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Dada

Discover how Dada artists used chance, collaboration, and language as a catalyst for creativity.


Marcel Duchamp and the Readymade

Explore the provocative readymades of Marcel Duchamp.


Chance Creations: Collage, Photomontage, and Assemblage

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


Artistic Collaboration

Discover the role of collaboration and play in Dada.


Word Play

Discover how Dada artists challenged and manipulated the rules, syntax, and symbols of language.


Many Dada artists were critical of the dominant social structures and political strategies that led to World War I. To them, the carnage of war was proof enough that the rationalism and order of civilization was an illusion. Rather than preventing mass destruction, many believed that the acceptance of reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct had, in fact, enabled and justified the slaughter of millions.

To critique the systems that shaped society, they turned to new art-making strategies. In their attack on rationality, Dada artists embraced chance, accident, and improvisation. Such forces figured prominently in their creation of collages, assemblages, and photomontages—and subverted elements that had long defined artistic practice, like craft, control, and intentionality. It was a form of personal protest and a tool for critiquing the increasingly mechanized, violent world in which they lived. Drawing on such methods and using imagery from magazines, newspapers, and other printed mass media, Dada artists “could attack the bourgeoisie with distortions of its own communications imagery. The man on the street could be shocked to see the components of a familiar letter of his newspapers and posters running amuck.”1

William Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968), 42

A collage work that includes cut- or torn-and-pasted photographs or photographic reproductions.

A collage work that includes cut- or torn-and-pasted photographs or photographic reproductions.

A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.

A term invented by the artist Kurt Schwitters to describe his works made from scavenged fragments and objects.

An act of placing things close together or side by side for comparison or contrast.

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.

A person whose political, economic, and social values are believed to be determined mainly by concern for material wealth and conventional respectability (noun). Characteristic of those persons (adjective; often used synonymously with "middle-class").

A three-dimensional composition made from a variety of traditionally non-artistic materials and objects.

Questions & Activities

  1. Make a Collage or Photocollage

    Kurt Schwitters’s Merz Picture 32A. The Cherry Picture can be viewed as a journal of objects encountered by the artist.

    To make a collage, collect five objects, images, or fragments. To make a photocollage, collect images from magazines, newspapers, photocopies, and photographic prints. You will be altering these items, so make sure they are things you (and others) feel comfortable using in new ways.

    Using scissors and glue, arrange the items onto a flat support to create your own collage. Write a journal entry explaining the significance of the objects or images you chose. What connections can you draw between them? Do the juxtapositions of objects in your collage seem to suggest a narrative or tell a story?

  2. The “Degenerate Art” Exhibition

    Both Kurt Schwitters and Jean Arp were forced to flee their homes due to military invasions leading up to World War II. In 1937, the Nazis confiscated thousands of modern works of art, including several of Schwitters’s Merz pictures. Many of these were included in Entartete Kunst (Degenerate art), a Nazi-organized exhibition in Munich intended as a platform to mock and condemn modern art.

    Conduct research on this exhibition. How many works were in the exhibition, and why were they selected? How many people visited the exhibition, and how was it received critically? What affect did the show’s reception have on the artists whose works were in the exhibition? Where did the works of art end up after the exhibition? Discuss your findings in a one- to two-page summary. In the conclusion, present your own views on the issue of censorship in the arts.