In 1920 Man Ray and Duchamp founded Society Anonyme, an arts organisaton that sponsored Dada lectures, concerts, publications, and exhibitions in New York.
Man Ray chose the name having little understanding of French, presuming that it meant ‘anonymous society’. It actually means ‘Corporation’. Despite the mistake, the name was kept with the addition of an extra ‘Inc.’ to make the it as ridiculous as the Dada tradition.
Like other artists fleeing their countries to avoid transcription, Man Ray and Picabia left Europe at the beginning of the First World War favoring New York over Zurich as a result of their involvement in the Armory Show in 1913. Their arrival and reunion with Duchamp signified the start of the New York Dada movement.
Shortly after they arrive, Hugo Ball (artist and publisher) and Emmy Hennings (poet and cabaret singer) found Cabaret Voltaire in a Zurich bar. The cabaret became the birthplace of the Dada movement, hosting experimental poetry readings to cubist dances and attracting new members to the group including Tristan Tzar, Marcel Janco, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber. The Cabaret was closed after 4 short months, as the performances are considered too raucous.
Dada was an international art movement that sprang into existence between 1915 and 1923 that saw the Avant guard react to the horrors of World War I. As a result of seeing the arts used to support the war effort, Dada rejected reason, logic and tradition in creativity, instead prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition. The origin of the name ‘Dada’ is unclear; some believe it is taken from the French word for hobbyhorse, some that it is a nonsensical word and others that it has it’s origin in ‘da, da’, meaning ‘yes, yes’ in Romanian.
The Zurich Dada’s hold the first Dada exhibition at a gallery called Galarie Corray. This space is soon taken over by Tzar and Ball to become known as Gallery Dada.
Hans Richter and Viking Eggling had begun making scroll paintings in 1918 as a way of rejecting the traditional art practice of easel painting. As their practice developed they started to translate the paintings onto film. By 1920, both were using cameras to create works rather than paint. The results of their experiments were Rythmus 21 and Symphonie Diagonale, works considered the first minimalist films.
Prior to Dada’s beginnings in New York, Duchamp started to question the traditional notion of art by producing the first readymade, ‘Bicycle Wheel’. Rather than relying on the craft of the artists hand, this readymade combined existing objects to make a fine art piece. Controversial and revolutionary, this work paved the way for the start of New York Dada in 1915.
In 1921 Man Ray and Duchamp worked together to launch New York Dada, a publication showcasing avant guard artworks, articles and events within the New York Community. Man Ray’s, ‘Portmanteau’ was featured in the first issue, a photograph of one of his Dada sculptures.
In 1916 Marcel Janco created a series of masks that he brought to Dada meetings. The masks became center pieces in full costume performances, encouraging the Dada’s to experiment with abstract modern dance and behavior that verged on madness. It was for this type of raucous gathering that the Zurich Dada’s became best known.
During the First World War, neutral Switzerland became a refuge for European pacifists, revolutionaries and artists, many of whom congregated in Zurich. As a result of their forced leisure, these artists and thinkers formed new groups and made new challenges to previous art traditions. During this time the first Dada group arose with it’s fiercely anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical views on cultural practice.
In 1916, Hugo Ball wrote and performed ‘Karawane’ at the Cabaret Voltaire, a poem made completely from nonsensical words. It has since become known as the first sound poem, used to highlight Dada's rejection of reason and logic.
Made as a stance against bourgeois morality and traditional art, L.H.O.O.Q is part fine art part practical joke. In adding a beard to a postcard of the famous Mona Lisa and changing its title, Duchamp makes fun of rumors surrounding the identity of the woman in the painting. Read aloud in French L.H.O.O.Q. sounds like the phrase, ‘elle a chaud au cul’ meaning ‘she has a hot arse’ bringing to mind the speculation that the model could have been a 16th century prostitute.
In 1913 New York had hosted the Armory Show, an exhibition that introduced modern art to the city. As a result, it was well positioned for a creative revolution by the start of the First World War. Dada took the city by storm and those working within it created some of the most famous Dada works in history.