Dada

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5. Associated developments: Merz, Constructivism and Ma, 1919–25

Source: Oxford University Press

Huelsenbeck prevented Schwitters’s admission to Berlin Dada because of his lack of political commitment, despite the considerable success of An Anna Blume, a chance poem published in Der Sturm in 1919. Schwitters had begun to produce such works and abstract collages (Merzbilder) soon after coming into contact with Hausmann and Höch in 1918. His response to Huelsenbeck’s snub was to found his one-man ‘movement’, Merz, later in 1919, with its eponymous periodical (1923–32). His works relied upon chance finds of everyday materials, especially waste paper, with which he established a formal harmony, for example the Kots Picture (1920; for illustration see Collage). Schwitters remained close to several Dadaists, performing with Höch and Hausmann in Prague in 1921, where the latter’s phonetic poem fmsbw inspired his own Ursonate (1924–5; published in Merz, 24, 1932). He invited Arp to collaborate on Merz and arranged Tzara’s lecture tour on Dada (Hannover, Jena and Weimar) after the Weimar Congress (1922). He also collaborated with Van Doesburg, who, as ‘I. K. Bonset’, spread a mechanistic Dada through Holland via his periodical Mécano (1922–3) and a tour undertaken with Schwitters. This coincided with the creation of Schwitters’s Merzbau (begun 1923; reconstructed 1980–83; Hannover, Sprengel Mus.), a haphazard construction of ephemeral material which would grow to fill his house .

The cross-fertilization between Dada and Constructivism was also evident in the former Austria-Hungary. Schwitters lectured in Prague throughout the 1920s, although knowledge of Cubism and Russian art meant that local interest was muted, with the exception of Hugo Dux and Artus Černik (a member of Karel Teige’s Devětsil group). However, the first tours did inspire the visiting Yugoslav writers Virgil Poljanski and Dragan Aleksić, who were associated with the Zagreb periodical Zenit (1921–6), edited by Poljanski’s brother Ljubomir Micić. Aleksić established contact with Tzara and Schwitters, organizing Dada soirées in Osijek and Subotica (1922), and Poljanski published a number of single-issue periodicals, such as Dada-Jok (Zagreb, 1922). Although reluctant to sacrifice Zenit’s independence, Micić blended Dada provocations with his admiration for Russian revolutionary culture and published the remarkable collage-paintings (known as pafamas, from Papierfarbenmalerei) of Jo Klek (pseudonym of Joseph Seissel).

A more important disseminator of Dada in Eastern Europe was the periodical MA edited by Lajos Kassák, which carried articles by Dadaists. Kassák’s collages and those of Moholy-Nagy (e.g. F dans les champs, 1920; Bremen, Ksthandel Wolfgang Werner) reflected this sympathy, and Kassák arranged for the translation into Hungarian of such texts as Tzara’s Coeur à gaz (1922). There were more distant echoes of Dada. In Moscow the Nichegoki (‘nothingist’) group formed in 1919–21 around the writers Sergey Sadikov and Suzanna Mar, Yelena Nikolayeva and the artist Boris Zemenkov; and in Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia) Il’ya Zdanevich and Simon Chikovani formed the 41° and H2SO4 groups in the early 1920s. Although claiming some allegiance to Dada, they derived essentially from Russian Futurism.

Dawn Ades

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