7. Final phase: Paris, 1919–24

Source: Oxford University Press

Picabia was the initial focus of activity as Dada arrived in Paris by different routes. Its controversial début was marked by his blistering attack in 391 on the first post-war Salon d’Automne (1919) for concealing his mechanomorphic Child Carburettor (1919; New York, Guggenheim) and related works by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. Among his allies were the composer Erik Satie and Duchamp (who was visiting in late 1919), as well as the latter’s sister Suzanne Duchamp and her husband Jean Crotti, who joined him in submitting related works to the Salon des Indépendants in January 1920. At the same time, a group of poets had formed separately around Breton, Aragon and Philippe Soupault’s periodical Littérature (1919–24), including Eluard, editor of Proverbe, Théodore Fraenkel, Benjamin Péret, Jacques Rigaut, Céline Arnauld and Paul Dermée, editor of Z. They drew upon the French tradition, from Rimbaud to Alfred Jarry, of a poetic revolt against all norms of contemporary art and life. This was combined with their experience of the war to form a disdainful independence, embodied by Jacques Vaché, whose ultimate gesture was to commit suicide (January 1919). They were aware of Dada through Tzara’s contacts with Apollinaire and Pierre Albert-Birot’s SIC and, in 1919, exchanged contributions to periodicals with him. However, Littérature remained predominantly literary, notable for Breton and Soupault’s experiments with automatic writing, Les Champs magnétiques (1919).

Tzara was the catalyst for cooperation between Picabia and Breton, as they marked his arrival with the first Parisian soirée, the Premier Vendredi de Littérature (23 January 1920, Palais des Fêtes). The accompanying exhibition of works by de Chirico, Jacques Lipchitz, Léger and Gris reflected the avant-garde’s confused acceptance of Dada, until their disruption brought expulsion from the Salon de la Section d’Or. Further Zurich-style soirées were publicized through Dada 6 (Bulletin Dada) (February), with its list of the movement’s 76 presidents, Dada 7 (Dadaphone) (March) and 391, no. 12, which carried Duchamp’s scandalously moustachioed Mona Lisa, L.H.O.O.Q. (Paris, priv. col.) on the cover. The season culminated with Picabia’s exhibition at Au Sans Pareil (April) and the Festival Dada (Salle Gaveau, 26 May). These events encouraged the participation of Charchoune and Vicente Huidobro, who had encountered Dada in Spain, Il’ya Zdanevich (Iliazd; 1894–1975) and the Belgian Dadaist Clement Pansaers, as well as the fashionable figures around Jean Cocteau, including Raymond Radigaet and the composers Darius Milhaud and Georges Auric.

In 1921 the group published the anti-nationalist manifesto Dada soulève tout (January), but their provocations no longer surprised the public. The Grande Saison Dada therefore introduced anti-cultural excursions and mock trials beginning with that of the nationalist writer Maurice Barrès (13 May) at the Salle des Sociétés Savantes. This event exposed divisions between the major participants, as Breton attempted to instil a greater sense of purpose into Dada in the face of Tzara’s mockery of such authoritarianism. Ernst’s exhibition of collages (Au Sans Pareil, May) provided a focus of unity, with Breton’s preface praising the power of his juxtapositions, but Tzara’s ambitious Salon Dada Exposition Internationale (Galerie Montaigne, June) was attacked by Picabia in Pilhaou-Thibaou (special issue of 391, July). At the Salon d’Automne, Crotti and Suzanne Duchamp launched Tabu, their mystical offshoot of Dada, while Picabia again caused controversy with the submission of Cacodylic Eye (1921; Paris, Pompidou), a canvas simply bearing a profusion of greetings and signatures from friends. This, together with Arp’s move towards sculpture and Duchamp’s construction of optical machines, confirmed the divergence of all Dadaists from any uniting artistic style, an attitude that would pass into Surrealism to a certain degree. The most notable arrival was Man Ray, whose paintings and provocative objects were exhibited in December 1921 (Librairie Six), and whose photographic experiments led to camera-less rayographs (for illustration see Man Ray), published as Les Champs délicieux (Paris, 1922), which were produced by the same chance technique as the schadographs. He took this further, by using the same technique for a film, Retour à la raison (1923), which was greeted with public consternation.

By the time of Ernst’s arrival in 1922, Dada was disintegrating. Breton had been isolated by his project for a ‘Congrès de Paris’ to discuss the state of contemporary culture, as Tzara and others refused to participate. However, Picabia rallied to Breton’s cause in La Pomme de pins (February), just as the new series of Littérature moved away from Dada. Although Tzara retaliated, it was evident that self-destruction would result, and his lecture in Weimar in May was called ‘Conférence sur la fin de Dada’. In 1923 his Soirée de la coeur à gaz (Théâtre Michel, 6–7 July) included music by Satie and readings by Iliazd, René Crevel and Pierre de Massot in costumes designed by Sonia Delaunay; Breton, Aragon, Eluard and Péret stormed the stage, bringing Paris Dada to a destructive end. In launching Surrealism in 1924 Breton claimed works made under Dada, such as Les Champs magnétiques and Ernst’s collages; not everything passed into the new movement, however. Tzara published Sept manifestes Dada in 1924, while Picabia made the anarchic film Entr’acte (November) with Satie and René Clair. Of the major artists, Ernst, Man Ray and Arp were, at least nominally, committed to the new movement, but all continued an exploration independent of Breton’s orthodoxy, while others, such as Duchamp, Picabia and Ribemont-Dessaignes, preferred to remain outside this structure. This embodied the determination to undermine established values that had characterized all contributions to Dada, both in Paris and elsewhere, and it was this that would be echoed in other art movements of the mid- to late 20th century, in particular in international Neo-Dada, Pop art and Nouveau Réalisme in the 1950s and 1960s.

Dawn Ades

From Grove Art Online

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