2016 marks a century of an art movement that changed modern art forever: DADA. For this special occasion, Zurich is preparing A year of highlights with extraordinary exhibitions, performances and a historical reappraisal. Dada's legacy can be felt throughout art history including surrealism, pop art, and performance art. The approach of Dadaists irrevocably pushed the boundaries of what qualifies as art, how art can look like, as well as what art can do. They deconstructed the language and developed a new poetic genre known as sound poem; they introduced the use of pre-made objects as readymades; they cut and pasted images in new relations creating abstract collages or photomontages; ultimately, the Dadaists redefined the relationship between the creator and the work, between the viewer and the art. As one would expect, this new way of practicing art infuriated a lot of viewers who could not relate to it. What may come as surprising is that this movement originated in Zurich, better known for its well-established serenity, rather than revolutionary art movements. 100 years ago, during the time of World War I, the city flourished as a cultural center for immigrants from all over Europe. The group of early Dadaists was led by the Germans Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, the Frenchman Jean Arp, the Swiss Sophie Täuber and the Romanians Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco.
Zurich had an ambivalent relation to the Dada movement, as a revolutionary art practice attributed to foreigners. For quite a while the city government lacked a real commitment to remembrance. A century later, the international influence of Dada is undoubted and Zurich is celebrating a year of highlights. One of the central points in the celebration is the Cabaret Voltaire, which served as the birthplace of the Dada spirit. Even though the house had such a key role, the Dadaists were forced to move to other venues due to them being unable to pay the rent. In the 1920s, the house became a bingo parlor, and was later on turned into a series of pubs in the 1980s. It got even worse in the 1990s when the house had been finally abandoned, then bought by an insurance company to be converted into an apartment building. Outraged by the lack of sensibility for this historic venue, and in an act of civil disobedience; artists, revolutionaries and squatters occupied the building in 2002. After a tumultuous period of three months, the police evicted the occupants. Finally, in 2004, Cabaret Voltaire was ready to reopen and reintroduce itself to the Zurich's vivid art scene.
The Kunsthaus Zürich holds around 720 historic Dada documents and artworks, being one of the biggest collections in the world. To mark 100 years of the Dada movement, all the documents and works on paper are being digitized, and in some cases restored, to make them accessible to a global audience. In February, the Kunsthaus shows an impressive overview of the artistic diversity and art-historical impact of Dada. The exhibition entitled Dadaglobe Reconstructed includes contributions by Hans Arp, André Breton, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and some 30 other artists. After a display at Kunsthaus, the show will later travel to MoMA in New York. On the occasion of the exhibition, a volume is re-created that Tzara planned to publish in 1921 filled with small artworks and writings Dadaists posted to him.
In June, the Kunsthaus opens another highlight, it will present a major exhibition of Francis Picabia, the French-born rebel who explored and pushed the limits of art in New York.
On the official birthday February 5th, the web documentary DADA-DATA will go online, inviting users to enter into a virtual dada universe. The digital documentary project is a modern story told with collages and hypertext, Twitter and manifestos, Instagram and readymades.
Right on time for the 100th anniversary, the Cabaret Voltaire opens its crypt with the exhibition Obsession Dada, co-curated by Adrian Notz and Una Szeemann, based on documents from the archives of the late great curator Harald Zeemann. The Dada celebration at the Cabaret Voltaire lasts for 165 days with different discussions, talks, screenings and a lot of Dada extravaganzas.
In March, Zurich’s Museum Rietberg will stage Dada Africa, the world’s first exhibition on the Dadaists’ fascination with non-European art. The Dadaists were drawn to African cultures to find inspirations and new ways to understand the nature of art.
Editors’ Tip: Genesis Dada: 100 Years of Dada Zurich
Honouring the centenary of one of the most influential movements of the 20th century, this book tells the full story of its genesis and the role played by Zurich and its vibrant community of artists in its creation and flourishing for the first time. It sets the early years of Dada firmly in the city’s historical and cultural context and reveals the intellectual and social background that were crucial to the fermenting artistic ideas that culminated in Dada. It goes on to trace the explosion of Dada into a worldwide phenomenon that took in such artists and intellectuals as Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Cocteau, and Man Ray. Richly illustrated, this book will stand as the definitive account of the origins of Dada and its little-considered ties to one particular, spectacular city.
Featured image: Image of Cabaret Voltaire; Unknown photographer, Portrait of Tristan Tzara, ca 1920, Collection Chancellerie des Universités de Paris, Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucecourtesy of Cabaret Voltaire; other images courtesy of Kunsthaus Zurich.