The birth of twentieth century art was the Dada art movement. Dada is best known as the “anti-art” art movement. It is a love affair with chaos and challenges the parameters of artistic expression. The origins of the movement is unclear, even the meaning of the name is murky. What is known is that Dada was born of the feelings of disillusion caused by World War I. Many fled to Zurich, Switzerland in an attempt to escape the war. There, a group of like-minded artists formed the Cabaret Voltaire. For years after, there was an explosion of avant-garde. This shaped modern culture and modern art in ways that can still be felt today. However, Dada was not a movement that focused on a singular style or technique. To explore its impact, one must look at Dada’s iconic artists.
Jean Arp was among the vanguard of the Dada movement. As someone who was both a Surrealist and a Dadaist, his art connected the older Modern aesthetic to the new one. Most importantly, he was a pioneer of spontaneity. Some of his most recognizable works involved randomly dropping pieces of paper on a canvas covered in glue. This was a rally against the old masters who taught rigid attention to detail.
Another figurehead of the Dada movement was Max Ernst. Traveling extensively, Ernst often went between Europe and America in the hopes of finding refuge from the war. This, along with befriending Peggy Guggenheim, sealed his place in art history. His interest in primal energy and tapping into the unconscious influenced later movements such as Abstract Expressionism.
One of the most significant of the Dada artists was Marcel Duchamp. His use of found objects as art was met with both awe and uproar. Works such as Fountain and Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 are among some of the most iconic and most influential pieces of art of the modern era. Most importantly, Duchamp imported Dada from Europe to New York. This inspired American artists to take their own art in bold new directions.
Because Dada was not one contained movement, this worked to the advantage of artists seeking to test boundaries. Kurt Schwitters is representative of the movement’s spread to other fields. Schwitters was an artist with a diverse number of interests, both in medium and style. Fascinated by Dada, he employed its techniques in many of his works. Thanks to the far-reaching nature of his works, he is listed as the inspiration of Pop Art, Multimedia, Post-Modernism, and others.
Dada spurred modern artists to find their own artistic voices. There was no longer a need to adhere to a static set of rules – or even to make logical sense. This laid the groundwork for the freedom of expression that artists now enjoy today.