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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 that grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and conventional artistic practices during World War I (1914–18). Dada artists were disillusioned by the social values that led to the war and sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic by shocking people into self-awareness.

The technique and resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued to a supporting surface.