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Artistic Collaboration

Discover the role of collaboration and play in Dada.


Merz-Matinéen

El Lissitzky
(Russian, 1890–1941)

1923. Letterpress, 9 x 11" (22.9 x 27.9 cm)

The Cabaret Voltaire nightclub was launched in Zurich in February 1916 by an international group of poets and artists, including those mentioned on this program—Raoul Haussman, Kurt Schwitters, and El Lissitzky, who laid out its dynamic typography. Its programming, including the matinee advertised on this leaflet, included not only experimental poetry, lectures, improvisational dance, and music, but a variety of Dada pranks from which the audience was not immune.

The event advertised on this flyer included a reading of Schwitters’s poem “Anna Blume.” Originally published in August 1919, the poem incorporated fragments of found text and presented the perspectives of multiple narrators, bringing Schwitters both fame and criticism. Some appreciated its absurdity, while others found it to be pure nonsense. Still others considered its themes of love and longing sentimental and saccharine. Schwitters’s primary concern was with form rather than meaning. “Elements of poetry are letters, syllables, words, sentences,” he said. “Poetry arises from the interaction of those elements. Meaning is important only if it employed as one such factor. I play off sense against nonsense. I prefer nonsense, but that is a purely personal matter.”1

Duchamp as quoted in D. Dietrich, The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition and Innovation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1993), 77

The art and technique of designing and/or arranging type letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, and of printing from them.

The shape or structure of an object.

An artistic and literary movement that grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and conventional artistic practices during World War I (1914–18). Dada artists were disillusioned by the social values that led to the war and sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic by shocking people into self-awareness.

What’s in a Name?
The program’s title, Merz-Matinéen (Merz matinée), bears the unmistakable mark of Kurt Schwitters, who collaborated closely with Dada artists but did not consider himself part of the movement. To distinguish himself from Dada, Schwitters described his wide-ranging artistic and literary activities as Merz—a nonsensical word he made up by cutting a scrap of newspaper—the second syllable of the German word Kommerz (“commerce”).