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Artistic Collaboration

Discover the role of collaboration and play in Dada.


Kurt Schwitters

El Lissitzky
(Russian, 1890–1941)

1924. Gelatin silver print, 4 1/4 x 3 7/8" (10.8 x 9.8 cm)

In 1922 El Lissitzky traveled from his native Russia to Weimar, Germany, where he met Kurt Schwitters at a conference for progressive artists. Lissitsky’s fragmented double portrait of Schwitters, made by layering negatives during the photographic printing process, is indicative of the artists’ close collaboration, which lasted until Lissitzky returned to Russia in 1925. While Lissitzky imparted to Schwitters an interest in the crisp geometry of Russian painting from the time, Schwitters introduced Lissitzky to the photomontage process with which this work was made. The influence of Dada is evident in Lissitzky’s fragmented visual language and the floating backdrop of excerpts from Dada publications. The word “Merz” figures prominently, a reference to Schwitters’s invented term for his literary and artistic pursuits.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A representation of a particular individual, usually intended to capture their likeness or personality.

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

A previously exposed and developed photographic film or plate showing an image that, in black-and-white photography, has a reversal of tones (for example, white eyes appear black). In color photography, the image is in complementary colors to the subject (for example, a blue sky appears yellow). The transfer of a negative image to another surface results in a positive image.

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

Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.

An artistic and literary movement formed in response to the disasters of World War I (1914–18) and to an emerging modern media and machine culture. Dada artists sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic, favoring strategies of chance, spontaneity, and irreverence. Dada artists experimented with a range of mediums, from collage and photomontage to everyday objects and performance, exploding typical concepts of how art should be made and viewed and what materials could be used. An international movement born in neutral Zurich and New York, Dada rapidly spread to Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, Paris, and beyond.