Dada and Surrealism Notes
“The good thing is that you cannot and probably should not understand
dada” – Richard Huelsenbeck, „Memoirs of a Dada Drummer‟.
Dada is –
- A state of mind
- A way of life
Dada ideas developed in NY, Zurich, Paris, Berlin, Hanover, Cologne and
Barcelona during and post WW1
- Young artists – anger – horror of war – brought about by failure and
hypocrisy of established values…
- ALL VALUES – political and social and artistic (art establishment aligned
to bourgeois society and discredited social powers)
- The only hope was to destroy the systems that led us to war – systems
based on logic and reason
- Replace them with anarchy, the primitive and the irrational – truths under
the mask of a fool idea?
Dada attacked the accepted traditions of art/ philosophy/ literature through
deliberately outrageous tactics – demonstrations, poetry, noise concerts,
exhibitions and manifestos… Annihilate the old!
Gathered in small venues eg…
- Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich
- Apatment of Walter and Louis Arensberg + Marius de Zaya‟s Modern
Gallery in NY
- Club Dada in Berlin
- Coined in Zurich 1916
- Conflicting accounts…
- Poet Richard Huelsenbeck says he chose word at random with painter/
musician Hugo Ball.
- Jean (Hans) Arp said:
o “I hereby declare that Tristan Tzara found the word on Feb 6, 1916,
at 6 o‟clock in the afternoon; I was present with my twelve children
when Tzara for the first time uttered this word which filled us with
justified enthusiasm. This occurred at the Café de la Terrasse in
Zurich, and I was wearing a brioche in my left nostril”
Dada – ambiguous –
Ball – “Dada means in Romanian „Yes, Yes‟, in French a rocking or hobby horse.
In german it is a sign of absurd naivety”
Wife and Singer Emmy Hemmings
Tristan Tzara – Romanian poet
Marcel Janco – Romanian painter and sculptor
Hans Richter – German painter and filmmaker
Sophie Taeuber – painter, dancer, designer
Based at Cabaret Voltaire – seedy part of Zurich – nightly performances include
singing, music, dancing, poetry, puppetry, and recitations… chaotic…
- reading poetry – 3 different things simultaneously – accompanied by noise
- Ball sound poems – chants/ nonsense words – “zimzim urallala zimzim
“Jolifanto bambla o falli bambla
grossiga m‟pfa habla horem
higo blako russula huju
schampa wulla wussa olobo
hej fatta goren
wulubu ssubudu uluw ssubudu
- Tzara and Arp – chance collages and poems
- 1916 programme – Tzara…
o “Boxing resumed: Cubist dance, costumes by Janco, each man his
own drum on his head, noise… gymnastic poem, concert of vowels,
bruitist poem, static poem, chemical arrangement of ideas… more
outcries, the big drum, piano and impotent canon, cardboard
costumes torn off, the audience hums itself into puerperal
fever…”(Blood poisoning following childbirth)
Mad? But method in madness…
Arp: “We searched for an elementary art that would save mankind from the
furious folly of these times” – chance to annihilate the past.
Ball: “ Since no art, politics or religious faith seems adequate to dam this torrent,
there remains only the blague and the bleeding pose” – absurdist – irreverent/
aggressive challenges status quo – satire/ irony/ games/ word play. Blague –
Refined these tactics in NY –
- Marcel Duchamp – French
- Francis Picabia – French born – Cuban
- Morton Schamberg – American
- Man Ray – American
Attacks on Art World –
- Duchamp „LHOOQ‟ (1919)
- Picabia „Portrait of Cezanne‟ – stuffed monkey as a group portrait of
Cezanne, Renoir and Rembrandt
- Vandalism and jokes – visual and verbal – obscene
- Schamberg – „God‟ plumbing trap on a box – blasphemous
- Man Ray – „Gift‟ – iron with spikes – aggression, humour, irreverence
- Man ray “Marcel duchamp (Haircut for Zaya) 1921 – collaborative/ playful
- Manufactured objects presented as art readymades. Not dictated by taste
(Art convention) but „based on a reaction of visual indifference‟.
- Dislocation of objects from visual context to presenting them as art –
radical – alters the conventions of visual art.
In 1917 in New York, Duchamp made his most notorious readymade, Fountain, a
mens urinal signed by the artist with a false name and exhibited placed on its
Three men met for lunch in New York early in April 1917. They were the
American painter Joseph Stella, Walter Arensberg, a wealthy collector later
obsessed by the notion that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, and Marcel Duchamp.
After a convivial and talkative meal, they made their way to the JL Mott
Ironworks, a plumbing suppliers situated at 118 Fifth Avenue.
Once there, Duchamp selected a "Bedfordshire" model porcelain urinal. On
returning to his studio he turned it through 90 degrees, so that it rested on its
back, signed it, "R. MUTT 1917", and entitled this new work Fountain.
The context for the purchase and naming of Fountain was a worthy exhibition by
the Society of Independent Artists, formed on the model of the Parisian Salon
des Indépendants. It was to show works by anyone, subject to a fee of $1 for
membership and $5 annual dues. Duchamp himself, as a celebrated foreign
artist, was on the board, as were various prominent American painters and art
world figures. From early on, however, Duchamp seemed tempted to subvert the
His first move was to suggest that the works in the New York exhibition be hung
alphabetically, with the first letter to be drawn out of a hat. This idea was
adopted, despite protests that it was "democracy run riot". As a result, the whole
huge show - the largest ever assembled in the US - must have had a slightly
absurd air, with traditionalist, amateur works sent in from the sticks hung
randomly beside pieces of cutting-edge cubism.
submission of Fountain, accompanied by the non-existent R Mutt's $6 fee and
an invented address in Philadelphia. It was a missile aimed with brilliant
precision at the basis of the exhibition - its democratic open admission. Here
was an unmentionable object - press reports at the time referred to it as a
"bathroom appliance" - it was signed and dated, but was it a work of art? If not,
George Bellows, a leading painter of a gritty, realist persuasion and member of
the board of the Society of Independent Artists, was similarly outraged by
Fountain - complained that it could not be exhibited as it was indecent. He
suspected a joke; the name R Mutt struck him, understandably, as "fishy".
Walter Arensberg countered by pointing out that the correct fee had been paid.
"'You mean to say, if a man sent in horse manure glued to a canvas that we
would have to accept it!', said Bellows. 'I'm afraid we would,' said Walter."
In the event, the board narrowly voted not to show Fountain, and, according to
one account, it was hidden behind a screen.
- The theory explained in an article, anonymous but almost certainly by
Duchamp himself, in the May 1917 issue of the avant-garde magazine
The Blind Man run by Duchamp and two friends:
- 'Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no
importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, and placed it
so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of
view - created a new thought for that object.'
- three important points-
o first, that the choice of object is itself a creative act.
o Secondly, that by cancelling the 'useful' function of an object it
o Thirdly, that the presentation and addition of a title to the object
have given it 'a new thought', a new meaning.
- Also, Duchamp's readymades also asserted the principle that what is art is
defined by the artist.
The Large Glass
„a diagram of an ironic love-making machine of extraordinary complexity‟. - -The
upper part is dominated by the Bride, whose imagined sexual fulfilment or
“blossoming” is represented by a pink cloud.
- lower part, nine dressmaker‟s models, or „malic moulds‟ (a pun on „male‟
and „phallic‟), symbolise the Bachelors.-
- The two realms communicate only through complex machinery including
a series of sieves filled with dust and a chocolate grinder, which filter the
Bachelors‟ desire before it is shot upwards at the Bride.
- This replica was made by the artist Richard Hamilton with Duchamp‟s
Duchamp's ideas for the Glass began in 1913, and he made numerous notes and
studies, as well as preliminary works for the piece. The notes reflect the creation
of unique rules of physics, and myth which describes the work. He published the
notes and studies as The Green Box in 1934
Marjorie Perloff - Duchamp's "'Large Glass' is also a critique of the very criticism
it inspires, mocking the solemnity of the explicator who is determined to find the
Dada after WW1:
Activity increased… dispersed to Paris, Berlin…
Weimar Republic is the nickname given to the German state from 1919 to
-dubbed the "Weimar Republic" by historians in honor of the city of Weimar,
where a national assembly convened to write and adopt a new constitution
(which became effective on August 11, 1919) for the German Reich, following the
nation's defeat in World War I.
- established in February 1919 in defeated Germany and lasted until March 1933,
when the state's interior was replaced with Hitler's so-called "Third Reich" (see
- first attempt to establish a liberal democracy in Germany happened during a
time of civil conflict, and failed with the ascent of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
- born in the throes of military defeat and social revolution.
- elected Friedrich Ebert as the republic's first president.
- The constitution established a federal republic consisting of nineteen
states. The republic's government was a mixed strong president and
parliamentary system, with the president seen by many as a sort of
- The Weimar Republic was beset with serious problems from the outset
that led many Germans either to withhold support from the new
parliamentary democracy or to seek actively to destroy it
- The most serious obstacle the new republic faced was the refusal of many
Germans to accept its legitimacy. The extreme left regarded it as an
instrument of the propertied to prevent revolution, recalling Ebert's
agreement with the military in November 1918 that resulted in the army's
bloody suppression of the left-wing revolts of late 1918 and early 191
- The right posed a graver threat - because it enjoyed the support of most
of Germany's establishment: the military, the financial elites, the state
bureaucracy, the educational system, and much of the press. The right
styled those who were party to the armistice and to the Treaty of
Versailles as "November criminals" because of Germany's loss of territory
and sovereignty and the burden of enormous war reparations.
- weak economy plagued by high rates of inflation and unemployment.
fueled partly by the enormous wartime debts.
- A right-wing coup d'état in March 1920, the Kapp Putsch--named for its
leader, Wolfgang Kapp--failed only because of a general strike.The
military had refused to intervene, although it did brutally suppress some
Communist-inspired uprisings shortly thereafter. The establishment's tacit
support of unlawful right-wing actions such as the Kapp Putsch and violent
repression of the left endured to the end of the Weimar Republic.
- 1923 was one of crisis for the republic. In January French and Belgian
troops occupied the highly industrialized Ruhr area because of German
defaults on reparations payments. The Weimar government responded by
calling upon the Ruhr population to stop all industrial activity. The
government also began printing money at such a rate that it soon became
virtually worthless; by the fall of 1923, wheelbarrows were needed to carry
enough currency for simple purchases as inflation reached rates beyond
comprehension. In 1914 US$1 had equaled 4 marks. By mid-1920, US$1
was worth 40 marks, by early 1922 about 200 marks, a year later 18,000
marks, and by November 1923 -- 4.2 trillion marks. In addition, the country
was racked by strikes, paramilitary street violence….
- Huelsenbeck – formed Club Dada in Berlin – included…
- John Heartfield (Helmut Herzfelde) – changed name 1916 in protest to
- Brother Wieland Herzfelde
- Johannes Baader
o Attacked church and state – while attending service in Berlin
Cathedral replied to pastor‟s rhetorical question “What does Jesus
Christ mean to us today?” with “To you sort, he doesn‟t mean a
- Raoul Hausmann – Manifesto against Wiemar Approach to Life
- George Grosz
- Hannah Hoch
o Fascination with machines and technology
o Use readymade materials (influence of Cubism)
o More political than Zurich or NY
o Montage/ photomontage – Hoch/ Heartfield
o Assemblage – Hausmann
- Pacifist reaction to the war and an attack on the civilisation that produced
- Heartfield – later outspoken anti-Nazi – uses photomontage to twist reality
Hoch – “Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the last Weimar Beer Belly cultural
epoch of Germany” “Dada Ernst”
- Turbulance/ violence of age – tumultuous political climate of post war
Berlin – tension between Dada – revolutionary world and world of Weimar
government leaders… + speed, urbanism, industry.
Experience of modern woman – her struggle to establish a legitimate sphere of
her own – Violent psych. And physical relationship with Hausmann.
Hoch – images of beautiful/ exotic/ subservient women – cut them up –
reassembling – fragmented, powerless
Started by Arp and Max Ernst 1919
1st Dada Exhibition Cologne
Ernst – sculpture with axe attached – invitation for visitors to attack his work
Kurt Schwitters – one man splinter group – Merz (from Kommerz – in one
collage) – so…
- Poetry – Merzgedichte
- Pictures – magazine Merz – (Arp, El Lissitzky, Van Doesburg)
- Merzbau – building constructions 1st begun 1920 – Hanover – left
Germany in 1935 – grown into 2nd floor – 1943 destroyed in Allied
bombing of city.
1st Merzbau: Hanover, Germany. (1923-37) - Over a 14 year period, Schwitters
used a combination of hoarded personal ephemera and the architectural features
of the building to create a series of approximately 40 'grottoes'. The constructions
were destroyed during air raids in 1943.
2nd Merzbau: Norway. (1938-40) - When Schwitters was forced to flee Norway
in 1940 as a result of German invasion destroyed by fire in 1993.
3rd Merzbau: Elterwater, Britain. (1947-48)
After leaving London, Schwitters moved to Langdale, near Ambleside in
Cumbria, North East England.
Schwitters met local farmer, Harry Pierce, who agreed to allow Schwitters the
use of an old barn on his land.
Schwitters made Pierce promise to preserve the work. After his death in 1948,
Pierce made every effort to fulfill that promise, however poor weather in Cumbria
combined with the Merzbarn's existing state of dilapidation forced Schwitters'
friend to make a decision; the Merzbarn would be offered as a gift to anyone able
to remove and preserve it. In 1965, under the instruction of Richard Hamilton, the
University of Newcastle undertook the mammoth task of removing, restoring and
preserving Schwitters' Merzbarn
All transformed detritus into art.
By 1921… most Dadaist in Paris – including Tzara, Arp, Ernst, Man Ray,
duchamp and Picabia. Joined by poet Andre Breton and others including
Suzanne Duchamp (sister). – Dada became more literary/ theatrical – cabaret/
festivals – popular – dada celebrities.
By 1922 – differences between Tzara, Picabia and Breton led to dissolution of
BUT not end of dada activity…
Entr‟ Acte (Intermission) 1924 – written by Picabia, directed by Rene Clair,
soundtrack Erik Satie – starred Man Ray, duchamp, Satie, Picabia
Relache (closed – no performance tonight) 1924 – set by Picabia – dancing role
for Man Ray, backdrop of light bulbs to blind audience. Leger “Relache is a lot of
kicks in a lot of backsides whether hallowed or not”.
= liberated artistic approach – absurdist irony – freedom irreverence and
experiment – art as idea – made from anything – questioning of society and
“It was not an artistic movement in the accepted sense; It was a storm that broke
over the world of art as the war did over the nations. It came without warning, out
of a heavy, brooding sky, and left behind it a new day in which stored up
energies released new directions, new people – and in which they addressed
themselves to new people” – Richter.
“Nothing but the marvellous is beautiful” – Andre Breton 1934
Launched by French poet Andre Breton in 1924 (term used by critic Guillaime
Appollinaire in 1917 to describe something that exceeded reality) – Breton used it
to describe a vision of the future…
1st Manifesto of Surrealism – 1924
“Though expressed in the absence of any control exerted by reason, and outside
all moral and aesthetic considerations”
Breton intended a profound revolution – claimed Freud (psychoanalysis) Trotsky
(Marxism) and poets Isodore Ducasse (Comte de Lautremont) and Arthur
Rimbaud as ideological pre-cursors. Also, influence of occultism…
Artist= visionary in revolt against society…
Lautremont gave Surrealism its motto ….
…that beauty, or the marvellous, could be found in the chance encounters of the
“As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine
and an umbrella”
Dada=chaos, anarchy, spontaneity
Surr.= more organised, theorized with Breton as the “Pope of Surrealism”
Dada= anti-art art
Surr.= more optimistic – transformation of the way people think and perceive
= break down barriers between inner and outer worlds – liberate the unconscious
– reconcile it with the conscious
= FREE MANKIND FROM LOGIC AND REASON
Max Ernst, Man Ray, Jean Arp (from Dada)
Later 1920s+30s – Trsitan Tzara, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Giacometti, Matta,
Fringes – Magritte, Picasso, Klee
Influences – dada in its determination to breal boundaries
- Giorgio de Chirico – dream-like paintings/ symbolism
- Freud – most important influence…
- Psychoanalysis – releases repressed images/ unconscious dreams – this
gave Surrealism a repetoire of repressed images…especially interest in
castration, anxiety, fetishes and the uncanny…
= used ideas in various ways
- Make the familiar unfamiliar
- Automatic witing and drawing
- Chance and strange juxtapositions
- Notion of all devouring female
- Breaking down boundaries of genders, man and animal, reality and
Automatism – Yves Tanguy
“The painting develops before my eyes, unfolding its surprises as it progresses. It
is this which gives me the sense of complete liberty, and for the reason I am
incapable of forming a plan or making a sketch beforehand”
Dada loved machines…
Surr. – dehumanising automata – masks, dolls and mannequins
Organic surrealism – Miro, Masson, Arp
Dream Surrealism – Dali, Magritte, Tanguy
ALL CONSIDER FEAR, DESIRE, EROTIC ETC…
Max Ernst –
- Enigmatic, dream-like, „uncanny‟ (Freudian concept of an instance where
something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a
feeling of it being uncomfortably strange)..
- “Two children threatened by a nightingale” (1924
- “The Blood Swimmer” – male or female organs – procreation and
castration – ambiguity
- frottage – rubbings „contradictory images that come, one on the other, with
the speed of erotic dreams‟
Surrealist sculpture – Woman with her throat cut…
- female as inhuman and dangerous
- female preying mantis
- fear of women and death and thrill of dangerous sex
Man Ray –
- surrealist photography
- darkroom manipulation, close-ups
- isolating surreal images in the world – world full of erotic symbols and
Misogyny of Surrealist work…
Inf. Of Jacquelin Breton
Meret Oppenheim – Object 1936
Louise Bourgeois - themes of femininity, sexuality and isolation.
Birth - autobiographical relates to her traumatic childhood. She idolised her
mother, and loathed her overbearing, adulterous father. Portray the events and
fantasies of her childhood and adolescence. The scenes include the trauma of
birth, the pubescent discovery of the body, the moulding of a daughter by her
mother, and the stifling of a daughter by her father
Mamelles is a large-scale wall relief in which a series of female breasts have
been moulded within a horizontal structure reminiscent of a classical frieze. The
breasts can be seen as a symbol of woman‟s nurturing role, while also exposing
the female body as a sexualised object, stripped bare and vulnerable.
Spread throughout world…
WWII – surrealism in America
- Magic Realism – fantasies of the commonplace –
- Questions of reality and representation – challenge the concept of a
painting as a window of the world – “The Treachury (or Perfidity) of
- Simulated insanity
- „paranoic critique‟ – essence of Dali‟s art
- hallmarks… sex, sadism, masochism, neurosis, - blood, decay, rot,
- allusions to other paintings
Melting clocks - omnipresence of time, and identify its mastery over human
beings - from a dream of runny Camembert one hot august afternoon- represent
a metaphysical image of time devouring itself and everything else.
Crutches - symbol of reality and an anchor in the ground of the real world,
providing spiritual and physical support for inadequacy in life. The crutch is also
the symbol of tradition, upholding essential human values.
Drawers; The drawers arise from their Freudian explanation as a representation
of the concealed sexuality of women.
Elephants-. These elephants represent the future and are also a symbol of
strength. They are often shown carrying obelisks, which are symbols of power
and domination, and not without phallic overtones..
Snails- linked to a significant event in Dali‟s life – his meeting with Sigmund
Freud. As Dali believed that nothing occurred to him simply by accident, he was
captivated when he saw a snail on a bicycle outside Freud‟s house. He
connected the snail with a human head, more particularly Freud‟s head. As with
the egg and lobster, the hard shells and soft interiors of snails
Eggs- given the duality of its hard exterior and soft interior. Dali links the egg to
pre-natal images and the intra-uterine universe, and thus it is a symbol of both
hope and love.
Ants- When Dali was five years old, he saw an insect that had been eaten by
ants and of which nothing remained except the shell. The swarming ants in Dali‟s
pictures and sculptures are references to death and decay, and are reminders of
human mortality and impermanence. They are also said to represent
overwhelming sexual desire.
Grasshoppers- Dali had an irrational fear of grasshoppers, stemming from his
childhood torment by other children, who often threw grasshoppers and other
insects at him. When they appear in Dali‟s work, grasshoppers are used as a
symbol of destruction, waste and fear.
- psychic automatism – invention – own signs and symbols – reduced forms
but not into logic but into fantastic organic and inorganic.