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Word Play

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


The Author of the Book Fourteen Letters of Christ in His Home (Der Verfasser das Buches Vierzehn Briefe Christi in seinem Heim)

Johannes Baader
(German, 1875–1955)

1920. Cut-and-pasted gelatin silver prints, cut-and-pasted printed paper, and ink on book pages, 8 1/2 x 5 3/4" (21.6 x 14.6 cm)

In this photomontage, Johannes Baader depicts a home cluttered with Dada ephemera on the wall at the upper left. Baader layered fragments of at least two photographs to construct this work. A figure has been cut out of the center of the photograph, revealing behind it an image of a mannequin in military garb—the same dummy Baader exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. This persona, which Baader called the “Oberdada” (“chief dada”), was a parody of Germany’s high-ranking military officials.

The “author” referenced in the title is Baader himself. In 1914, he published the book Fourteen Letters of Christ (1914), a critique of institutionalized Christianity. Two of its pages serve as the support for this collage. Further suggesting that this is a self-portrait, Baader’s reflection can be seen in the mirror just right of the mannequin’s head. The cut out silhouette is Baader himself, and the dummy his surrogate persona.

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

Something formed or constructed from parts.

A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.

A representation of oneself made by oneself.

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

Transitory written and printed matter (receipts, notes, tickets, clippings, etc.) not originally intended to be kept or preserved.

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.