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Chance Creations: Collage, Photomontage, and Assemblage

Explore three Dada methods that left it (mostly) to chance.


Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance)

Jean (Hans) Arp
(French, born Germany (Alsace). 1886–1966)

1917. Torn-and-pasted paper and colored paper on colored paper, 19 1/8 x 13 5/8" (48.5 x 34.6 cm)

Jean Arp and other Dada artists embraced chance as a tool for liberating creativity from rational thought. An account by his friend and fellow artist Hans Richter describes how Arp made “chance collages” like this one. Apparently frustrated with a drawing he had been working on for some time, Arp

“[. . .] finally tore it up, and let the pieces flutter to the floor of his studio [. . . .] Some time later he happened to notice these same scraps of paper as they lay on the floor, and was struck by the pattern they formed. It had all the expressive power that he had tried in vain to achieve. How meaningful! How telling! Chance movements of his hand and of the fluttering scraps of paper had achieved what all his efforts had failed to achieve, namely expression. He accepted this challenge from chance as a decision of fate and carefully pasted the scraps down in the pattern which chance had determined.1

To remove his own artistic intervention even further, Arp sometimes used a paper cutter to cut the squares rather than tearing them by hand. While chance was undoubtedly the point of departure for this and other works in the series According to the Laws of Chance, the relatively ordered appearance of Arp’s collages suggest he did not fully relinquish control.

Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2002), 51

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.

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.

The technique and resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued to a supporting surface.

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AUDIO: Curators Anne Umland and Leah Dickerman discuss Schwitter’s chance collages