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Johannes Theodor Baargeld (Alfred Emanuel Ferdinand Gruenwald) (German, 1892–1927)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

German collagist, draughtsman, writer and publisher. Although he came from an upper middle-class family, after serving as a volunteer in World War I he became a pacifist and a supporter of democratic socialism on Soviet lines. In 1918 he began a political career as a committee member of the mid-Rhine district of the Independent Social-Democratic Party, a Marxist party that had split from the Social-Democratic Party of Germany. The short-lived journal he edited, Der Ventilator, which published six issues in Cologne in February and March 1919, was a satirical magazine directed against the Social Democrat government in Berlin.

Having discovered the work of de Chirico and come under the influence of Dada, in autumn 1919 Baargeld became an opponent of tradition and convention in art as well, setting himself particularly against Expressionism. In November 1919 he and Max Ernst, who together can be said to have founded the Cologne branch of Dada, mounted a Dadaist secessionist exhibition beside the autumn exhibition of the Kölner Gesellschaft der Künste; they styled themselves Gruppe D (the D standing for Dada) and, alongside their own work, showed works by unknown amateur painters as well as industrial products. The climax of the Dadaists’ activities in Cologne was Dada-Vorfrühling, an exhibition in April 1920 featuring works by Hans Arp, Baargeld and Ernst (who together now called themselves Dada W/3, referring to its three members as ‘Weststupidien’) and also including Francis Picabia; it was temporarily closed by the police.

Baargeld, now using another pseudonym, Zentrodada, was also the publisher of two other journals of the Cologne Dadaists, Bulletin D (November 1919) and die Schammade (April 1920). Another Cologne publication mentioned in the literature on Dada, Dada W/3, probably did not exist, or at least has left no trace. During this period Baargeld continued producing drawings and assemblages and writing satire and poetry.

As a poet he worked first in a style indebted to Expressionism, but under the influence of Arp’s nonsense poems he turned in 1919 to Dadaist collage poetry. After the Dada-Vorfrühling exhibition, however, he participated only in the Internationale Dada-Messe in Berlin (June 1920) and in the Salon Dada at Galerie Montaigne, Paris, in June 1921. His papers have been lost, probably destroyed, and only 28 works of art, all dating from 1919 and 1920, are recorded: of these only 10 survive as original works, 7 as reproductions and the remaining 11 simply by their titles. Baargeld’s literary output, by contrast, can be traced from 1917 to 1926.

Baargeld was self-taught as an artist. The only traditional technique to which he had recourse was drawing, sometimes with an element of automatism. The influence of de Chirico, visible in drawings such as the homage to Arp entitled 1Πd - 10 arp = 0.01 dada (Nov 1919; untraced, see Vitt, 1977, p. 35), soon gave way to that of Picabia, in one instance as a direct counterpart to one of Picabia’s pictures. Baargeld dispensed entirely with freehand drawing in an untitled drawing made with letter stencils (April 1920; untraced, see Vitt, 1977, p. 31) and made an early example of an assemblage entitled Anthropophile Tapeworm (1920; untraced, see Vitt, 1977, p. 29), in which he created what he called a ‘split relief’ by combining steel springs, hosepipes, a bicycle bell, a baking tin and other metal objects into a material image with an irregular contour.

Baargeld’s originality as a draughtsman is evident in several extant drawings, notably in the photomontage Typical Vertical Split Representing the Dada Baargeld (1920; Zurich, Ksthaus), in which he mounted a photograph of his own truncated head on to the Venus de Milo’s torso set on a table without legs; his irreverent criticism is directed not only at the reverence for antiquity but more specifically at the tradition of sculptures displayed on plinths. Other works include The Red King (1920; New York, MOMA), a rendering in ink of an unworkable machine against a patterned wallpaper; The Human Eye and a Fish, the Latter Petrified (ink and collage, 1920; New York, MOMA), which anticipates Surrealism in its motif of a pierced eye; and Beetles (ink, 1920; New York, MOMA), in which a collection of lines and blots, together with finished and apparently incomplete images of beetles, allude to the process of drawing itself.

As a ‘pure’ Dadaist Baargeld declined to pursue his artistic career after the demise of the movement. He became a professional mountaineer, using the name Isaiah, achieving a number of first ascents in the 1920s, and he took landscape photographs, particularly of the Alps (Cologne, Mus. Ludwig). He died during a snowstorm while descending the Aiguille de Bionnassay.

Walter Vitt
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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