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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 work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

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 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.

Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.


AUDIO: Curators Anne Umland and Leah Dickerman discuss Jean (Hans) Arp’s chance collages