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date: 18 February 2020


A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art

Ian Chilvers,

John Glaves-Smith

An international movement in art, c.1915–c.1922, characterized by a spirit of revolt against traditional values. Originally, Dada appeared in two countries that were neutral during the First World War (Switzerland and the USA), but near the end of the war it spread to Germany and subsequently to other countries. The extent to which overall coherence can be ascribed to Dada is questionable. It took on board as it travelled a range of contradictory ideologies, including nihilism, individualist anarchism, and Communism. It was unified more by what it rejected than what it believed, but all of its manifestations arose from a mood of disillusionment engendered by the war. One of its prime targets was the institutionalized art world, with its bourgeois ideas of taste and concern with market values. The Dadaists deliberately flouted accepted standards of beauty and emphasized the role of chance in artistic creation. The unprecedented carnage of the war led the Dadaists to question the values of the society that had created it and to find them morally bankrupt. Their response was to go to extremes of buffoonery and provocative behaviour to shock people out of corrupt complacency. Group activity was regarded as more important than individual works, and traditional media such as painting and sculpture were largely abandoned in favour of techniques and devices such as ... ...

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