'To get to the heart of
Dada it is essential to encounter the artists' writings and manifestos at
first hand...' The Dada Reader A Critical Anthology is the first representative selection of key source
texts many previously unavailable in English, originally published in
periodical form by the Dada Movement.
The mission of The Dada
Reader is to map 'the many headed
phenomenon of Dada' and, crucially, the centrality of its little magazines.
In so doing editor Dawn Ades charts the extent of the movement across Europe
in the historical period during and just after the First World War, exploring
those international collaborations that, in her words, 'defied cultural and
political nationalisms.' Chronologically the time period covered by this
volume is 1916-1926.
Dawn Ades - Professor of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex -
is Director of the AHRC Research Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its
Legacies. She has worked in the field of Dada and Surrealism since 1974 at
least. In 1974 she produced a short monograph entitled Dada and Surrealism for Thames and Hudson and, in 1978, was a key
organiser of the landmark Hayward Gallery Dada and Surrealism Reviewed exhibition for the Arts Council. She has also
written on Marcel Duchamp and is the author of Photomontage (1986), also from Thames and Hudson. Her essay
'Surrealism Male-Female' appears in the catalogue for the 2001 Tate Modern
exhibition Surrealism: Desire Unbound. More recently Ades acted as co-curator of the 2006 Hayward
exhibition Undercover Surrealism
devoted to the Documents Group and the influence of Georges Bataille.
The scope of the Dada Reader
anthology is limited by editorial choice to twenty magazines, as a decision
was taken 'to keep largely to those that explicitly announce themselves as
Dada' or those that clearly 'share the same spirit'. Behind this decision was
the desire to present a 'denser picture' of core Dada ideas and practices.
All the chosen texts are published complete - there are no partial texts or
summaries. This policy has led to some omissions such as Der Blutige Ernst the Berlin satirical review, but Duchamp and
Roche's The Blind Man is
included. Those interested in a wider selection of magazines from the period
should consult the extensive catalogue of the Dada and Surrealism Reviewed exhibition. The geographical scope of the texts
collected here illustrates the pan-European extent of Dada as, from its
beginnings in Switzerland, the movement spread to numerous other countries
including France, Italy, Holland, Croatia, Spain and Germany. The Reader collects together examples of material from
avant-garde magazines published in ten European cities from Zurich and New
York (the more or less simultaneous points of departure) to Hanover via
Paris, Cologne, Mantua, Leiden, Zagreb, Berlin and Barcelona. Resources for
the Dada Reader project include
fourteen individual translators to cover a varied mass of texts and poems
translated from six European languages including French, Italian, German and
Serbo-Croatian among others. Source acknowledgements include Atlas Press and
the International Dada Archive, part of the library service at the University
The Dada Reader is organised into
twelve sections, each section with its own introduction written by either
Professor Ades or collaborator Emily Hage. Dawn Ades has provided the general
introduction. There is also a comprehensive and well-researched Index that
includes references (with birth and death dates) to well over 120
personalities and a Notes section as well as the usual Acknowledgements. The
twelve-part organisation follows the spread of the movement from early
beginnings at the now famous Cabaret Voltaire in the Meirei Bar at 1 Spiegelgasse in the Niederdorf district of
Zurich, through to the late publication of the Berlin magazine G (1923-1926) edited by Hans Richter. The
organisation focuses on geographical concentrations of publication, Paris
featuring as the city with the highest number of magazines published in one
place during the period. However, with centres in locations such as Berlin,
Cologne and Hanover, it is clear that Germany was a continuing and vital
source of activity until 1926 at least. No doubt subversive Dada activity
became increasingly difficult in the later Weimar era due to the rise of
Nazism - on various occasions Adolf Hitler condemned the 'artistic cultural
stuttering' of Dada along with other modes of 'degenerate art' such as Cubism
and Futurism. Meanwhile, in France, from 1924, Dada was overtaken by
Surrealism a grouping that claimed the allegiance of former Dada artists like
Ernst and Arp.
The volume is well illustrated with over seventy black and white
illustrations and reproductions of diverse kinds including some portrait
photographs and a wide selection of original magazine covers, title pages,
page layouts and visual poems. The innovative nature of Dada magazine
publication is immediately apparent as the illustrations throw into high
relief the typographical experimentation, startling photographs, unexpected
reversals of reading order and overprinting typical of Dada provocation with
its radical fusion of image and text, poetry and polemic. Enthusiasts will
recognise a number of iconic images reproduced here. Max Ernst's 'Preparation
of Glue From Bones' collage (front cover of Dada in Tirol au Grand Air No
8), 'Daum Marries Her Pedantic
Automaton...' from Der Dada 3 by
George Grosz, Duchamp's 'LHOOQ' (the notorious 'assisted' 'Mona Lisa'). Also
illustrated is Picabia's blasphemous 'La Sainte Vierge' ink splash and his
iconoclastic 'Tableau Dada' (the artist as stuffed monkey). Hausmann's
'Tatlin At Home' is juxtaposed with a prose piece by Ribemont-Dessaignes (Mecano, Red) and, also included is that death knell of the
avant-garde - the Steiglitz photograph 'Fountain by R Mutt (The Exhibit
Refused by The Independents)' reproduced from PBT The Blind Man No 2.
Among the visual picto-poems included are 'Sonate' by Kurt Schwitters and
'Dune (Parole in Liberta)' by Futurist maestro F.T. Marinetti. There are a
number of artworks from a selection of artists including Marcel Janco, Hans
Arp, Sophie Taueber, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp,
Kasimir Malevich and Raoul Hausmann among others. The text include many
significant documents and a good selection poetry from all the main writers
and Dada activists: Tzara, Ball, Emmy Hennings, Arp, Schwitters, Huelsenbeck,
Andre Breton and Paul Eluard and many others are all represented here. There
are also poems from artists (Ernst and Arp), precursors and associates like
Apollinaire, Cendrars and Kandinsky - and contributions from participants
less well known in the UK such as the poem 'Luna Park' by Celine Arnauld.
There are three poems from Hennings that, between the lines, project a rather
decadent, fin-de-siecle mood:
'Song To The Dawn', 'Morphine' and 'Maybe The Last Flight'. 'Hyperbola'
written by Arp, Serner and Tzara, together with the poem simultan (simultaneous poem) 'L'Amiral cherche une maison
a louer' (Huelsenbeck, Janco and
Tzara) are joint collaborations - the latter work, reproduced as an
illustration, looking rather like a musical score.
Many key documents have been assembled in this Critical Anthology. These include, among other valuable resources,
'Cabaret Voltaire' (1916) by Hugo Ball; 'Dada Manifesto 1918' by Tristan
Tzara; and Hans Richter's 'Against Without For Dada'. Also here is an
interview about Cubism with Jean Metzger; the crucial documents in the
Richard Mutt Case; an assessment of Rimbaud by Jules Mery, and the seminal
'How To Make Dadaist Poem' by Tristan Tzara - not forgetting the basic
indispensable 'Twenty Three Manifestos of the Dada Movement'.
The magazine Club Dada (1918)
edited by Richard Huelsenbeck and Franz Jung exemplified some of the key
features of Dada style - disjointed and fragmented texts, a nihilistic tone
and numerous references to modern urban life in big cities. Dada work is,
according to Emily Hage 'aggressive, propagandistic and jingoistic' in its
use of language. The little magazines presented the reader with a bewildering
and chaotic stylistic array of contributions. There were manifestos and
polemics, poems, prose poems, artistic fragments, verbal and visual
linguistic experiments, theoretical statements, interviews, collages,
photomontages, letters, press cuttings, images of sculptures, paintings and
reliefs. There were drawings, photographs of 'objects' and revolutionary
slogans - there were examples of automatic writing and popular art - there
were, also, records of live performances and other 'indefinable'
Club Dada promoted simultaneous
poetry, bruitistic music and 'Cubist Dancing' - a reminder that the original
Zurich Dadaists, Hugo 'the Magic Bishop' Ball and Emmy Hennings had, from the
start of the Dada enterprise, regarded performance as their main modus
The Cabaret Voltaire, the name
is in oblique reference to the hero of Candide, was first and foremost an 'international cabaret'
drawing on theatrical expertise, modelled in the style of similar examples of
the fin de siecle 'artistic
cabaret' in Paris and Vienna. Max Reinhardt's Berlin Schall Und Rauch
Kabarett was established in 1901.
Singer, dancer, poet and puppeteer Hennings ('the shining star of the Voltaire') first met Ball while performing at the Cabaret
Simplizissimus in Munich in 1913.
Together they moved to Zurich in 1915, and, against a backdrop of war,
continued their style of 'low vaudeville' providing the first anarchic
context for Dada. According to Ball's 1916 text included in this collection,
the objective was to co-opt 'the ideals of culture and art as a program for a
variety show.' Ball improvised at the piano while Hennings - whose voice was,
by all accounts, very stylised - and an unknown performer called Miss Leconte
(also known as Madame Leroy) sang French and Danish songs, folk songs and
brothel songs. Tristan Tzara recited Rumanian poetry - a balalaika orchestra
played Russian dances.
This anthology encourages the reader to engage with the full richness and
complexity of the Dada heritage. One soon sidesteps the usual critical
nostrums, for example the bracketing of Dada under the slogan 'anti-art' (as
though the term means anything) or trite explanations' of the movement as
some kind of post-traumatic group therapy experience induced by the Great
War. One soon forgets the gossipy issue of the derivation of the term 'dada'
- researchers have discovered, for instance, that the firm of Bergmann &
Co of Zurich marketed a type of Haarwasser (a hair product) under the brand'Dada'. Could this be the origin of the name?
Leave these trivial concerns to one side. The Dada Reader contains numerous examples of self-definition,
revolutionary slogans and polemical manifestos that explain what Dada was
against, what Dada stood for, and illuminates its view of the world.
For Walter Conrad Arensberg 'Dada is American.' Paul Dermee, for whom the
most ancient enemy of Dada is called God, wrote 'Dada strips clean the thick
layer of filth that has settled on us over the centuries...Dada thus leads to
For George Grosz, writing in the magazine G No 3 'Dadaism was our wake up call from...self
deception.' For Dada the end of self-deception meant a new nihilism and
amorality. Grosz again: 'The German Dada movement had its roots in the
knowledge...that it was madness to believe that The Spirit or indeed any
spirits ruled the world.' The irreligious stance is evident elsewhere as in
this quote from I. K. Bonset in 'Dada Holland Manifesto 0,96013' (1922) 'I spit on God-Jesus-Marx with their
For Huelsenbeck, in his text 'Forward to The History Of The Age' (1918), the
'liberating deed plays the most important role in the history of the time'. A
statement that anticipates the Bretonian doctrine of freedom basic to French
Surrealism, as well as anarchist ideas of activism and insurrection central
to the immanent German political crisis and the coming confrontation with
The aesthetic nihilism of Dadaist absurd-ism is present in statements such as
'Poetry = toothpick, encyclopaedia, taxi, or parasol-shade' (Celine Arnauld)
or 'Art and Beauty = Nothing' (Philippe Soupault). Dada derides Cubism:
'Cubism is a consumptive on a chaise longue' (Arensberg). Although Dada was
in conflict with the official avant-garde Hugo Ball asserted that
'Abstraction was the cornerstone of Zurich Dada'. Ades, in her introduction
to the Cabaret Voltaire era, explains how Tzara articulated a 'new approach
to art'. An approach that still confounds contemporary 'theory' in his
advocacy of a method that 'neither represents the world nor abstracts from
it, but takes its place as another object in nature, creating directly...'. As
noted above, Tzara's famous text describing the chance creation of a poem
from found phrases is included in this collection - but one should always
take into account the fact that Dada 'anti-art' meant not only a rejection of
the artistic establishment and the academy. It also demanded a rejection of
the postures of the orthodox avant-garde. In particular the Litterature group (Breton, Aragon, Soupault) engaged in
proto-Surrealist experiments that functioned to distance themselves 'from an
avant-garde with whom they felt increasingly at variance' (Dawn Ades). Tzara
once observed that Gertrude Stein was 'the wrong kind of modernist.'
Twentyfirst century Dadaist can have no truck with academic fads such as
Post-Modernism, even though some Post-Modernists owe a dept to Dada that is
rarely if ever acknowledged.
For Grosz human beings are pigs and all talk of 'ethics' is 'deception
directed at fools.' Furthermore all 'isms' are relegated to the status of
outdated workshop projects. The magazine G illustrates the diversity of Dada and also the
little known linkage between Dada and Constructivism that, according to Ades
is 'often overlooked in favour of the Surrealist legacy'. Richter's G promoted constructive architecture, aeroplanes,
cars, town planning, De Stijl, photography ('the dawn of art began with the
discovery of photography'), film and photomontage.
Kurt Schwitters published 'Black Square' by the Suprematist Malevich in Merz, his one-man Dada publication from Hanover. For
Schwitters the new aesthetic meant that 'eternal beauty is just a myth'
because Nature itself rejects eternal beauty 'by the continual alteration of
its forms'. Nature gives birth incessantly to the new and 'the modern world
is the other half of nature, that which derives from man.' Perhaps this
explains the statement by Dragan Aleksic that 'Dada is the product of
international hotel foyers' or the, presumably, hostile assertion from Dada-Jok that 'Dada is the last consequence of the
europeisation of cabaret cerebrality,' which in a funny kind of way brings us
round full circle.
Mission accomplished. This Critical Anthology succeeds in transporting the reader 'into the heart
of Dada', its poetry and provocations, its polemics and experiments with
chance. Its international scope
is clear and also the links other movements - Expressionism, Futurism,
Constructivism and the revolutionary satire of the Weimar era. All techniques
a represented, from sculptural objects to woodcuts and photomontages. The
French contributors highlight predecessors (Rimbaud, Apollinaire) and the nascent
proto-Surrealism that was eventually to supersede Dada itself, although the
movement was to regain its pre-eminent position as the 'iconoclastic
godparent' of the 1960s revolutionary groups due, in part, to Motherwell's Dada
Painters And Poets (1951).
The presence of other contributors like Eric Satie, Kandinsky and Cendrars to
the original small press magazines illuminates the wide-ranging eclecticism
that characterised Dada editors and performers.
Many of the texts here are transitional texts - part-poetry, part-prose,
part-manifesto, and part-journalism. The look and feel of the period is
conveyed not just through the choice of illustrations many of which are the
original covers of the magazines, but also through the wide range of
typographical options deployed on every page.
Designed by Matt Brown this substantial paperback is a snazzy, stylish
artefact with its Title Page and Contents listings printed white-on-black.
Each of the twelve subsections has its own white text on black Contents page
and Introduction - the Introductions printed in white on grey paper. All the
illustrations are well placed throughout the text and all are in black and
white. The front and back covers reproduce a colour photomontage by Raoul
Hasmann showing a female figure laughing at a monstrous caricature art critic
- an ironic statement, perhaps?
But, yes, mission accomplished: journey into the heart of Dada, its specific
histories restored 'in all their ambiguity and contradiction' by Professor
Dawn Ades - read this book.
A.C. Evans 2007