Dada was an anti-war, anti-establishment art movement that emerged in Zürich, Switzerland during the First World War. In 1916 Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings founded the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, which became the hub of the Dada movement. The movement’s name supposedly came from selecting a random word out of a French-German dictionary. In French, “dada” means hobby-horse. The movement was motivated by disgust for the senseless horrors of the First World War and the bourgeoisie who were complacent about it. Dada artists and writers rejected tradition and embraced nonsense, randomness, absurdity, and irony.
Dadaism was inspired by a disgust for war, industrial science and technology, and chance. The Dada movement was born in Switzerland, a neutral country, in the midst of the First World War. The artists of Zürich were horrified by the war being waged around them, and channeled their dismay into startling art meant to shake the public out of complacency.
Human forms in Dada art often appear mutilated or a hybrid of man and machine. This is because of the proliferation of wounded soldiers returning from the battlefields who had to rely on prosthetics after the war. Industrial science and technology also inspired the Dada artists.
Many Dada works feature elements of technical drawing, like mechanical diagrams without function. Dada artists were concerned about the rapid growth of technology and saw it as a dehumanizing force. Randomness and chance were crucial elements of Dadaism.
Dada artists used chance as a way to create nonsensical works. They believed their random works of meaninglessness to reflect the senselessness of the world around them.
Dada artists largely rejected the traditional artistic media of painting and sculpture in favor of collage, photomontage, and readymade sculptures. Whereas traditional paintings were carefully composed and executed, working in collage allowed for more random, spontaneous creation. Dadaism also introduced the idea of the readymade. The term was coined by Dada artist Marcel Duchamp to describe his sculptural creations composed of one or more found objects. In addition to repurposed everyday objects, Dada art often features elements of machines and mechanical drawings, mutilated or hybrid human forms, and text. Dada art is often irreverent, poking fun at tradition with an ironic sense of humor.
The Dada movement spread internationally at the end of WWI, when artists returned to their home countries across Europe. Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Höch, Francis Picabia, Hugo Ball, and Man Ray were a few of the important figures of Dada. By the mid 1920s the movement had lost its energy. Dadaism was an important moment in 20th century art history and its influences can be seen in Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Conceptual Art.