks, animals and skeletons, and glimpses of dreamlike buildings.

The great romantic poet Victor Hugo also made a contribution, through his drawings, to the development of free and imaginative art. Between 1848 and 1851, in the large studio he had set up in Paris, he did large drawings in which he used every kind of audacious technique to evoke castles on the Rhine and more or less sinister ruins. He used strange mixtures of ink and coffee, and made use of soot, carbon and sepia. Often he used a scraperboard technique. When he was in exile in Guernsey, he turned to chance methods, and created forms by folding a piece of paper on to which he had dropped an ink blot, or by placing a scrap of lace on a blot. On other occasions he chose to use crossed nibs which left blots and stains. A series of etchings made from his drawings, known as the Album Castel (1863), reveals his capacity for visual poetry.

Rodolphe Bresdin

(France, 1825-1885)

La Comédie de la Mort, 1854

Arnold Bocklin, who was to be admired by both Chirico and Dali, was born in Basle, but lived for a long time in Italy, where he tried to discover the secret of the technique used in the mural paintings of Pompeii. While he was living in Florence, from 1872 to 1885, he painted the Island of the Dead (1880, Basle, Kunstmuseum), one of the masterworks of his style, which creates an atmosphere of muted unreality. Bocklin made a conscious effort to associate painting with poetry, both by attaching a great deal of importance to the content of the picture and by using shimmering colour.

Towards the end or the nineteenth century, some painters began to formulate demands which the surrealists later applauded. They admired Gauguin for his rebellion, and for his rejection of civilization for a wilder form of life; they admired Van Gogh, with whom Antonin Artaud identified himself in some impassioned pages; they admired Seurat, whose Neo-Impressionism they regarded as a 'pre-surrealism' which bathed everyday reality in a magic light; and they admired Charles Filiger, who was a painter of Gauguin's Pont-Aven group, living a hermit's life at Plougastel, whose plans for stained glass for an imaginary church have a spare, hieratic quality.

Paul Gauguin
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

Charles Filiger
Pouldu Landscape

This period was dominated by Gustaves Moreau, a master whom the surrealists rated second only to Hieronymus Bosch. A refined and learned teacher at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where his pupils included Rouault and Matisse, Moreau was a solitary whose contempt for modern life led him to shut himself up in his house in Montmartre (now his museum), and to spend his life evoking visions of Greece and the Orient. Moreau had a sense of visual splendour. Art, he said, should obey the principle of 'necessary richness' ; in other words, it should represent everything that is most sumptuous in the world. His watercolours, more so than his enormous paintings, blaze with enamels, jewels and embroideries, giving to Sirens, Chimaeras and other fabulous characters the luxurious brilliance of nostalgic visions.

Henri (le Douanier) Rousseau, too, was a notable forerunner of the surrealists, particularly in his exotic paintings, which always prompt the question as to whether he did them from imagination or from memory. In the Dialogue creole between Andre Breton and Andre Masson, the former remarks : 'A good question for an advanced examinationfor art critics (don't you think that they ought to be made to take examinations?) would be : "Does the painting of Rousseau prove that he knew the tropics or that he did not? ".'

Finally, very close to their own beginnings, surrealists in search of precedents came across the Norwegian Edvard Munch, who, although claiming to be an expressionist, goes far beyond expressionism in his paintings, where he gives mystical expression to love, to solitude and to primitive tears : such paintings as The Dance of Life (i899-1900, Oslo, Nasjonalgalleriet). They found also Alfred Kubin, who, at the time he published his novel Jenseits (1909), was painting virgin forests inhabited by extinct animals, and who set down his night dreams in pen drawings the moment he woke.

Gustaves Moreau
Hercules and the Hydra

Henri Rousseau
Unpleasant Surprise

Alfred Kubin
Every Night a Dream Visits Us

One thing which the majority of these visionary artists had in common was that they could develop their faculties only by starting from subjects from Graeco-Roman mythology, from the Bible or from daily life. What distinguishes them from the surrealists is that the latter wanted to invent their own mythology, or to draw it from sources which had hitherto remained untapped.

They sought this new stimulation from primitive art. They developed to the highest degree the interest that it is possible to feel in the creations of distant peoples. They were able to do this because they immediately made it a matter of love and not of mere curiosity. The cubists had wanted to make use of the plastic solution which was offered by African masks (Artistic Cultures of sub-Saharan Africa); the surrealists, on the other hand, tried to establish communication with the mind that had imposed the form of the mask. The first twentieth-century amateurs of what were called 'barbaric fetishes' were as willing to collect rubbishy tourist souvenirs as authentic pieces. In 1905 Vlaminck and Derain were wholly undiscriminating in the purchase of objects which sailors had brought back from Africa. The surrealists made their choices as genuine connoisseurs; some of them, indeed, were specialists in ethnography. In 1939, the surrealist Wolfgang Paalen visited British Columbia and Alaska, where he discovered some ancient witchdoctors' tombs. After an expedition to a little-known area of the state of Veracruz in Mexico, he published a treatise on Olmec art. The finest pieces shown at the exhibition of North American Indian art in the Museo Nacional in Mexico City in 1945 came from his collection. Although the surrealist painters were not all as expert as Paalen, they were on the whole well-informed amateurs of primitive art.

Melanesian art
Mask of a Kararau clan

Pueblo (Hopi) art
Katchina doll

They did, however, have a distinct preference for the art of Oceania as opposed to the art of Africa. This is not to suggest that they undervalued or systematically rejected the resources of Africa; this can be seen from Michel Leiris' fine work on the secret language of the Dogon ot West Africa and on the possession rites of the Gondar of Ethiopia. The fact is that surrealism merely accepted the principle that African art, because it was based on criteria of realism, was less capable of regenerating the plastic arts in the West than was Oceanic art, which was based on a poetic interpretation of the world. 'Oceania .. . what power that word will enjoy in the surrealist movement. It will be one of the lock-keepers who will open the floodgates of our hearts', Andre Breton acknowledged. The fascination with Oceanic art derived from a nostalgia for a 'lost world' : its signs suggested the possibility of a life of paradise. But it was a result, too, of the profusion and variety of its styles, with new revelations coming from every island. Tortoiseshell masks from the Torres Strait, basketwork masks from Sulka in New Britain, tree-fern sculptures from the New Hebrides, mother-of-pearl inlays from the Solomon Islands, monumental drums from Ambrym, Easter Island megaliths; in all these, an exuberance of imagination gives vitality to the decoration. What the surrealists loved in this art was the fact that conceptual representation was more important than perceptual. In the bark paintings from Arnhem Land in Australia, totemic animals and mythical figures, depicted with their entrails visible, show the need to paint what is known, what is believed, while making use of what is seen.

The time which many of the surrealists spent in America gave them the opportunity of discovering American Indian art, which moved them to the same enthusiasm as the art of Oceania. The traces of pre-Columbian civilizations, too, evoked a 'lost world', and they too were probed to give forth their meaning. Max Ernst and Andre Breton, particularly, were captivated by the myths and drawings of the North American tribes; for example by the Hopi of north-east Arizona, with the wall paintings in their kivas, underground temples, their initiation rituals which culminated in the 'night of mystery and terror', their cult of cloud-ancestors, and their supernatural guardians the Katchina, who were represented by dolls or by masked dancers.

Finally, 'psycho-pathological' art is a field of study which the surrealists were the first to turn to profit. Here there was an inexhaustible reservoir of authentic works, motivated neither by a desire to please, nor by material interest, nor by artistic ambition, but by the irrepressible need to pour out a message from the depths of the being. This category includes the paintings of mediums and the paintings of the mentally sick. The medium who was most admired was Helene Smith, the subject of Theodore Flournoy's book Des Indes a la planete Mars (1900). When she was in trance, Helene Smith described her adventures on Mars, spoke Martian, and drew and painted the plants, landscapes and houses which she had seen there. In 1912 a miner from the Pas-de-Calais, Augustin Lesage, in obedience to an inner voice, began to produce enormous decorative panels, which, despite the fact that he was an uneducated man, included examples of various Oriental styles; he believed himself to be in contact with spirits (including that of Leonardo da Vinci), who guided him in his choice of patterns and colours.

Augustin Lesage (French, 1876-1954)

Signed, 1927

But the surrealists attached more importance to the evidence of the mentally deranged, who proved that the least cultured being possessed genius, once it abandoned itself to the promptings of the unconscious mind. Of all the mental patients they adopted, the one they appreciated the most was Adolph Wolfli. Wolfli's mother was a washerwoman and his father a mason. He himself worked as a labourer, and after a conviction for indecency took to drink and fell prey to schizophrenia. From the time of his hospitalization in 1895, when he was thirty-one, until his death in 1930 he painted tirelessly. At first he painted scenes of self-punishment, where he showed himself undergoing tortures, then he moved to scenes of grandeur in which he saw himself as a masked superman surrounded by winged goddesses and emblematic animals. His horror of blank space led him to overload his surfaces, filling his images with decorations and musical compositions. The rending violence of such masterpieces of psycho-pathological art strip naked the instinct which drives man to deform reality.

But, left to themselves, these precursors, illustrious or obscure, would not have been enough to impose a new scale of values. The realization that the lessons which they offered could be of value to modern art had to wait for the appearance of the surrealists, a group of creators who sought allies from the past to support their bid for the recognition of the absolute rights of the dream.

Adolph Wolfli (Swiss, 1864-1930)

Drawing with Writing


Europeans at the turn of the century were witness to an incredible outpouring of ideas with regard to art and theory. Most of the Surrealists were active members of one or several artistic movements before and, at times, during their association with Surrealism. Most were well informed of the variety of concepts and beliefs swirling about them. From this state of flux, Surrealism precipitated its aesthetic and many of its techniques.

Cubism and Picasso

Cubism is often considered antithetical to Surrealism. The broken planes of early Cubism are related to an analytical tradition that concerns itself with a visual and systematic breakdown of the object and its restructuring. It is part of the broad current of structural concerns Surrealists rejected as irrelevant. But for Breton "that ridiculous word 'cubism' can never conceal from me the enormous significance of that sudden flash of inspiration" that occurred in Picasso between 1909 and 1910.

In Picasso Breton saw an individual so protean he broke rules and was liberated from categories and labels through his restless sense of internal vision, seeing then bringing into existence things none but poets had envisioned. It was the path and the broad accomplishment that interested Breton. In building this case Breton felt that he was also building the case for Surrealism to avoid and operate outside of systems.

Cubism set the pace for much of what is considered modern art in the early 1900s. But most of those footsteps were not applauded by the Surrealists since they were seen as servile and not as creative. Precisely where the line was to be drawn was problematic since Breton, among others, used as his requirement for art criticism an inner psychic vibration that one simply could sense. He dismissed many artists, well-known Cubists among them, for "propagating utterly superficial values." In many ways, Breton sounds surprisingly like an Expressionist because both movements placed primary importance on the interior state.

Pablo Picasso

Woman Playing the Mandolin

The crisp edges and analytic attitude of early Cubism seems opposed to the Surrealist dream world, but Cubism was admired as a movement that heralded the crisis of the object, and Picasso was Breton's favorite artist.

German Expressionism

Paul Klee, the Swiss-born artist, was a member of the German Expressionist movement. He never joined the Surrealists but was well known to and showed with them. Breton placed him on his short list in 1924 as one of the few he could call "Surrealist," and as late as 1941 Breton recounted that Surrealism owed a debt to Klee's use of "automatism." Automatism—the free flow of associations—was advanced by Breton as the single most important key to the definition of Surrealism, a path to the inner psyche. Klee had been employing automatism since about 1914, when he would close his eyes, turn his mind inward, and automatically doodle on a pad to initiate an image.

Beyond specific influences, Expressionism was a seminal art movement which argued that the source of art was inward. However, the Expressionists referred more to inner "feelings" and these differed from the inner "psychic" sources desired by the Surrealists. The two movements shared an insistence on art deriving from some internal compulsion but the Surrealists argued more for a pathological condition beyond control, rather than an expression of will or spirit. Any artist who lost their compulsion, according to Surrealist stricture, lost their path.


Paul Klee



Italian Futurism (1909-16)

Futurism, founded by the poet Marinetti in Italy in 1909, was the most aggressive of the pre-war avant-garde art movements. The Futurists sought art forms that would embody the energy and dynamism of the new century, propelling Italy out of its classical past and into the future of machinery, speed, and violence. Andre Breton often referred to Futurism in the same breadth as Cubism, as one of the two movements that effectively challenged the past concepts of the "object," placing it in "crisis." The message was simply that Surrealism in the 1920s would take on the next step in the process initiated by Cubism and Futurism.

The Futurist painters married bright colors to the planes of Cubism and set them in newly dynamic relationships, using movement and light to destroy the static quality of the material world. In its sculptural form, Umberto Boccioni's bronze Unique Forms of Continuity in Space was a literal attempt to first dissolve then extend material form through "lines of force" and into a fusion with the world around it.

Whether these lines of force were painted or sculpted, composed of words or of music, they were to be set free with the velocities of modern life to merge art, spectator, and life into a new complex whole. The Futurist lines of force were not simply a representation of stop-action or cinematic parallels, although photography and the new medium of film were of important influence, as they would come to be for Surrealism. They were also intended to give form to what is sensed rather than merely seen— the future unfolding of the object simultaneously with this time, the real as a mixture of the seen, the remembered, and the sensed. The desire to communicate on a more fundamental level in a new understanding of the real made both the Futurist and the Surrealists self-proclaimed "primitives of a new and completely transformed sensibility."

The wide range of parallels included the aggressive and the bombastic quality of their declarations and manifestoes. Both movements were founded through passionate beliefs in poetic sensibilities, the prime importance of individual creativity, and an almost absolute sense of personal freedom and liberation. Marinetti developed the concept of "words set free" (parole in liberta), the next step after free verse, to free words from the constraints of syntax and create a more instinctual level of communication. This included poems composed anarchistically, distributed across the page in a variety of type fonts, sizes, and densities. Their pell-mell barrage on the senses was deliberate, part of the principles of "simultaneity" and "brutism."

Professed, if not practicing, anarchists, the Futurist believed in violence and the brutalities of raw energy to disrupt and divert life from Italy's "cult" of the past into a new society. Central was the fusion of art to life, leading then, as it still does today, to the use of public performance and moments. Short performances that were non-narrative, often surprising, and always disruptive and shocking were developed. Sharp, explosive sounds such as a gunshot were accompanied with bursts of light, screams, and sudden, unexplained events, which included overselling tickets and physical disruptions in the audience. The audience was to be "brutalized" by input and shocked out of normalcy, precisely what Marinetti was attempting to initiate with poetry.

This was the perfect avant-garde product, picked up by the Dadaists, then by the Surrealists. Shocking the middle class became and often remained the byword of the new. It had political meaning, however, among the class-oriented Europeans throughout the early twentieth century.

Futurist Manifestos

The Italian Futurists claimed an anarchistic attitude toward the modern world that fueled the ideas in Dada, and eventually affected Surrealism. Boccioni's striding figure throws out "lines of force" to merge form and art with its environment.

Umberto Boccioni

Unique Form of Continuity in Space

International Dada

The Dada movement was the birthing field for Surrealism. The name was essentially meaningless and the lack of meaning was a major strategy. Randomness was one of their purposive values; by definition it cannot be predicted, thus only the act is codified. The Dada movement refined many of the basic ideas, established the early membership, and eventually became the opposing force to the Surrealists. Francis Picabia, a member of both groups, wrote in 1925 that Breton's surrealism was simply Dada disguised as an advertising balloon for the firm Breton & Co.

Dada was energetic activity organized as a spontaneous gesture against the insanity of a worldwide war. Dada advertised itself as without value but manifested outrage because values had been violated. If rationality brought humanity to the level of world war, argued the Dadaists implicitly, then the true name of reason was insanity. And they would demonstrate the true nature of life: in the leveling of art and life, the reliance on the energies of creativity hurled like a chair into the face of conformity, and the overall program of random yet purposeful destruction, Dada resembled the program of the Futurists and motivated the Surrealists.

Dada Handbill

Here the ur-DADAs (Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Jean Arp, Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck and others) experimented frenziedly, at first scandalizing audiences and eventually gaining worldwide momentum as an artistic force. By the mid-1920s, DADA retreated into relative obscurity because, as the DADAists themselves proclaimed, “DADA is nothing.” But the form never died and has been resurrected and riffed on by Todd Rundgren, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Julian Beck, Jerome Rothenberg, Janet Coleman and David Dozer, Ira Cohen, Valery Oisteanu, Rebecca Krell, and many others.
Photo by Mike Sullivan


(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

(French: “hobby-horse”), nihilistic movement in the arts that flourished primarily in Zurich, New York City, Berlin, Cologne, Paris, and Hannover, Ger. in the early 20th century. Several explanations have been given by various members of the movement as to how it received its name. According to the most widely accepted account, the name was adopted at Hugo Ball's Cabaret (Café) Voltaire, in Zurich, during one of the meetings held in 1916 by a group of young artists and war resisters that included Jean Arp, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, and Emmy Hennings; when a paper knife inserted into a French–German dictionary pointed to the word dada, this word was seized upon by the group as appropriate for their anti-aesthetic creations and protest activities, which were engendered by disgust for bourgeois values and despair over World War I. A precursor of what was to be called the Dada movement, and ultimately its leading member, was Marcel Duchamp, who in 1913 created his first ready-made (now lost), the “Bicycle Wheel,” consisting of a wheel mounted on the seat of a stool.

The movement in the United States was centred at “291,” the New York City gallery of Alfred Stieglitz, and the studio of the Walter Arensbergs, both wealthy patrons of the arts. There Dada-like activities, arising independently but paralleling those in Zurich, were engaged in by such artists as Man Ray, Morton Schamberg, and Francis Picabia. Both through their art and through such publications as The Blind Man, Rongwrong, and New York Dada the artists attempted to demolish current aesthetic standards. Travelling between the United States and Europe, Picabia became a link betweenthe Dada groups in New York City, Zurich, and Paris; his Dadaperiodical, 291, was published in Barcelona, New York City, Zürich, and Paris from 1917 through 1924.

Morton Livingston Schamberg
(USA, 1881–1918)
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
(German, 1874–1927)

In 1917 Hulsenbeck, one of the founders of the Zurich group, transmitted the Dada movement to Berlin, where it took on a more political character. Among the German artists involved were Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Hoch, George Grosz, Johannes Baader, Hulsenbeck, Otto Schmalhausen, and Wieland Herzfelde and his brother John Heartfield (formerly Helmut Herzfelde, but Anglicized as a protest against German patriotism). One of the chief means of expression used by these artists was the photomontage, which consists of fragments of pasted photographs combined with printed messages; the technique was most effectively employed by Heartfield, particularly in his later, anti-Nazi works (e.g., “Kaiser Adolph”). Like the groups in New York City and Zurich, the Berlin artists staged public meetings, shocking and enraging the audience with their antics. They, too, issued Dada publications: Club Dada, Der Dada, Jedermann sein eigner Fussball (“Everyman His Own Football”), and Dada Almanach. The First International Dada Fair was held in Berlin in June 1920.

Johannes Baader

(German, 1875-1955)

Johannes Baader. The Author of the Book
"Fourteen Letters of Christ" in His Home.

Johannes Baader.
Der Oberdada


Dada activities were also carried on in other German cities. In Cologne in 1919 and 1920, the chief participants were Max Ernst and Johannes Baargeld. Also affiliated with Dada was Kurt Schwitters of Hannover, who gave the name Merz to his collages, constructions, and literary productions. Although Schwitters used Dadaistic material—bits of rubbish—to create his works, he achieved a refined, aesthetic effect that was uncharacteristic of Dada antiart.

Johannes Baargeld



Das menschliche Auge und ein Fisch,
letzterer versteinert

Typical Vertical Mess as Depiction of the
Dada Baargeld

Ordinäre Klitterung:
Kubischer Transvestit
vor einem vermeintlichen

The Red King

In Paris Dada took on a literary emphasis under one of its founders, the poet Tristan Tzara. Most notable among the numerous Dada pamphlets and reviews was Littérature (published 1919–24), which contained writings by André Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, Paul Éluard, and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. After 1922, however, Dada began to lose its force, and the energies of its participants turned toward Surrealism (q.v.).

Dada had far-reaching effects on the art of the 20th century. Its nihilistic, anti rationalistic critiques of society and its unrestrained attacks on all formal artistic conventions found no immediate inheritors, but its preoccupation with the bizarre, the irrational, and the fantastic bore fruit in the Surrealist movement. Dada artists' techniques of creation involving accident and chance were later employed by the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists. Conceptual art also is rooted in Dada, for it was Duchamp who first asserted that the mental activity (“intellectual expression”) of the artist was of greater significance than the object created.

Der Dada
Edited by Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield,
and George Grosz. No. 3 (April 1920), cover

Der Dada
Was ist Dada?


Zurich Dada (1916-19)

In Zurich the major vehicle for the Dadaists was their evening performances. Their anarchistic form derived from Futurist models and a typical evening found boisterous students packed into the Cabaret Voltaire ready to sing or snarl along, depending on the performance. These moments often consisted of Futurist techniques, although less scripted, with traditional songs and dances intermixed with free forms. Simultaneity, free words, and brutism—or "noise-music"—were practiced, as when different individuals recited either poems in different languages or nonsense syllables from different corners of the room at the same time, often accompanied by or simply creating noise for its own sake. Some would beat out the rhythms of "Negro" music on drums while Hugo Ball played the piano and his wife Emmy Hennings sang and, with others, danced on stage in Dada costumes.

As Jean Arp remarked, the Dadaists beat furiously on drums of a different measure while the drums of war beat their own staccato in the background. The use of "primitive" rhythms to remind Western culture of its current condition was new but the application of African culture to modernism had been practiced by Cubists and Expressionists for years. Like them, the Dadaists too were modern primitives. In locations other than Zurich, they began to identify their primitivism more with the beat of the machine rather than a simple romantic escapism into a distant or simpler culture. Primitivism was utilized to move artists to think about rather than simply borrow forms. This was a project the Surrealists would continue.


Hugo Ball (1886 - 1927)

Writer, actor, and dramatist, a harsh social critic, and an early critical biographer of German novelist Hermann Hesse (Hermann Hesse, sein Leben und sein Werk, 1927; “Hermann Hesse, His Life and His Work”).
Ball studied sociology and philosophy at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg (1906–07) and went to Berlin (1910) to become an actor. He was a founder of the Dadaist movement in art.
A staunch pacifist, Ball left Germany during World War I and moved to neutral Switzerland (1916). His more important works include Kritik der deutschen Intelligenz (1919; “Critique of German Intelligence”) and Die Flucht aus der Zeit (1927; “The Flight from Time”).

Hugo Ball
Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, 1916


Emmy Hennings  (1885 – 1948)

Emmy Hennings was a performer and poet. She was also the wife of celebrated Dadaist Hugo Ball. Despite her own achievements, it is difficult to come by information about Hennings that is not directly related to her relationship with Hugo Ball. She was a performer at the Cabaret Simplizissimus in Munich, when she met Ball in 1913. At the time, Hennings was already a published poet, whose works had appeared in left-wing publications called Pan and Die Aktion. In 1913 she also published a short poetry collection called Ether Poems, or Ather Gedichte in German. Later, Hennings was a collaborator to the magazine Revolutions, which was founded by Ball and Hans Leybold. Hennings and Ball moved to Zurich in 1915, where they took part of the founding of the Cabaret Voltaire, which marked the beginning of the Dada movement. Hennings was a regular performer at the Cabaret Voltaire. Her performances included a role in Das Leben des Menschen (the Life of a Man), in which she appeared with Ball. This the German premiere of the play by Leonid Andreev. Hennings also performed in a piece written by Ball, called Krippenspeil. After the Cabaret Voltaire ended, Hennings and Ball toured, performing mostly in hotels. Hennings sang, did puppetry, and danced to music composed by Ball. She also recited her own poetry.

Emmy Hennings


Cabaret Voltaire was the name of a nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland. It was founded by Hugo Ball, with his companion Emmy Hennings on February 5, 1916 as a cabaret for artistic and political purposes. Other founding members were Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara and Jean Arp. Events at the cabaret proved pivotal in the founding of the anarchic art movement known as Dada.
Switzerland was a neutral country during World War I and among the many refugees coming to Zurich were artists from all over Europe. Ball and Hennings approached Ephraim Jan, patron of the Hollandische Meierei at Spiegelgasse 1, which had already hosted Zurich's first literary Cabaret, the Pantagruel in 1915. Jan permitted them to use the back room for events. The press release which accompanied the opening of the nightclub reads:

Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has been formed whose aim is to create a centre for artistic entertainment. The idea of the cabaret will be that guest artists will come and give musical performances and readings at the daily meetings. The young artists of Zurich, whatever their orientation, are invited to come along with suggestions and contributions of all kinds. -Zurich, February 2, 1916

The cabaret featured spoken word, dance and music. The soirees were often raucous events with artists experimenting with new forms of performance, such as sound poetry and simultaneous poetry. Mirroring the maelstrom of World War I raging around it, the art it exhibited was often chaotic and brutal. On at least one occasion, the audience attacked the Cabaret's stage. Though the Cabaret was to be the birthplace of the Dadaist movement, it featured artists from every sector of the avant-garde, including Futurism's Marinetti. The Cabaret exhibited radically experimental artists, many of whom went on to change the face of their artistic disciplines; featured artists included Kandinsky, Paul Klee, de Chirico and Max Ernst. On July 28, 1916, Ball read out the Dada Manifesto. In June, Ball had also published a journal with the same name. It featured work from artists such as the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and had a cover designed by Arp.

Whilst the Dada movement was just beginning, by 1917 the excitement generated by the Cabaret Voltaire had fizzled out and the artists moved on to other places in Zurich such as the Galerie Dada at Bahnhofstrasse 19, then later Paris and Berlin.

Hugo Ball

Dada Manifesto

(Read at the first public by Dada soiree, Zurich, July 14, 1916.)

Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means "hobby horse". In German it means "good-bye", "Get off my back", "Be seeing you sometime". In Romanian: "Yes, indeed, you are right, that's it. But of course, yes, definitely, right". And so forth.

An International word. Just a word, and the word a movement. Very easy to understand. Quite terribly simple. To make of it an artistic tendency must mean that one is anticipating complications. Dada psychology, dada Germany cum indigestion and fog paroxysm, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie, and yourselves, honoured poets, who are always writing with words but never writing the word itself, who are always writing around the actual point. Dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning, dada, you friends and also-poets, esteemed sirs, manufacturers, and evangelists. Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck, dada m'dada, dada m'dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.

How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world's best lily-milk soap. Dada Mr Rubiner, dada Mr Korrodi. Dada Mr Anastasius Lilienstein. In plain language: the hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated. And in questions of aesthetics the key is quality.

I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it. Dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe. Dada Stendhal. Dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzsche. Dada m'dada. Dada mhm dada da. It's a question of connections, and of loosening them up a bit to start with. I don't want words that other people have invented. All the words are other people's inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. If this pulsation is seven yards long, I want words for it that are seven yards long. Mr Schulz's words are only two and a half centimetres long.

It will serve to show how articulated language comes into being. I let the vowels fool around. I let the vowels quite simply occur, as a cat miaows . . . Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Au, oi, uh. One shouldn't let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.

Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself. Why shouldn't I find it? Why can't a tree be called Pluplusch, and Pluplubasch when it has been raining? The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.

Dada. No. 4-5: Anthologie Dada

Dada. No. 7: Dadaphone



Tristan Tzara


The Rumanian poet Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) was the major link between Futurism and Dadaism, openly appropriating their techniques of aggression, provocation, simultaneity, and brutism in his manifestoes and poetry.

He also shared the desire for language to operate on some fundamental level. As angry as they were, the Dadaists were not simply out to destroy. They were also driven by the need to communicate. As poets, they gave weight to a concept of poetic space, a place called into existence by creativity; this space was pre-verbal, or, as Ball characterized it, alchemical. But it was not a privileged site of the mind; everyone could be a Dadaist. We are all, or can be, according to their precepts, "artists." For modern art the consequences of this shift in attitude were enormous.

In 1911 the Futurists had been the first to exhibit the drawings and paintings of untrained working-class citizens and children alongside their own— demonstrating that "everyone's soul" was equal in the artistic sense. The Expressionists in Germany published children's drawings a year later in their journal. Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Klee openly praised the intuitive domain of children, where mystery flourished prior to the later onslaught of adult reason. Tzara, as poet, argued that anyone could be a poet by cutting up printed sentences, then tossing and selecting the words at random from a bag. Scissors and chance were the great equalizers, transplanting the "authority" of the author/artist to everyone.

When Tzara moved in 1920 to Paris, where his writings were well known, he made the Paris Dada movement official, with a group of poets—Breton, Paul Fluard, Philippe Soupault—who would break with him to form Surrealism.

Der Dada Der Dada

Tristan Tzara


From "Dada Manifesto" [1918] and "Lecture on Dada" [1922], translated from the French by Robert Motherwell, Dada Painters and Poets, by Robert Motherwell, New York, pp. 78- 9, 81, 246-51; reprinted by pernlission of George Wittenborn, Inc., Publishers, 10l8 Madison Avenue, New York 21, N.Y.

There is a literature that does not reach the voracious mass. It is the work of creators, issued from a real necessity in the author, produced for himself. It expresses the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away. Every page must explode, either by profound heavy seriousness, the whirlwind, poetic frenzy, the new, the eternal, the crushing joke, enthusiasm for principles, or by the way in which it is printed. On the one hand a tottering world in flight, betrothed to the glockenspiel of hell, on the other hand: new men. Rough, bouncing, riding on hiccups. Behind them a crippled world and literary quacks with a mania for improvement.

I say unto you: there is no beginning and we do not tremble, we are not sentimental. We are a furious Wind, tearing the dirty linen of clouds and prayers, preparing the great spectacle of disaster, fire, decomposition. We will put an end to mourning and replace tears by sirens screeching from one continent to another. Pavilions of intense joy and widowers with the sadness of poison. Dada is the signboard of abstraction; advertising and business are also elements of poetry.

I destroy the drawers of the brain and of social organization: spread demoralization wherever I go and cast my hand from heaven to hell, my eyes from hell to heaven, restore the fecund wheel of a universal circus to objective forces and the imagination of every individual.

Philosophy is the question: from which side shall we look at life, God, the idea or other phenomena. Everything one looks at is false. I do not consider the relative result more important than the choice between cake and cherries after dinner. The system of quickly looking at the other side of a thing in order to impose your opinion indirectly is called dialectics, in other words, haggling over the spirit of fried potatoes while dancing method around it. If I cry out:

Ideal, ideal, ideal,
-Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge,
-Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom,

I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so manv books, only to conclude that after all everyone dances to his own personal boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom: the satisfaction of pathological curiosity; a private bell for inexplicable needs; a bath; pecuniary difficulties; a stomach with repercussions in life; the authority of the mystic wand formulated as the bouquet of a phantom orchestra made up of silent fiddle bows greased with philtres made of chicken manure. With the blue eye-glasses of an angel they have excavated the inner life for a dime's worth of unanimous gratitude. If all of them are right and if all pills are Pink Pills, let us try for once not to be right. Some people think they can explain rationally, by thought, what they think. But that is extremely relative. Psychoanalysis is a dangerous disease, it puts to sleep the anti-objective impulses of men and systematizes the bourgeoisie. There is no ultimate Truth. The dialectic is an amusing mechanism which guides us / in a banal kind of way / to the opinions we had in the first place. Does anyone think that, by a minute refinement of logic, he has demonstrated the truth and established the correctness of these opinions? Logic imprisoned by the senses is an organic disease. To this element philosophers always like to add: the power of observation. But actually this magnificent quality of the mind is the proof of its impotence. We observe, we regard from one or more points of view, we choose them among the millions that exist. Experience is also a product of chance and individual faculties. Science disgusts me as soon as it becomes a speculative system, loses its character of utility-that is so useless but is at least individual. I detest greasy objectivity, and harmony, the science that finds everything in order. Carry on, my children, humanity . . . Science says we are the servants of nature: everything is in order, make love and bash your brains in. Carry on, my children, humanity, kind bourgeois and journalist virgins . . . I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to have none. To complete oneself, to perfect oneself in one's own littleness, to fill the vessel with one's individuality, to have the courage to fight for and against thought, the mystery of bread, the sudden burst of an infernal propeller into economic lilies.... Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is Dada; a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action: Dada; knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex of comfortable compromise and good manners: Dada; abolition of logic, which is the dance of those impotent to create: Dada; of every social hierarchy and equation set up for the sake of values by our valets: Dada; every object, all objects, sentiments, obscurities, apparitions and the precise clash of parallel lines are weapons for the fight: Dada; abolition of memory: Dada; abolition of archaeology: Dada; abolition of prophets: Dada; abolition of the future: Dada; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate product of spontaneity: Dada; elegant and unprejudiced leap from a harmony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment: whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic; to divest one's church of every useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them -with the extreme satisfaction that it doesn't matter in the least-with the same intensity in the thicket of one's soul-pure of insects for blood well-born, and gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom: Dada Dada Dada, a roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies: LIFE

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I don't have to tell you that for the general public and for you, the refined public, a Dadaist is the equivalent of a leper. But that is only a manner of speaking. When these same people get close to us, they treat us with that remnant of elegance that comes from their old habit of belief in progress. At ten yards distance, hatred begins again. If you ask me why, I won't be able to tell you.

Another characteristic of Dada is the continuous breaking off of our friends. They are always breaking off and resigning. The first to tender his resignation from the Dada movement was myself. Everybody knows that Dada is nothing. I broke away from Dada and from myself as soon as I understood the implications of nothing.

If I continue to do something, it is because it amuses me, or rather because I have a need for activity which I use up and satisfy wherever I can. Basically, the true Dadas have always been separate from Dada. Those who acted as if Dada were important enough to resign from with a big noise have been motivated by a desire for personal publicity, proving that counterfeiters have always wriggled like unclean worms in and out of the purest and most radiant religions.

I know that you have come here today to hear explanations. Well, don't expect to hear any explanations about Dada. You explain to me why you exist. You haven't the faintest idea. You will say: I exist to make my children happy. But in your hearts you know that isn't so. You will say: I exist to guard my country, against barbarian invasions. That's a fine reason. You will say: I exist because God wills. That's a fairy tale for children. You will never be able to tell me why you exist but you will always be ready to maintain a serious attitude about life. You will never understand that life is a pun, for you will never be alone enough to reject hatred, judgments, all these things that require such an effort, in favor of a calm level state of mind that makes everything equal and without importance. Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of a return to an almost Buddhist religion of indifference. Dada covers things with an artificial gentleness, a snow of butterflies released from the head of a prestidigitator. Dada is immobility and does not comprehend the passions. You will call this a paradox, since Dada is manifested only in violent acts. Yes, the reactions of individuals contaminated by destruction are rather violent, but when these reactions are exhausted, annihilated by the Satanic insistence of a continuous and progressive "What for?" what remains, what dominates is indifference. But with the same note of conviction I might maintain the contrary.

I admit that my friends do not approve this point of view. But the Nothing can be uttered only as the reflection of an individual. And that is why it will be valid for everyone, since everyone is important only for the individual who is expressing himself.--I am speaking of myself. Even that is too much for me. How can I be expected to speak of all men at once, and satisfy them too?

Nothing is more delightful than to confuse and upset people. People one doesn't like. What's the use of giving them explanations that are merely food for curiosity? The truth is that people love nothing but themselves and their little possessions, their income, their dog. This state of affairs derives from a false conception of property. If one is poor in spirit, one possesses a sure and indomitable intelligence, a savage logic, a point of view that can not be shaken. Try to be empty and fill your brain cells with a petty happiness. Always destroy what you have in you. On random walks. Then you will be able to understand many things. You are not more intelligent than we, and we are not more intelligent than you.

Intelligence is an organization like any other, the organization of society, the organization of a bank, the organization of chit-chat. At a society tea. It serves to create order and clarity where there is none. It serves to create a state hierarchy. To set up classifications for rational work. To separate questions of a material order from those of a cerebral order, but to take the former very seriously. Intelligence is the triumph of sound education and pragmatism. Fortunately life is something else and its pleasures are innumerable. They are not paid for in the coin of liquid intelligence.

These observations of everyday conditions have led us to a realization which constitutes our minimum basis of agreement, aside from the sympathy which binds us and which is inexplicable. It would not have been possible for us to found our agreement on principles. For everything is relative. What are the Beautiful, the Good, Art, Freedom? Words that have a different meaning for every individual. Words with the pretension of creating agreement among all, and that is why they are written with capital letters. Words which have not the moral value and objective force that people have grown accustomed to finding in them. Their meaning changes from one individual, one epoch, one country to the next. Men are different. It is diversity that makes life interesting. There is no common basis in mens minds. The unconscious is inexhaustible and uncontrollable. Its force surpasses us. It is as mysterious as the last particle of a brain cell. Even if we knew it, we could not reconstruct it.

What good did the theories of the philosophers do us? Did they help us to take a single step forward or backward? What is forward, what is backward? Did they alter our forms of contentment? We are. We argue, we dispute, we get excited. The rest is sauce. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes mixed with a limitless boredom, a swamp dotted with tufts of dying shrubs.

We have had enough of the intelligent movements that have stretched beyond measure our credulity in the benefits of science. What we want now is spontaneity. Not because it is better or more beautiful than anything else. But because everything that issues freely from ourselves, without the intervention of speculative ideas, represents us. We must intensify this quantity of life that readily spends itself in every quarter. Art is not the most precious manifestation of life. Art has not the celestial and universal value that people like to attribute to it. Life is far more interesting. Dada knows the correct measure that should be given to art: with subtle, perfidious methods, Dada introduces it into daily life. And vice versa. In art, Dada reduces everything to an initial simplicity, growing always more relative. It mingles its caprices with the chaotic wind of creation and the barbaric dances of savage tribes. It wants logic reduced to a personal minimum, while literature in its view should be primarily intended for the individual who makes it. Words have a weight of their own and lend themselves to abstract construction. The absurd has no terrors for me, for from a more exalted point of view everything in life seems absurd to me. Only the elasticity of our conventions creates a bond between disparate acts. The Beautiful and the True in art do not exist; what interests me is the intensity of a personality transposed directly, clearly into the work; the man and his vitality; the angle from which he regards the elements and in what manner he knows how to gather sensation, emotion, into a lacework of words and sentiments.

Dada tries to find out what words mean before using them, from the point of view not of grammar but of representation. Objects and colors pass through the same filter. It is not the new technique that interests us, but the spirit. Why do you want us to be preoccupied with a pictorial, moral, poetic, literary, political or social renewal? We are well aware that these renewals of means are merely the successive cloaks of the various epochs of history, uninteresting questions of fashion and facade. We are well aware that people in the costumes of the Renaissance were pretty much the same as the people of today, and that Chouang-Dsi was just as Dada as we are. You are mistaken if you take Dada for a modern school, or even for a reaction against the schools of today. Several of my statements have struck you as old and natural, what better proof that you were a Dadaist without knowing it, perhaps even before the birth of Dada.

You will often hear that Dada is a state of mind. You may be gay, sad, afflicted, joyous, melancholy or Dada. Without being literary, you can be romantic, you can be dreamy, weary, eccentric, a businessman, skinny, transfigured, vain, amiable or Dada. This will happen later on in the course of history when Dada has become a precise, habitual word, when popular repetition has given it the character of a word organic with its necessary content. Today no one thinks of the literature of the Romantic school in representing a lake, a landscape, a character. Slowly but surely, a Dada character is forming.

Dada is here, there and a little everywhere, such as it is, with its faults, with its personal differences and distinctions which it accepts and views with indifference. We are often told that we are incoherent, but into this word people try to put an insult that it is rather hard for me to fathom. Everything is incoherent. The gentleman who decides to take a bath but goes to the movies instead. The one who wants to be quiet but says things that haven't even entered his head. Another who has a precise idea on some subject but succeeds only in expressing the opposite in words which for him are a poor translation. There is no logic. Only relative necessities discovered a posteriori , valid not in any exact sense but only as explanations. The acts of life have no beginning or end. Everything happens in a completely idiotic way. That is why everything is alike. Simplicity is called Dada.

Any attempt to conciliate an inexplicable momentary state with logic strikes me as a boring kind of game. The convention of the spoken language is ample and adequate for us, but for our solitude, for our intimate games and our literature we no longer need it.

The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of an art, but of a disgust. Disgust with the magnificence of philosophers who for 3000 years have been explaining everything to us (what for? ), disgust with the pretensions of these artists-God's-representatives-on-earth, disgust with passion and with real pathological wickedness where it was not worth the bother; disgust with a false form of domination and restriction en masse , that accentuates rather than appeases man's instinct of domination, disgust with all the catalogued categories, with the false prophets who are nothing but a front for the interests of money, pride, disease, disgust with the lieutenants of a mercantile art made to order according to a few infantile laws, disgust with the divorce of good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly (for why is it more estimable to be red rather than green, to the left rather than the right, to be large or small?). Disgust finally with the Jesuitical dialectic which can explain everything and fill people's minds with oblique and obtuse ideas without any physiological basis or ethnic roots, all this by means of blinding artifice and ignoble charlatans promises.

As Dada marches it continuously destroys, not in extension but in itself. From all these disgusts, may I add, it draws no conclusion, no pride, no benefit. It has even stopped combating anything, in the realization that it's no use, that all this doesn't matter. What interests a Dadaist is his own mode of life. But here we approach the great secret.

Dada is a state of mind. That is why it transforms itself according to races and events. Dada applies itself to everything, and yet it is nothing, it is the point where the yes and the no and all the opposites meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but very simply at street corners, like dogs and grasshoppers.

Like everything in life, Dada is useless.

Dada is without pretension, as life should be.

Perhaps you will understand me better when I tell you that Dada is a virgin microbe that penetrates with the insistence of air into all the spaces that reason has not been able to fill with words or conventions.

Dada siegt, Plakat, Dada-Koln


Arp and Taeuber

There was no such thing as Dadaist art, nor did it ever develop beyond an attitude. Ball replaced the cabaret in 1917 with the Dada Gallery and showed Futurists, Cubists, and Expressionists. Among the few to develop Dada principles in relation to the visual arts in Zurich were Hans Arp (after 1939 signed "Jean Arp") and the Russian designer and dancer Sophie Taeuber. Both in Zurich by 1915, they worked in an unusual, collaborative effort which they felt was another way to defeat the egotism inherent in artistic creation. In earlier rectilinear forms, influenced by a study of Cubism, and in 1916, using curvilinear forms, they continued to withdraw any mark of individuality to move toward an art considered more "infinite and eternal." They created "paper pictures" arranged according to laws of chance—a kind of Cubism without creator—first from linear, torn sheets, then as collages of abstract, curvilinear forms, to include textiles, wooden containers of interfitting forms, curved woodcut reliefs, and Taeuber's marionettes and "Dada-heads."

They declared these organic looking drawings and collages "Realities in themselves, without meaning or cerebral intention. We . . . allowed the elementary and spontaneous to react . . . like nature, [were] ordered according to the laws of chance." These organic abstractions, or as Arp referred to them, organic "concretions," provided him, if not Taeuber, a basis for development for the rest of his life, and can be seen in his 1935 Human Concretion, one of many such works carried out during his "Surrealist" period but clearly embodying Dadaist principles. Sculpture as a process of growth equivalent to nature established a biological metaphor for art and had a profound influence on sculpture in the twentieth century. For the Surrealists, Arp's work not only challenged past understandings of an object but moved the object into the less defined, more provocative realm of the poetic imagination.

Taeuber's marionettes and "Dada-heads" carried out the all-important merger between the mechanical and the natural. These seem interchangeable in form with her abstract drawings and tapestries, which have simple, primordial shapes that metamorphose from human to animal to containers. The combination of the biological and mechanical has a long, highly charged life within the Dadaist and Futurist admiration for the machine.

Sophie Taeuber

(Portrait of Hans Arp)


Jean Hans Arp mit Nabelmonokel, 1926
Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Sophie Taeuber mit Dada-Kopf, 1918
Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Photo Nic Aluf

Taeuber's wooden Dada-heads grew out of her abstract drawings and tapestries, which have simple,
primordial shapes that metamorphose from human to animal to containers like a biological system
of advancing forms, one evolving from another.

Jean Arp (Hans Arp)

Jean Arp. Forest

Jean Arp. Human Concretion

Arp, one of the founders of Dada, was the greatest formulator of chance as an active principle in the world. His later work within Surrealism conveyed a sense of organic growth, as if by chance formation, without picturing anything in the world.

Der Dada
Was ist Dada?


Cologne Dada & Max Ernst (1919-22)

Arp and Taeuber moved to Cologne in 1919 and helped motivate the Dada movement with Arp's old friend Max Ernst (1891-1976), who developed their element of chance into hallucination. Ernst knew the work of de Chircio and Klee, had studied philosophy and psychiatry, and arrived at a profound disgust of the world of bourgeois values through the horrors of four years of war service. By 1919 he was staging Dada events that used much of the Zurich ideas to openly attack middle-class concepts of art and life. Under Arp's influence, Ernst began producing collages using random combinations from a multitude of established images in newspapers and journals.

Ernst's drawing Stratified rocks, nature's gift of gneiss ice-land moss .. . (1920) pictures the organic shapes that nature offers, much in the abstract manner of Arp, but underneath the image is a printed reproduction the artist has enhanced with ink and opaque watercolor (gouache) to move it into a more extraordinary realm. This was a process Ernst felt would "transform the banal pages of advertisement into dramas which reveal my most secret desires."

Unlike Arp, Ernst often found his images "ready-made" but he "selected" them by some psychological resonance, a chance encounter between himself, his own psyche, and the image. Other collages from this period construct mechanical images from both linear and curvilinear forms, apparently in some relation to the biomechanical forms used by Taeuber.

Ernst's ready acceptance of psychological states and conditions, particularly the dream-work in Freud's psychoanalysis, parallel the interests and development of Breton. The use of ready-made images—already part of a broad, newly emerging practice in Europe—and especially his reliance on chance encounters as the elemental embodiment of his desire made Ernst a Surrealist from the very beginning. Breton had heard of the Cologne "Dadamax" in Paris and staged an exhibition of his work in 1920, an event many take as the beginning of Paris Dada. In 1921 another of the Paris poets, Paul Eluard, traveled to Cologne to have Ernst illustrate a volume of his poetry.

Max Ernst

Stratified rocks, nature's gift of gneiss iceland moss 2 kinds of lungwort 2 kinds
of ruptures of the perineum growths of the heart (b) the same thing
in a well-polished box somewhat more expensive
anatomical engraving altered with gouache and pencil

Ernst was acknowledged as a Surrealist before Surrealism, even as he was a Dadaist.
Under the influence of Arp and his own orientation, Ernst accepted a world that was not separate from art.

Der Dada
Edited by Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield,
and George Grosz
No. 3 (April 1920), cover

Der Dada
Edited by Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield,
and George Grosz
No. 2 (Berlin, December 1919), cover

Berlin Dada

In 1917, Richard Huelsenbeck arrived from Zurich where his own interests in politics coincided with Berlin's political circumstances to lead a Dada group toward an openly political art. Although the Dadaists generally rejected political involvement—something that separates them from the later Surrealists—it was not simply war but a wider crisis in European culture that concerned them.

Huelsenbeck published manifestoes and journals, several aimed at the working class, and helped maintain an interest in mass communication. Colleagues like John Heartfield designed covers for commercial magazines and literary books of social conscience. Artists such as Raoul Hausmann and Hanna Hoch were less constrained by the needs for public communication but were guided as well by political and social conscience. An early (1919-20) photomontage by Hoch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany, shows a Futurist derived, Dadaist hodgepodge of images. Its mania celebrates Dada, but its title, images, and compositional details direct it as a feminist and communist attack on the liberal politics of the Weimar Republic formed in Germany after their defeat in World War I.

For the Berlin Dadaists, the use of photographs and the technique of photomontage became primary tools in their work. They were influenced by the Futurists and the Russian avant-garde, whose artists had wedded art to the Russian Revolution, and a faith in technology that held promise for their own communist future. This equation was a powerful vision on behalf of the importance of art—its promise of the dream of revolution—and the path it should take.

John Heartfield

Goring The Executioner

Hanna Hoch

Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar
Beer Belly Epoch of Germany

Raoul Hausmann

Dada Siegt



The introduction of new materials into works of art was initiated by the Cubists. Everyday objects were combined with trompe l'oeil paintings of objects in their collages and papiers colles, used chromatically or metaphorically to give the painting greater reality and spatial autonomy. For his Futurist works Fusion of a Head and a Window and Head + House + Light, Boccioni used hair, part of a window, and even an iron railing. In answer to Giovanni Papini's criticisms in 1914, he stated that it was vital to replace imitation with reality in order to increase expressive potential. The Dadaists experimented endlessly with heterogenous materials, either as an expression or admiration for modern technology, or as a rejection of industrialized society. Ready-mades were banal objects elevated to works of art through their selection by the artist. Schwitters' assemblages were made with discarded items, while Heartfield and Grosz used old photographs and newspapers.

Daum marries her pedantic automaton "George"



Technique by which a composite photographic image is formed by combining images from separate photographic sources. The term was coined by Berlin Dadaists c. 1917-18 and was employed by artists such as George Grosz, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann and Hanna Hoch for images often composed from mass-produced sources such as newspapers and magazines.

John Heartfield
Die Arena


Term applied to a flat or relief collage of collected junk. It is associated with Kurt Schwitters, who apparently invented the word when cutting out the word ‘Commerzbank’ from a newspaper for a collage he was making. Merz is also the title of a Dada magazine that he edited from 1923.

Edited by Kurt Schwitters
No. 2 (Hanover, April 1923)


New York Dada (1913-21)

Francis Picabia (1878-1953), a Cuban citizen of French and Spanish descent and a close friend to Marcel Duchamp, was the first Dadaist to arrive in New York to see his work in the 1913 Armory show. This was the first important American exhibition of modern European painting and the "Cubist" works of Picabia and Duchamp had become national scandals. Circa 1912 to 1915, between Paris and the United States and in proportions still unknown, the two artists together developed a different interpretation of "pure painting" from their Parisian colleagues. For them, art was purified by thought rather than developed through abstraction into pure art. Ultimately they would decide that the art of form was a thing of the past.

Francis Picabia
llustration on the title page of the journal Dada

Francis Picabia
llustration of the journal Dada No. 14

Francis Picabia
Very Rare Picture on the Earth

The biomechanical model emerging across Europe was employed by Picabia and Duchamp for its humorous and ironic qualities as applied to people, culture, and relations. In Picabia's I See Again in Memory my Dear Udnie (1914) the flat, abstract forms refer mostly to a biological world through their curved forms but they also reference the mechanical world. According to Picabia, the forms and title of the work derived from his memory of a dancer he admired on shipboard, but were modified through his own erotic dreams. Both he and Duchamp loved word play, frequently using anagrams as titles; in this case "udnie" is likely the anagram for the English slang "nudie."

Like Duchamp, Picabia soon renounced the tradition of large oil paintings and began to make ironic drawings that rejected both Cubism and abstraction. He used invented machines whose title and general biomechanical look were both a celebration and a condemnation of the colonization of the human by the mechanical culture. The subject of his Amorous Parade (1917), made on one his several journeys to New York, is a metaphorical conversion of the biological sex drive into and through machinery.

Too anarchistic, subversive, and wealthy to remain in any one place for long, Picabia had moved to Barcelona by 1916-17, and joined the Zurich Dadaists in 1919. He left his biomechanical works with Arp, who transferred their knowledge to Ernst in Cologne. That same year Picabia moved to Paris, where Duchamp joined him and the Dada poets. Picabia eventually associated himself with the Surrealists but also kept his own counsel throughout his life, independent of Breton. The same can be said for Duchamp, who felt Dadaism and Surrealism provided useful attempts to reshape the nature of art, but were ultimately too limiting.


When Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) arrived in New York two years after the Armory show he was already notorious. He immediately began work on one of the most famous and problematic works of the twentieth century, The Large Glass: The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. Conceived in Paris by 1912 it came at the end of a series of paintings exploring the same theme: a bride, bachelors, and a range of cultural customs circling courtship, sex, and desire implied in witty but privatized commentary. Here, the bride remains above the fray in perpetual separation from the nine frustrated bachelors below. They and their elements of desire are "represented" through fusion of abstract biomorphic and mechanical forms and processes. Originally mounted on glass so the visible world became part of the courtship, it was broken in 1923 during shipment. Duchamp accepted the act of chance and declared the work finished at that point by piecing it together, providing the heavy frame, and allowing the fortuitous cracks to remain visible.

Even more radical was Duchamp's acceptance by 1912 of the artifacts of the world as "ready-made" art, or those to which he made small adjustments and designated "assisted ready-mades." Thus a metal drying rack for bottles purchased in a hardware store was exhibited as is, while a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa was newly hung with a mustache added. Duchamp was a master chess player and used chess as his model for art as strategic play; his moves are often designed to resonate on several levels. The mustache and title—L.H.O.O.Q. is a phonetic anagram for French words which indicate that the Mona Lisa has sexual longing—are a Dada gesture to profane the sacred "high" art of an insane culture. To sexualize the asexual and to convert gender through a mustache, for example, transforms expectations of art and the culture that spawns it on several levels. Similarly The Large Glass not only "transformed" bride and bachelor into machines but acknowledges that modern culture frequently acts in this manner by identifying people and values through machines; i.e., Duchamp's art transforms but also testifies to what has already occurred.

When Duchamp adopted a feminine pseudonym after 1920, he marked himself as he had marked the Mona Lisa. The name, one the artist applied in his work as both author and patron—"Rrose Selavy"—was a phonetic transcription of the phrase "Eros, c'est la vie." Thus Duchamp, the male as female, called attention in a witty way to the fact that "eros" was a principle, a way of life.

Duchamp turned away from art as an object by experimenting with a series of optical discs and constructions that dematerialized not simply the object but the conceptual frame for art "work." Ultimately he rejected the making of art in favor of a life playing chess, a decision that he periodically violated but one which provided a sense of integrity to his speculations. As arcane as his concepts may seem, he has become the most important single artistic influence in the later part of the twentieth century.


Rrose Selavy
(Marcel Duchamp)
Photograph by Man Ray

Marcel Duchamp
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
(The Large Glass)


Man Ray

The direct impact of Picabia and Duchamp on American art was very limited until the late 1940s to mid-1950s, when painters such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, the composer John Cage, and the choreographer Merce Cunningham emerged. Only Man Ray (1890-1977), an American artist from Philadelphia, came under the immediate influence of Dadaism and Surrealism. A collaborator of Duchamp's in New York, Man Ray's "assisted ready-made" Gift is an everyday object, a mass-produced flat iron, moved out of the ordinary world with the addition of a row of carpet tacks. The function and concept of the iron is graphically denied, and is turned into something else entirely, an instrument of surprise as well as refusal. This sense of aggressive refusal is Dada; the sense of surprise is Surrealist. This is an element in most of Man Ray's work. Duchamp found in Man Ray not only a chess partner but a native American anarchist in spirit.

By 1918 Man Ray was using a spray gun and stencils rather than a brush to create "aerographs" of abstract, ethereal shapes. Turning to photography, it became his major interest after he joined Duchamp in Paris in 1921 for the fermentation between Dadaism and Surrealism. He "accidentally" rediscovered an older cameraless photographic image process by leaving objects on top of sensitized paper and exposing them to light. These "photograms" he renamed "rayographs." Something similar happened with the accidental rediscovery of "solarization," where the momentary overexposure of a negative gives a partial tone reversal in photographic images and creates a dark line at the boundaries of the reversal. Rayographs, solarizations (or "Sabattier effects"), and spray paintings were all negations of conscious technique. All gave fugitive effects that could not be predicted or exactly defined and an image that indicated a mysterious content on the other side of reality.

Man Ray

Man Ray. Rayograph. 1922



Before surrealism became a concept of beauty which spread to all the plastic arts, it was a revolt against aesthetics in the name of total freedom of inspiration. This revolt started in Paris in 1919, with the foundation of the anti-literary review Litterature. The founders of Litterature were three young poets, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, who were brought together largely by their devotion to Guillaume Apollinaire, the poet who had died the year before. They came under the influence of the spontaneity of his 'poem-conversations', of his stories, which he called 'philtres of fantasy', and of his quest for 'the new spirit' which he was nevertheless able to reconcile with his love for curiosities of the past.

Apollinaire showed them that the poet must always be the accomplice of the painter, a firm ally in the conquest of the unknown. He himself had led a vigorous battle against the aftermath of impressionism, particularly in his column 'La Vie artistique' in L'Intransigeant from 1910 to 1914. In an article on the Salon des Independants in 1910, subtitled 'Prenez garde a la peinture', he wrote : 'If we were to interpret the overall meaning of this exhibition, we would say readily - and with great delight - that it means the rout of impressionism.' He took an active interest in all the new movements which arose : he became a patron of Robert Delaunay's post-cubist 'orphism', and published a book on the 'futurist antitradition' (L'Antitradition futuriste, 1913)- He saw in every new movement a chance of superseding the lessons of the impressionists. In the programme for the ballet Parade, which was performed on 18 Mау 1917, he used the word 'sur-realisme' in print for the first time. He used it again on 24 June of the same year when he put on Les Mamelles de Tiresias ('The Breasts of Tiresias'). It seemed that he foresaw the use to which it would be put, for he spoke to Paul Dermee of 'the need, in the near future, for a period of organization of lyricism'. He drew the attention of artists to contemporary life : 'Today drawing, oil painting, watercolour and so on no longer exist.

There is painting, and there is no doubt that illuminated signs are more a part of painting than most of the pictures exhibited at the National.'

The first contemporary painters whom the future surrealists admired were those whom Apollinaire pointed out to them. Chirico and Picasso were among them, of course, but so were Chagall, Braque, Derain and Matisse. Aragon made an allegorical eulogy of Matisse in his Le Libertinage, in which he personified his painting in the form of a pretty woman called Matisse.

Andre Breton and his friends - who were soon joined by Paul Eluard, Jacques Rigaut, Benjamin Peret, and other poets - were anxious to take further and further steps towards originality; they lay in wait for the signs which would reveal the age. From the appearance of fauvism in 1905 until the debut of purism in 1918, school after school came into being. Expressionism, cubism, orphism, rayonism, the earlier constructivism, suprematism, vorticism, futurism, all claimed to renew the techniques of creation and its aims. Faced with all these sects, some individuals developed a streak of militant cynicism. Of these the most gifted was Arthur Cravan, who was proud of his athletic physique and wanted to be a 'boxer-poet'. He once said that 'every great artist has a feeling for provocation'.

Cravan ran a review, Maintenant, which he edited single-handed and which he sold from a costermonger's barrow. In 1914 Maintenant carried a virulent review by Cravan of the Salon des Independants, lashing every exhibitor with ferocious sarcasm in an unparalleled example of critical brutality. He said of one picture : 'I would rather spend two minutes under water than in front of this painting. It would be less suffocating. The values of this work are arranged with the aim of doing good, whereas in a painting which is the product of a vision the values are nothing but the colours of a luminous sphere.' Arthur Cravan organized a show in Paris, on 5 July 1914, during which he fired a pistol, boxed, danced and delivered a lecture, punctuated by insults to the audience, in which he maintained that sportsmen were superior to artists. Cravan's statement that 'genius is an extravagant manifestation of the body' heralded the dadaist insurrection.

Another refractory individual was Jacques Vache, a young cynic who expressed his scorn ror art in his Lettres de guerre. Vache did some sketching, but turned down Breton's invitation to illustrate some of his poems. He did not particularly want to be an artist, but longed to be 'a member of a Chinese secret society, with no purpose, in Australia'. Cravan and Vache both died in 1919, but the memory of Vache, in particular, was to hover over the Litterature group, and it was Vache's nihilist humour that Breton was to seek to recapture in his temporary involvement with dadaism.

Dada was not a movement added to all the other movements. Rather it was an anti-movement which opposed not only all the academicisms, but also all the avant-garde schools which claimed to be releasing art from the limits which confined it. Dada was a detonation of anger which showed itself in insults and buffoonery. 'Dada began not as an art form, but as a disgust' was Tristan Tzara's definition : disgust with a world racked by war, with boring dogmas, with conventional sentiments, with pedantry, and the art which did nothing but reflect this limited universe. Dada was born in a neutral country at the height of the war, and it appeared as a declaration of the rights of fantasy.

Its starting point was the opening in Zurich of the Cabaret Voltaire. This was run by the German writer Hugo Ball, who issued a press release on 2 February 1916, stating his aim as 'to create a centre for artistic entertainments'. The presence of Tzara, a born dis-organizer, brought subversive energy to the musical and poetry meetings held in the cabaret. Readings of phonetic or simultaneous poetry, performed in horrific costumes and masks, hurled defiance at the public. There was a review, Dada, in which Tzara propagated the principles of derision. Dada had no programme, wanted nothing, thought nothing, and created only with the intention of proving that creation was nothing. In a mocking attack on systems, Tzara proclaimed 'Pure Idiocy', and announced : 'Intelligent man has become an absolutely normal type. The thing that we are short of, the thing that is interesting now, the thing that is rare because it possesses the anomalies of a precious being, the freshness and the freedom of the great anti-man, that thing is the Idiotic. Dada is using all its strength to establish the idiotic everywhere. Doing it deliberately. And is constantly tending towards idiocy itself.

Raoul Hausmann
Tatlin at Home

Dada filled its statements with incoherence, on the grounds that life itself is incoherent, and played havoc with art because art lovers had lost the idea of art as a game. 'All pictorial or plastic art is useless; art should be a monster which casts servile minds into terror' was Tzara's cry in his 1918 Manifesto, which 'attracted the attention of Andre Breton.

To achieve the destruction of art by artistic means, Tzara advocated that oil painting and all aesthetic demands should be abandoned. 'The new artist protests; he no longer paints (this is only a symbolic and illusory reproduction). He creates directly in stone, in wood, in iron or in tin. He creates rocks, locomotive organisms which can be turned in any direction by the limpid wind of momentary sensation.' Thus, Marcel Janco, who made dadaist posters and masks, also made plaster reliefs which he sometimes encrusted with mirror fragments.

Jean Arp, and Sophie Taeuber who lived with him, produced automatic drawings, collages made 'according to the laws or chance', and even tapestries. They combined very simple forms without making any deliberate choice of arrangement. Hans Richter did not abandon the picture form, but painted his Visionary portraits (1917) in the halt-light or evening, when he could no longer distinguish the colours on his palette or on the canvas. The Berlin dadaists, led by Raoul Hausmann, invented photomontage, making up works from scraps of photographs. Soon after this, Kurt Schwitters, in Hanover, was to initiate 'Merz', his own personal version of Dada, which involved collecting rubbish to make pictures or sculptures.

Kurt Schwitters
The Proposal

Had not two exceptional men, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, pushed anti-art to its furthest limits, nothing would have remained of the Dada revolt but the memory of an ephemeral agitation. Duchamp, the ascetic of non-sense, turned all his finds into the result of an exercise in meditation. In tact, what he did was not exactly anti-art, but what he described as 'dry art', by which he meant an art from which every aesthetic sentiment, even emotion or judgment, was excluded. 'The worst danger is that one might arrive at a form of taste', he said; to avoid both good and bad taste, he set about the 'dehumanization' of art. To this end he used 'the irony of affirmation', in which he put forward, with a glacial wit, absurd propositions intended to disturb rather than to provoke laughter.

Duchamp's imperturbable severity in rejecting the easy course, and his power of intellectual concentration gave his actions their real value. It anyone but he had drawn a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and entitled it L.H.0.0.Q. (1919), it would have been mere facetiousness. (L.H.0.0.Q. - Elle a chaud аu cul - She has hot pants.) It would have had no more effect than the grimacing Beethoven who appeared on the cover of the Dada Almanach. With Duchamp, every pun was a charge of mental dynamite placed under a convention to be exploded.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

The small number of pictures which he condescended to paint have no aim other than that or dismantling the pictorial process like a clock mechanism. In the Chess players (1911, Philadelphia, Museum of Art), he analysed cubism; in Sad Young Man in a Train (1911, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim collection), a painting with a black border like a death announcement, he gave subtle expression to an inner state; in the Coffee mill (1911), the way he showed the rotation of the handle brought a still life to real life. He examined the effects of movement of a body in Nude descending a staircase (1912, Philadelphia, Aluseum of Art), which made his reputation in New York, and in King and Queen surrounded by swift nudes (1912, ibid.) For Passage from Virgin to Bride (1912, New York, Museum of Modern Art) and The Bride (1912, Philadelphia, Museum of Art), he abandoned the brush and applied his colours with his fingers. Finally, in the work which was his last painting on canvas, Tu m' (1918, New Haven, Yale University), he showed a trompe-l'ail tear in the canvas, held together with real pins, among the shadows cast by objects in the painting.

Duchamp tried to destroy traditional ideas of painting and sculpture by employing plays on words and plays on objects. Sometimes he put forward entirely unprecedented creations : 'Take a cubic centimetre of tobacco smoke and paint its interior and exterior surfaces with waterproof paint.' Sometimes he defined new art forms : 'Painting or sculpture. Receptacle, glass dish - all manner of coloured fluids, pieces of wood, iron, chemical reactions. Shake the receptacle and look through it as through a transparency.' He sought the collaboration of chance, and submitted his work to the ' regime of coincidence'. Beyond this, he examined the way in which a common object could become something rare by the addition of some personal detail.

This he called the readymade. His first readymade, Bicycle wheel (1913), was followed by others whose quality was a result of their title or of the way in which they were presented. Apolinere enameled was based on a paint advertisement; Fresh widow (1920, New York, Museum of Modern Art) was a window with black leather panes.

The inverted urinal, with the title Fountain, which he sent to the committee of the 'Independents' exhibition, of which he was a member, in New York in 1917, was a supreme act of defiance, which brought with it his resignation not merely from the committee but also from that kind of art which is criticized and which is bought and sold. Although he could have turned out any number of readymades, Duchamp established a strict rule - 'Limit the number of readymades per year' - and used a kind of moral algebra in their selection : 'to dissociate the readymade, mass produced, from the invented - this dissociation is an operation.'

Marcel Duchamp accumulated notes, drawings and experiences -documents subsequently collected in his Valise and Green box - for the construction, over a period of eight years, of his 'Large Glass', The Bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even (1915-23, Philadelphia, Museum of Art). This is not, as some people think, an unfinished work, but an unfinishable work. This distinction is vitally important. He was in search of an ideal which he defined as 'painting of precision and beauty of indifference'. Like Picabia's Girl born with no mother, Duchamp's Bride is the Machine, seen as the key element of the modern world, Duchamp starts from the principle that a new machine in operation for the first time is like a virgin at the moment she is deflowered, and makes a constant play on this ambiguity. He does this to such effect that it is not possible to tell whether his satire is aimed at the cult of the machine or at physical desire. He developed the plan of a weird machine, constructed with a maximum use of error and chance. The outline of the panel includes an invisible motor, comprising, above, the Hanging Female Object (or the Bride) and below, nine 'Malic Moulds' in which a 'gas' is cast into the form of nine Bachelors. Then there is a Chariot, enclosing a Watermill whose to-and-fro movements recite a Litany, a Chocolate Grinder and so on. When Duchamp abandoned painting, in 1923, he retained his influence over the avant-garde, who treated him as a reteree to decide who should join them; this was not because of what he had done but because of what he had chosen not to do.

Francis Picabia, the complete opposite of his friend Duchamp, used painting as a springboard from which to make giddy and perilous leaps. Picabia, the 'aristocrat of disorder', started off by painting landscapes in the style of Sisley and Pissarro. His first exhibition in Paris in 1905 was a huge success, and he was hailed by the critics as a post-impressionist of the future. But in 1908 he turned his back on this career and broke his contract with his dealer. From then on, Picabia, who was rich, generous, witty and volatile, set off on an impassioned search for pleasure both in art and in life. 'My thoughts love everything which is against reason', he said.

Francis Picabia
Girl Born without a Mother

'There is nothing I would rather be than a man of inexperience.' When he painted Rubber (1909, Paris, Musee National d'Art Moderne), he was taking up abstractionism a year ahead of Kandinsky. On his honeymoon in Spain with Gabrielle Buffet he painted two 'orphic' pictures, Procession in Seville (1912, New York, private collection) and Dances at the Spring (Philadelphia, Museum of Art), which were a great success at the Armory Show in New York in 1913. After his exhibition in New York, he won over Paris with more 'orphic' pictures, Udnie or the dance (Paris, Musee National d'Art Moderne), and Edtaonisl (Art Institute of Chicago). But he wanted to avoid being confined to any genre, and in 1915 he moved into his 'mechanist' period. His paintings in this period are of real or imaginary machines, and are sometimes engineering drawings with humorous additions. In January 1917 he founded the review 391, in which he kept up a constant mockery of artistic circles. 'O laggardly painters, the regions you explore are ancient histories. You would do better to paint the cliffs of Dieppe in red and blue.' He played with words and images like a juggler with coloured balls, and just as swiftly and skilfully. In 1918 in Switzerland he published 'Poems and Drawings of the girl born with no mother' (Poemes et dessins de la fille nee sans mere ) and the 'Funeral Athlete' (U'Athlete des pompes funebres). During this visit Picabia met Tristan Tzara, and hurled himself, his wealth and his enthusiasm into dadaism. Picabia was almost forty, no boisterous adolescent, but he was a whirlwind of irresistible vitality.

Dada was taken up by the Litterature group, which gave it such an individual turn that a historian, Michel Sanouillet, has produced the theory that 'Surrealism was the French form of Dada'. Tzara's arrival in Paris was made the occasion, in January 1920, for the 'First Friday of Litterature' (and the last : there were no others). This 'Friday' was a poetry soiree at which Tzara read a newspaper article, under the title Роеmе, to the accompaniment of bells, and Breton, who gave a commentary on the pictures on show to the public, unleashed a row by showing a picture, Riz аu nez, which Picabia drew in chalk on a blackboard and which Breton wiped off to symbolize the inanity of art. There were other meetings, in particular that at the Theatre de Luvre on 27 March, when Tzara's La Premiere Aventure celeste de M. Antipyrine was staged in a set designed by Picabia. The set - transparent, and placed in front of the actors instead of behind - was made up of a bicycle wheel, cables and picture frames. Picabia also designed paper costumes, and wanted to include in the show a tableau vivant of a live monkey fastened to a canvas. At the last moment he had to be satisfied with a toy plush monkey. His Manifeste cannibale, read by Breton dressed as a sandwich man, produced great commotion among the audience.

For the Festival Dada on May 26 in the Salle Gaveau, which began with the appearance of the 'Sex of Dada' and which ended with a performance of Symphonic Vaseline with a twenty-voice choir, this dedicated iconoclast also designed, in his own inimitable way, the set for the playlet by Breton and Soupault Vous m'oublierez, in which Paul Eluard played the part of 'Sewing Machine'. Picabia was the moving spirit of these 'happenings', which were planned in his apartment. In this year, 1920, his fantasy knew no limits : he painted pictures in Ripolin enamel, made collages of matchsticks, toothpicks and dressmakers' tape measures (Flirt, Match woman, The Handsome Pork Butcher, etc.), wrote impertinent books like Unique Eunuque ('Unique Eunuch') and Jesus-Christ Kastaquouere ('Jesus Christ the Adventurer'), and bombarded with sarcasms anyone who took him too seriously.

Francis Picabia
Amorous Procession

Many surrealist principles were certainly developed during the Dada period. For instance the printed papillons, wall stickers, appeared first in 1920. Breton himself was the author of the papillon which read 'Dada is not dead. Watch out for your overcoat'. The publications of this period, 391, Bulletin Dada and Dadaphone, with their revolutionary typography, were forerunners of the layout of the surrealist journals. In 1920, too, we see the establishment of the principle of 'intervention' in the meetings of opponents. The dadaists burst in on a lecture by the former futurist Marinetti, who was trying to launch 'tactilism', a movement based on touch, with works intended to be fondled and caressed. They disturbed the first production of Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel (1921) by Jean Cocteau, whom they loathed, by getting up in turn and yelling 'Vive dada'. Finally, the way in which the dadaist exhibitions in Paris were organized established the climate which was to reign later in the surrealist exhibitions, particularly those of Max Ernst and Man Ray.

Max Ernst
The bat makes the man

The group admired Max Ernst for his Fiat Modes lithographs, his Fatagagas, painted together with Arp, and his collages. His exhibition entitled 'La Mise sous whisky-marin', in May 1921, which he was not able to attend himself, brought in le Tout Paris, the high society of Paris, attracted by the programme of festive excitements which was announced for the private view. The dadaists, tieless and wearing white gloves, produced a never-ending stream of absurd gestures; a man hidden in a cupboard insulted the guests as they arrived ; then the lights were put out, and from the cellar, whose open trapdoor emitted a crimson glow, Aragon let out yells and pronounced meaningless sentences. This kind of mise-en-scene was not intended as mere propaganda : its aim was to ridicule the very idea of a private view.

Man Ray had arrived from the United States preceded by a considerable reputation. He had painted abstracts recalling those of Duchamp and Picabia - sometimes using a spray gun. He had made poetic objects such as Catherine Barometer which parodied everyday objects, and above all he had published New York Dada, in association with Duchamp. In December 1921 the poets of the Lttirature group assembled his works at Librairie Six, Soupault's bookshop in the Avenue de Lowendal, and sent out this invitation ; 'No one knows any longer where M. Ray was born. After having been a coal merchant, several times a millionaire, and chairman of the Chewing Gum Trust, he has now decided to accept the invitation of the dadaists to exhibit his latest work in Paris.' When the public arrived for the private view, the room was full of toy balloons, which completely hid the paintings. At a given signal, the organizers, with yells of 'Hurrah', burst the balloons with their cigarettes.

Man Ray

Dada was soon to burn itself out, for lack of fuel. Picabia spun on his heel away from the movement because he no longer tound Tzara amusing. He declared 'The thing I find of least interest in other people is myselr'. Breton and Duchamp refused to take part in the 'Salon Dada' presented by Tzara at the Galerie Montaigne on 6 June 1921. In order to proclaim the confusion of genres, he asked poets to send paintings and painters to send poems. He set an example himself by showing three paintings. My, Dear and Friend. Soupault, Aragon, Peret and Rigaut also showed work in this exhibition. The room was full of strange objects, and there were inscriptions all over the walls and stairs : 'This summer elephants will be wearing moustaches ; what about you?' - 'Dada is the biggest confidence trick of the century'.

Breton was no longer satisfied with this kind of manifestation. His natural seriousness needed some enterprise of greater breadth. In 1922 he decided to organize a 'Congress of Paris', at which people with varying points of view would try to define the various trends of the Modern Spirit. He wanted debates on questions such as 'Has the so-called Modern Spirit always existed?' and 'Among objects which we call modern, is a top hat more or less modern than a locomotive?'. This was followed by a breach with Tzara, who disapproved of the idea of a Congress which would not be dominated by anti-art, and subsequently by the dissolution of Paris dadaism. Tzara's counterblast to the Congress, Le Caur a barbe, was Dada's swan-song.

On March 1922, Litterature appeared under a new banner. Francis Picabia set out its programme in an editorial note. 'Do not admire yourself. Do not let yourself be shut up in a revolutionary school which has become conventional. Do not allow commercial speculation. Do not seek official glory. Draw your inspiration only from life, and have no ideal save that of the continued movement of intelligence.'

Without the Dada experience, surrealism would not have existed in the form in which we know it. It ran the risk of being a continuation of symbolism topped up with polemic. During the two years of Dada, the surrealists underwent a physical and spiritual training which allowed them thereafter to confront problems equipped with a knowledge of avant-garde struggle which they had not previously possessed. It is not true to say that surrealism was born after Dada, like a phoenix arising from its ashes. It was born during Dada, and became aware of its resources while it was in public action. Surrealism acquired a need to relate verbal or graphic delirium to an underlying cause, one less gratuitous than the total negation of everything. Nevertheless, some artists who took an active part in surrealism - Picabia, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Duchamp, Arp - retained the imprint of dadaism. Arp, for instance, wrote in 1927 : 'I exhibited with the surrealists because their attitude of revolt towards "art" and their direct attitude to lire were as good as Dada'. These artists were to nurture a constant reeling for nonsense, for the absurd chance discovery, which was a counterweight to the solemn speculations of the other surrealists.