The term Neo-Dada is tied to an artistic movement that was, to some extent, a revival of the earlier Dada concept, but serves as a platform for mocking and celebrating the consumer culture and uniting opposing conventions of abstraction and realism. It inspires the viewer to ignore the traditional aesthetic standards, forget the pre-conceived notions and address the art with critical thinking. Some of its most notable principles state that it is the viewer’s interpretation that defines the work, not the creator’s intent. Characterized by the use of found objects, mass media, artistic collaborations and unorthodox forms of expression, this art form was, and still is an undeniable force to be reckoned with. Most notable names that defined the movement are: Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, John Chamberlain and Ray Johnson among others.
Before the label of Neo-Dada was even coined for the first time, let us go back a bit and reminisce about the origins of its predecessor. The famous anti-art movement - Dada, originated in Zurich, in 1916. The notion of Dadaism was not only based on the anti-art principle, it was also anti-war and it nurtured strong political affinities towards the radical left and the anti-bourgeois views. With the entire movement being unstable and hard to define from the start and throughout its development, it was often regarded by the theorists as the beginning of postmodern art. By 1924, Dada was already taking on forms of surrealism, social realism and other features of modernism. This unorthodox practice involved rejection of the old forms of artmaking, putting the emphasis on new ways of creation. Two main categories of artists emerged: those who found inspiration in their anger and frustration and those who ventured into the absurd. Some of the most prominent names of Dada were Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Hannah Höch, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Max Ernst and Hans Richter amongst many others.
A New York phenomenon emerging from the underground art, fiercely criticized by the art establishments, was given several names, and among the ones that stuck the most was Neo-Dada. Dating back to early 1950s, a group of performers and artists were responsible for the conception of this movement. Works of Cage, Rauschenberg, Cunningham and Johns were regarded as the early examples of this new form. Wit and eccentricity were the key motivators of these “pioneers” who combined various materials and media to produce the “more social type of art” in contrast to the abstract expressionism which was viewed as elitist by some of the artists and theorists. Another thing that was characteristic for Neo-Dada was the frequent collaboration on projects with musicians, choreographers, poets, dancers and simply other like-minded artists. At a time when abstract art was dominant, it was Neo-Dada that reintroduced the ordinary object and the figurative image, bringing back a social meaning into art. What distinguished its practitioners was the fact that they didn’t merely copy what they saw, they appropriated, quoted and borrowed imagery and symbols from the abundant culture around them. Read more about aesthetics, nihilism and politics in other conceptual art movements.
One of the most appealing aspects of almost any form of art is the freedom of creation. The “anything goes” motto of Neo-Dada particularly expresses this limitless liberty in creating art. The abundance of unorthodox materials, everyday objects and unusual mediums were turned into a shared public language. Rauschenberg was known to literally pick up random objects he would find on the streets of NY, and then incorporate them in his collaged paintings or other combined works. Jasper Johns was also famous for appropriating flags and targets, turning them into paintings with ambiguous nature. They effectively created work that blurred the lines between sculpture and painting, and ultimately, between art and life. While the whole movement is in some way a revival of the original Dada concept, in first plan was put the importance of the work of art which was produced, not the concept generating the work. Denying the traditional notions of aesthetics, Neo-Dada was deeply influential. The fierce desire to be noticed and heard was celebrated and carried on by the later 20th century painters and contemporary artists who were rising up against racism, the war in Vietnam and government policies. Collaborations and performance of Neo-Dadaists influenced the nature of performance art of the late 1960s and onwards.
Find out everything you need to know about the world of art with a free sign up for My Widewalls!
All images used for illustrative purposes only