In 1920, a 25-year-old Tristan Tzara, poet and founder of Dada, gathered more than 100 works by over 40 artists in ten countries for an anthology which was to be called Dadaglobe. It was intended to be a representation of Dada’s literary and artistic production; a compilation of new and defining artworks from the likes of Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and many more. Working with his peer Picabia, Tzara asked for solicitations from 50 contemporaries in four categories: photographic self-portraits, drawings, photographs of artworks, and designs for book pages, as well as literary works. The project was never realised, due to financial difficulties and group infighting, but this summer, New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) explores the incredibly ambitious endeavour with a new exhibition, entitled Dadaglobe Reconstructed.
AnOther previewed the exhibition last week in the company of curators Samantha Friedman and Adrian Sudhalter, gaining a fascinating insight into the revolutionary world of Dadaglobe. Here are five key points that we took away from the show.
1. Dadaglobe spawned many of the works that define the Dada movement today
When Tzara asked for submissions for his project – with a letter that Sudhalter described as “calculated – almost like some sort administrative act” – he spurred the creation of some of the most original works of the movement. Among these: a graphic sculpture, crafted from oil, silver leaf, lead wire and a magnifying lens on glass, by Marcel Duchamp. He called it, To be looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour. The name says it all. There are also self-portraits by Johannes Baader – in which he replaced his image with a militant wartime alter ego – and Raoul Hausmann, whose was called Section of Shit… German – among many other offerings.
These works were definitive, and the ones originating from the portraiture commission were especially lush in impact. Of course, because this was Dada, several artists subverted the very definition of a portrait in creating their submissions, manipulating their image for their own anti-art political statement. While the show could have been organised according to the selection in which the items might have been displayed in the book, the curators chose to show according to Tzara’s categories – to demonstrate just how much his inquiry gave birth to.
2. The foundation of Dadaism is internationalism
In the days after World War I, some of the most Nationalist of the 20th century, Dada sought to cross geographical, as well as artistic boundaries. Dadaglobe Reconstructed subtly acknowledges this. “When people ask me to define Dada, its not a style,” explains Sudhalter. “Dada was about breaking from every tradition, whether it was artist or literary, from what came before, and it kind of took in every real new avant-garde approach. But what really defines a Dadaist and all of the many artists who contributed to Dadaglobe was a commitment to International exchange, and Dada was founded right after the First World War, when Nationalism had never been so prominent.
“Even the word Dada itself – it’s these two fundaments of speech: Da-da,” she continues. “They’re just syllables that belong to every language and no language. So, it’s not French, it’s not German, it’s not English, it’s kind of transcending all languages. So I think the most fundamental thing about Dada is internationalism.” There were contributions from Madrid, Santiago, New York, Berlin, Prague, Amsterdam, Paris and more – this movement crossed country lines, during a time when this level of communication was considered subversive.
3. Dadaglobe was born out of the censorship forbidding it
“The fact that it was a problem for the authorities was the point of the volume,” says Sudhalter. “It was absolutely why they wanted the volume to happen. There [was] censorship. The fact that they couldn't communicate with their avant-garde counterpoints on the other side of the border is precisely the point." This division of communication feels at once far away and prescient, so it's altogether fitting that the exhibition gives us a mock-up of what would have been Tzara's catalogue.
4. This collection might not have survived if it weren't for one Jacques Doucet
These works, from a Picabia portraying Duchamp’s imagined pharmacy, and a self-portrait by Jean Cocteau including Pablo Picasso’s horse for Parade, to so many Man Rays, are for the most part with MoMA because of one particular 'man of fashion': benefactor Jacques Doucet. “André Breton was a sort of private advisor to Doucet, who was a couturier,” says Glenn Lowry, the director of MoMA. “He was a top fashion person who had an interest in the contemporary art of his time. His history is inscribed in ours in a very profound way [through his donation]. So it’s interesting to think of think of somebody who could navigate from Cubism to Picasso to Bréton – a very different kind of mindset – and it just shows you what a lively and curious mind he might have had.”
5. The spirit of Dada lives on
Lowry suggests that “Dada lives in these walls, if not anywhere else,” and this is clear in the exhibition – yet there’s reason to believe that the spirit of the anti-art, anti-establishment movement continues. “In certain works, especially in this exhibition, you see some of the themes that I think artists obsess over to this day,” suggests Friedman. “The very idea of submitting a portrait and presenting forth your identity, but refusing to fix it, is just one thing. Having that identity be multiple things – and playing a role and blurring a boundary, whether a gender boundary or a national boundary – I think that's something that Cindy Sherman and that photographic practice still does. As Glenn says, there’s the Dada movement, and then there’s the Dada spirit”, the latter of which remains strong.
Dadaglobe Reconstructed runs until September 18, 2016 at MoMA, New York.