Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman is listed on Artfacts as one of the three most important artists alive today.  Given the millions of brilliant innovative artists around how can you come up with a list like that, and certainly you cannot anticipate how the future will reassess the present.   I wonder what Bruce Nauman would make of such a statement, given his way with words and human silliness, probably some brilliant ironic art work sending up the hole idea.

 I have just been reading a book about Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at Tate Modern 5 years ago titled ‘Raw Materials’.  He uses an enormous variety of materials including all kinds of physical materials, electric and electronic materials, and space and sound and time.. nothing is out of bounds.  In fact in the book he says of sculpture “there aren’t a lot of limitations you don’t impose yourself..The biggest problem is deciding what not to use, and then not using too much of what you do.  It seems to revolve around how much to give and how much not to give.  I’m interested in the tension between these two decisions – using a little bit of a lot of things”.. Nauman  

I am fascinated by the questions and thinking he provokes, about the nature of the inner psyche and how we communicate, or fail to do so: in his work various portrayals of  humans attempting to communicate have more in common with planets colliding than meaningful dialogue.  Below is a photo of his sculpture ‘World Peace’ 1996.  In this piece five monitors are set in a circle with each one projecting a head talking to the others repeating various phrases around the theme of “I’ll talk/You’ll listen, you’ll talk/I’ll listen” but of course they are all talking and no-one is listening.  In the analysis in the book the title World Peace is described as ‘an ironic nod to the global-political misunderstanding between leaders of nations and the often-evoked maxim made famous in Rosenberg’s 1967 film Cool Hand Luke: “What we Have here is a Failure to Communicate”,’ (Appings essay Metacommunicator)


One of the first works ever made by Nauman in 1967 was the The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths   written in a spiral neon sign and hung in a shop window where such signs were common but generally advertising alcoholic drinks.  Nauman’s explanation for this work was “I was just wondering out loud.  I needed to see it visually to see if I believed it. … When you are starting out, you are naturally asking a lot of questions, and some of them are very tough.  The things that you can’t answer are sometimes the things you should be putting out there.”  The further twist in this work for me comes in Appings statement that this is the kind of idealistic statement that might be made after one has consumed more than a few beers!



Yves Klein

I am feeling a bit blown away by an extraordinary french man, Yves Klein having just read a book about him by Hannah Weitmeier.  He died aged 34 from a heart attack in Paris in 1962 but in the relatively few years when he was making art seems to have anticipated so many other movements.  Definitions of Concept Art generally seem to have the genre stating in the mid 1960’s, three years after Klein died; how can this be right given Klein’s “Epoque Pneumatique” exhibition took place in April 1958.

According to Weitmeier “in the early months of 1958, Klein’s conviction grew that the idea for a work of art was more important that the actual, executed work itself.   With great care and precise timing, he ..intended to demonstrate the paradox that  [an exhibition space] could be entirely divorced from the ordinary mundane realm of objects.  As the logical consequence of  the development of painting to that point, Klein decided to exhibit nothing- at least nothing that was immediately visible or tangible”   Klein removed absolutely all fixtures and fittings and furniture from the gallery used for the exhibition.  Then he spent 48 hours painting the gallery white using the same very dense medium he used on his monochrome paintings to give the gallery the same luminosity and intrinsic value of this non-colour.le-vide

A photo of Yves Klein in his exhibiton “Epoque Pneumatique” which was later known as Le Vide (The Void).  The name change is interestesting and the book does not say whether or not Klein was a happy participant in the this, given his ideas behind the original title.  The exhibition was very popular, visitors approaching it as an opportunity to share the here and now, a young artists vision of life liberated from the strictures of time and space.  However for Klein the title Epoque Pneumatique had the following associations: the greek word pneuma meant air, but also ‘a gaseous substance thought to be the cause of human breathing, and thus a vital principle or soul-force; Weitmeier writes that Klein used the term in a political sense meaning a concious emanation from himself into the world around him.  In this case the exhibition was not a void or an emptiness but a room that was fully occupied with this exihibit..albeit unseen. 

However, after this exhibiton Klein did move on to works that were concerned with the void.  He was working at the end of the 1950’s, when the race for space was on.  The first satellite to circle the earth did so in 1957, but manned space flight did not take place until 1961 with Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1.  In this context his photo collage below has a particular significance, published on the front page of a pastiche of a leading Sunday newspaper.

1960 Man in Space! The Painter of Space Throws Himself into the Void!


Yves Klein spoke the following words concerning Twentieth Century Art in 1959:

“What is sensibility?  That which exists outside our being, yet which still always belongs to us.  Life does not belong to us; but we can buy it with the sensibility we do possess.  Sensibility is the currency of the universe, the cosmos, the natural design, which permits us to purchase life like a raw material.  Imagination is the vehicle of sensibility.  Bourne by imagination, we arrive at life, life in essence, which is the absolute art”.

Of course this would have been spoken in French, which is a language full of subtleties.. and interpretations are never comprehensive renditions.

Conceptual Art

We have been given a new brief which is on Conceptual Art, to work out what it is etc,  and research four artists, and produce a conceptual artwork based on the notion of ‘celebrity’.  According to the MOMA website, ‘Concept Art’ was term used to describe works of art in which the engagement with ideas of the work was the primary purpose, rather than engagement with the artwork itself.  Henry Flynt named his performance pieces in 1961 as ‘concept art’ but the term came into more general use in the Americas and in Europe later after Sol Lewitt published an article about it in 1967. 

“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work . . . all planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”
Sol LeWitt (American, 1928-2007), in “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in Artforum, summer issue, 1967.

According to ArtLex, conceptual art can involve the art object being completely replaced by the art idea, with no object left..just a description instead, this was particularly true of the Art and Language Group. Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin’s 1967 ‘Map Not to Indicate’ is described by the Tate Gallery website:

Map Not to Indicate is one of a series of three prints created by the collective Art and Language, which play with the conventions of marking the world’s geographical boundaries. The extensive title lists all the geographic areas that the artists have removed from the map. Only Iowa and Kentucky are outlined and labelled but, floating like islands, they lose geographical relevance, metaphorically cast adrift from their cartographic moorings. p01357_9

Although my research came up with a rather narrow period when Conceptual Art as a movement was in its heyday, during the late 60’s primarily, this does not make sense. To me the first conceptual piece was long before this, when Duchamps presented the Fountain, which challenged all sorts of notions about what is art, and whether it resides in the aesthetic qualities of the work or the intention and ideas behind it.  Lots of contemporary artists are still working in ways that can best be described as conceptual.Having heard Tracey Emin talk about her work “It’s not the way I want to Die” from 1995, it seems to me this a conceptual art work, as well as being aesthetically exciting.  She described the thought processes and idea that it expressed as being how mood, and even life itself, can be dictated by hormonal influences over which one has no control.



Neo-Expressionism emerged out of Post-Modernism in the late 1970’s and a dissatisfaction with Minimalism and Conceptual Art.  Because of the overlap between these two movements several of the artists I read about in Post-modernism were also members of this group, such as Julian Schnabel and David Salle. 

Both in the writings about Post-modernism and Neo Expressionism several authors have referred to the exhibition titled ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ that took place in 1981 at London’s Royal Academy as being a critical turning point in history.  The curators of this exhibition were making the point that in their critical estimation the art of Painting had been undervalued in comparison with the work of modernist artists and other art genres over the preceding decades and they wanted to redress the imbalance.  This exhibition, combined with the arrival of a new generation of wealthy art collectors such as Charles Saatchi, seems to have changed the debate and marked the point at which Neo Expressionism and Post Modernism were really launched in the minds of critics, controversially for some.  A lot of this contextual studies research is causing me to ponder the role of Art Critics and Art Historians in determining the future course of art, rather than reporting on what has already been created.

Dempsey describes the term Neo Expressionism as covering a a shared tendency rather than a specific style, characterised by technical and thematic features.  Use of materials tends to be raw, tactile and vibrantly expressive of emotions.  It also marked a return to subjects that had been neglected by modernist and minimalist artists such as: figuration, subjectivity, overt emotion, autobiography, memory, psychology, synbolism, sexuality, literature and narrative.  The Neo Expressionist label became applied to a wider and wider number of artists and groups such as the new painting in Germany by artists such as Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter, also the Ugly Realists (eg Markus Lupertz) and the Neue Wilden (eg Rainer Fetting), Figuration Libre in France, Trans-avantguardia in Italy, and individuals and groups in the USA such as the ‘Bad Painters’.  In Britain Howard Hodgkin, Leon Kossoff  and Paula Rego were included.  In fact masses of diverse groups and individuals seem to be caught under the umbrella of Neo-Expressionism.

All the books identify Gerhard Richter as a major example of a Neo Expressionist artist.  Given that I read up a lot about Richter for the power point presentation I find it staggering and quite embarrassing that I missed this vital detail.  For my research however, I mostly concentrated on Richters own writings and that of curators who had organised his major exhibitons, rather than using the Modern Art Encyclopedias which tend to put artists into historical context.  Perry and Wood state that the artists own words are only a partial explanation of his work.. implying that the critics know best.  Richter seemed to fight hard against being defined as belonging to any group, school or movement, so maybe that is why I missed the point. I am not including works by Richter as he is already covered earlier in this blog.

The Tate Gallery refers to Paula Rego as a Neo Expressionist British artist.

regoNanny, Small Bears and Bogeyman  1982 Acrylic on paper
Rego often works on paper and in series. Most of her work involves storytelling and in the context of Neo-Expressionism this particular work is figurative, colourful and vibrant, but also very emotive and actually the content is quite frightening and horrid when examined.

Howard Hodgkin has said that he paints “representational pictures of emotional situations.”  Dempsey includes Hodgkin as being an English Neo-Expressionist, but The Tate Gallery list does not include him.  At a retrospective of his work the Tate curatorial guide describes Hodgkins process as follows:

 “Binding together all his work is his consistent exploration of the representation of personal encounters, emotional experience and memories of specific events. Whether trips to India, Egypt or Morocco, social occasions such as dinner with friends, particular moments are simultaneously reconstructed and obscured through a layering of the picture surface with distinct marks and intense colours, often achieved only over a period of several years.  While associations have been made to Matisse, Vuillard, Degas and American abstract expressionist painting, as well as Pahari miniature paintings of which the artist is an avid collector through his many trips to India, Hodgkin has continued to forge a strongly independent path, developing a distinctive style. ” 

I have just watched a film of Hodgkin being interviewed by Alan Yentob in which he fiercely resists being categorized into any school or movement, but Gerhard Richter was just the same.  The only statement Hodgkin made very definitely was that he was not an abstract painter.  Looking at his work I would have thought Hodgkin should be included as a Neo-Expressionist.


Howard Hodgkin, Red Bermudas 1978-80

Post Modernism

I chose Post modernism and Neo-Expressionism for my post 1950’s movements because I had no idea what either term really meant.  This exercise in contextual studies has been really interesting but also difficult and I have found myself dipping between different books trying not to get confused.  I wanted to say they were abstract or conceptually challenging, but of course in the context of art those words have a different meaning to normal life.

Dempsey describes Post-Modernism as a notoriously contentious term.. I can see why.


As a starting point for exploring what is meant by Post-modernism I thought I should investigate what is meant by Modernism, and so have been reading as essay by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood called ‘Modernity and Modernism Reconsidered’.  I have found it fascinating, but very dense and I am having to go over passages more than once to comprehend them.  As I understand it there never was a movement as such called Modernism, but it was a framework (paradigm) through which art of a period through the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s was viewed by certain art critics.  The definition was set out by Clement Greenberg, a very influential art critic, in many articles and essays he was writing in the first half of the 1960’s.  Greenberg and his successors (Michael Fried was the main one quoted) believed they were identifying which of new art works being produced would be viewed retrospectively as masterpieces.   They stated a really excellent art work which would survive the test of time would need to be considered purely on aesthetic grounds, and that the works of painters Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, and the sculpture of Anthony Caro were true masterpieces.  Interestingly the artists were  reading what the critics wrote: the essay inferred there was an interplay between what the critics said was true excellence and what the the artists produced, and that this had potential to undermine the artistic integrity of the work, in the same way that money and the commercial art market does. Greenberg et al were fans of the Abstract Expressionists and seemed to have a very purist, elitist and conservative approach.  They were not impressed by art which had a political or activist element, by anything theatrical or performance based, by pop art, or by art that had a primary conceptual purpose.  Another english art critic of that time was Clive Bell who coined the term ‘significant form’ to describe the distinctive type of “combination of lines and colours” which makes an object a ‘work of art’.  Bell was also a key proponent of the claim that the value of art lies in its ability to produce a distinctive aesthetic experience in the viewer.

201_kenneth_noland-aprilKenneth Noland 1960.  At the time Noland and Louis were experimenting with acylics which were a new medium at that time, and with painting on primed and unprimed canvases.  Their work was praised for its objective and increasing orientation to flatness.

In Harrison and Woods essay they compare two works of art: Antony Caro’s Prairie 1967 and Robert Morris’ Untitled 1967:


The work above by Caro was praised by Fried as being an excellent masterpiece: “the finest work of art by an englishman since Constable”.  The fact that the metal rods which apparently hang in space achieve that appearance by weighting the ends, causing visual and mental trickery is not of consequence to the modernist critique where all that matters is what is seen.  The work on the right, by Morris, will vary where it is displayed, as it is a pile of pieces of felt unconnected with each other.  The one shown in the book ( I couldn’t find it on-line) is subtitled 264 pieces of felt cut in varying shapes and sizes.  As such the sculpture is true to its materials, there is no visual manipulation, and at the time Morris was exploring the idea of “anti-form” and sculpture beyond objects, challenging the writings of Clive Bell.  In Morris’ work the process of how the materials are manipulated or assembled is part of the work, its quality is not just about the finished product.  According to the Guggenheim website, in the works Morris made using felt, along with Eva Hesse’ work and Rishard Serra at that time, they moved from Minimalism  into the category of Post Minimalism. 

Modernist Art is very narrowly defined by critics such as Greenberg and Fried and in Harrison and Woods essay, but there are much broader definitions, in which modernism started in art following the industrialisation of the nineteenth century, and the start of the Impressionist movement.  It was a response to the rapidly changing nature of society brought about by the machine age, and the optimism about what could be achieved given the fast changing developments and achievements.  It was also a response to the development of photography which questioned the traditional role of painting as largely representative.


Moving on to what constitutes post-modernism then, there are a few clues, but not a hard and fast definition.  It started to be talked about at the end of the 1970’s .  This is significant politically, socially and economically as it was when some key western nations (UK and USA) shifted considerably to the right: gone were the broadly welfare state socially inclusive values that had held sway since the end of WW2; in were Thatcherism, Reaganism, Monetarism and the supremacy of the individual over the community. It was also a time when people were beginning to questioning the role of technology, the exploitation of resources.  The world had not quite started to be taken over by desk top pc’s, the internet and mobile phones, but the explosion in interconnectivity would occur within the next decade.

Some definitions I have found are:

Harrison and Woods say “it may be that the role of the spectator is key to the sense of a ‘post-modernist’ painting”, whereas in a Modernist work the role of the painter was passive.

French theorist Jean Francois Lyotard wrote in his book ‘the Post Modern Condition’ that man lived in a state of constant crisis because he was “desperately overwhelmed by technology” and that while the ‘modern’ was characterised by categories such as history time space and concept which were objective, the ‘post -modern’ questioned such values, talked about one time, one history, one space, which were subjective.  They were thinking much more philosophically about our role in time, space and the universe, maybe more about the meaning of life.  Whereas the modernists, the avante-garde, the minimalists, the conceptualists had all been about the reduction to the elemental, but this emphasis totally changed with the beginning of the 80’s. (Parmesani)

Post Modernism aimed to express the experience of living at the end of the twentieth century, and has often engaged with social and political issues.  Starting with the idea that art has traditionally served the white male middle class dominant group, post modernist artists have chosen to highlight marginalized groups and environments.  Post modernist artists have grappled with ideas such as ‘what is truth’ and ‘in what sense is originality possible’. Popular culture and imagery is incorporated, and juxtaposing dissimilar objects have also been elements of post modernist art.(Dempsey)

Examples of Post Modernist works:


Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P.)
Sherrie Levine

“I try to make art which celebrates doubt and uncertainty. Which provokes answers but doesn’t give them. Which withholds absolute meaning by incorporating parasite meanings. Which suspends meaning while perpetually dispatching you toward interpretation, urging you beyond dogmatism, beyond doctrine, beyond ideology, beyond authority.”–Sherrie Levine  she has repeatedly takenthe ideas of famous art works by male artists and reworked them.  This is not a apinted urinal, it is totally made in bronze and polished to a high glossy finish.


Barbara Kruger, Your Comfort is My Silence, 1981 

These works and others by Kruger were reproduced in all sorts of unconventional ways such as on billboards, teeshirts etc.  Their political purpose was as important as their aesthetic purpose.





Julian Schnabel, St Francis in Ecstasy, 1980

Schnabel started working in this vein in the 1970’s was supported by the Saatchis and heavily promoted.  Harrison and Woods characterise Schnabels work as follows: “Scale, gesture, energy,boldness, apparent conviction and so forth all serve to reinflate the sense of the artist as a ‘visionary’: one who feels deeply, acts on impulse – yet profoundly – and offers up his insights to those who, in turn, are free enough of drab convention to appreciate the liberating message.”  (I really hope that was irony!)

It is more difficult to establish what movements followed Post-Modernism as we get closer to the current day, and to publication of the text books I have been using.  Although 1980 was nearly 30 years ago, to me it seems like yesterday and the issues being addressed then are still relevant.  We are still questioning the role of industrialisation and the use of resources and the balance of power; maybe the big change is the urgency of the debate as back then the words ‘climate change’ were not established as a major cause of concern.



Surrealism  means “beyond reason” and was launched in Paris in 1924 with his ‘First Manifesto of Surrealism’ written by poet Andre Breton.   He defined surrealism as ‘thought expressed in the absence of any control exerted by reason, and outside all moral and aesthetic considerations’.  Breton claimed the ideological precursors to be Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky and the poets Comte Lautreamont and Rimbaud.  Marxism, psychoanalysis and the occult were influences on Breton.  Lautreamont provided their motto “As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”.

Whereas Dada was chaotic, spontaneous, negatory and fairly short lived, Surrealism was highly organised with doctines, surrealism was optimistic, and realtively long lasting.  “Surrealism was supposed to transform the way people think by breaking down the barriers between their inner and outer worlds , and changing the way they perceived reality, Surrealism would liberate the unconscious, reconcile it with the conscious, and free mankind from the shackles of logic and reason, which thus far had only led to war and domination” (Dempsey).

The visual artists associated with this movement at the beginning were Max Ernst, Man Ray and Hans Arp, ex Dadaists.   Others joined the movement later: Yves Tanquy, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti, and according the Dean Gallery both Picasso and Miro were associated but not full members.

Even though Freud himself was very dismissive of the surrealist artists a number of key Freudian themes were central to the Surrealists: the unconscious, dreams, castration anxiety, fetishes and the uncanny and the notion of the devouring female.  Unsurprisingly, given the influence of Freud, all three books I studied on this by Bradley, Parmesani and Dempsey consider Surrealism to have a strong element of misogeny and the concept of the devouring female reoccurs.  Parmesani states ‘eroticism, perversion, power, religion, almost all the declared principles of the current bourgeois culture were rendered explicit in the surrealist works in order to reveal them and scandalise bourgeois society’.  However despite this there were a number of important women Surrealists.

Some examples of works by key Surrealist artists are listed below.


Max Ernst, Forest by Night

This painting is in the Tate collection and this is their explanation: ” Forests are a potent symbol in German tradition, and were also adopted by the Surrealist group as a metaphor for the imagination. In this work, a small dove, which Ernst liked to use as a symbol to represent himself, is trapped among menacing trees. The shapes are created using a technique he called ‘grattage’, in which paint is scraped across the canvas to reveal the imprint of objects placed beneath.”


Man Ray- Rayograph, Hand with switch and cord


Alberto Giacometti, 1932, Woman with her Throat Cut.


Salvador Dali Narrative Surrealist Painting, 1950

 scylla4Ithell Colquhoun – Scylla 1938

This picture is hanging in the Tate, who describe it has follows: “Colquhoun said that the title refers to the female sea-monster who, according to the ancient legend in Homer’s Odyssey, inhabited narrow straits and devoured passing sailors. However, this reference to mythology was provoked by an unexpected recognition of one form in another, as Colquhoun explained: ‘It was suggested by what I could see of myself in a bath … it is thus a pictorial pun, or double-image’  “.  Bradley gives a further interpretation that the picture is also a reassertion of a womans right to her own body.

Contextual Studies, Dada

I decided to kick off with Dada and Surrealism.. and then discovered there is a special exhibition on these two in the Dean Gallery which is very handy.

Information here is gathered from the Dean, from Dietmar Elgar’s book ‘Dadaism’, and Matthew Gales’ ‘Dada and Surrealism’, and Fiona Bradley’s ‘Surrealism’, Amy Dempsey’s ‘Style Schools and Movements’ plus web research.

Dada started in 1916 in Zurich and the context is key, it was the middle of World War 1 and Europe was in carnage.  The artists involved at the beginning in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire were Hugo Ball and partner Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tsara, Hans Richter, Marcel Janco, Hans Arp, and Richard Huelsenbeck.  They were all seeking refuge in Switzerland, (in fact none of the original Zurich Dada group were Swiss nationals).  As Huelsenbeck put it “None of us had any understanding for the courage that is needed to allow oneself to be shot dead for the idea of the nation, which is at best and interest  group of fur-dealers and leather merchants, at worst an interest-group of psychopaths, who from the German ‘fatherland’, set out with their volumes of Goethe in their kitbags to stick their bayonets into French and Russian bellies” (Elder).

I found it confusing working out what art movements preceded the start of Dada as so many different people and ideas were alluded to but when I looked at a time chart it made more sense.  The first fifteen years of the 20th Century were incredibly busy ferment of different movements and with improved communication there was a lot of cross fermentation.  Fauvism, (Matisse), German Expressionism (Beckmann, Macke and Heckel),  Cubism (Picasso and Braque), Futurism (Boccioni), Der Blaue Reiter (Kandinsky) and Suprematism (Malevich) plus a lot of others were packed into this short period.  Also because some of these movements were short lived and their fields of interest overlapped the same artist could occupy different movements over time.  It seems these movements were all responding to the massive change in the way people perceived the human relationship with the planet, the recognition of the massive impact of industrialisation and how mans’ relationship with nature was changed from being in harmony to one of management and control.  Some groups focused more on spirituality and emotion in their art, whereas others were more enamoured by the potential of the machine.  However it was the total carnage of the First World War and its perceived pointlessness that motivated the development of Dada.

Dada was set up to be anti-establishment, anti-art, to shock and provoke its audience and to challenge the established order which had led to the war.  Max Ernst described Dada as “a rebellious upsurge of vital energy and rage” (Dean).  It operated across all genres, visual art, music and drama performance, literature etc.  It placed a heavy emphasis on the nonsensical, and in fact the word Dada had no meaning .  After the war the Dada movement spread out from Zurich to Berlin and Cologne, to Paris and to New York and in each place developed its own particular character.  In Germany Dada artists were returning to a defeated nation and their anti war posture was therefore very acceptable, but in Paris there was a new victorious nationalistic conservatism holding sway.  In America, much more detached from the actual theatre of war the Dada movement seemed primarily about challenging the established art world.  The consistant feature about  Dada was about shock, and after a while it became predictably shocking, so the nature of the movement spelled its end.  The other major theme I discerned was what I think of as nihilism, a core negativity, and deconstructivist approach.

There were a great many visual artists involved in the Dada movement or on its periphery, the major players were:

Hans Arp  and his partner Sophie Taeuber (Zurich), Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Hoch (Berlin), Kurt Schwitters (Hanover), Max Ernst (Cologne), Duchamps and Picabia (Europe and the USA), Man Ray (New York).


Hans Arp, Rectangles Arranged According to the Laws of Chance.

The principle of chance was important in Arp’s Zurich work.  However the books I read question Arp’s initial description that pieces of paper were allowed to fall on a cardboard sheet and then pasted in position, both suggested that the ramdon positioning of the squares where they fell was only a starting point, they were then pushed around until Arp found a definitive composition.  I suppose the inference behind this work is randomness of order and how chance plays its part.. questionning the divine rightness of the natural order of all areas of life.


Raoul Hausmann, Mechanical Head (The Spirit of our Age)

There is some argument about the date of this sculpture made of found objects by Hausmann, the artist said it was made in 1919 but others said it was later.  Hausmann stated at the time “In Dada you will recognise your own personal state: wonderful configurations in real material, wire, glass, cardboard, cloth, organic in accordance with your own altogether perfect fragility, your battered state.” I have included this sculpture as I like it, however Hausmanns earlier Dadaist work was based around photomontage.. in fact one book said Hausmann considered he had invented the Photomontage technique.


Hannah Hoch – Incision with Dada Pastry Knife through Germany’s Last Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch

Elder writes that being the only woman in the Berlin Dada movement Hoch had a hard time, she was also the mistress of Hausmann who was still living with his wife.  When Hans Richter wrote his memoirs he commented on Hochs ability to rustle up food rather than taking her seriously as a fellow artist.  However this collage which “applies a surgical scalpel to the political events and upheavel of the time” was considered one of the most impressive exhibits on display at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920.  This is described as being an additive rather than a compositional collage, I find the distinction a bit intriguing.

Marcel Duchamp was an incredibly important figure in the Dada movement in Paris and New York and his work caused huge outrage amongst the critics, “The Fountain”  being the most famous.  I have not dwelt on this as it is already so well covered.  In1921, Man Ray and Duchamp published the only issue of New York Dada. Several months after it appeared, Man Ray wrote Tristan Tzara, complaining that “Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada and will not tolerate a rival, will not notice dada.” He followed Duchamp to Paris shortly thereafter.

Dada seems to have moved towards its end in Paris first.  The emphasis on negativity and anti-art became more nihilistic and by the end of the 1921 season artists and writers involved in the Literature Group (a publication organised by the poets  Breton and Aragon and Soupault) were disatisfied.  as Breton wrote ” The 1918 Dada Manifesto seemed to open wide the doors, but we discovered they opened onto a corridor that was going nowhere.”  There were lots of  disputes that became bitter and were carried out in the magazines printed by various factions but the two sides polarized between Tsara and Breton.  Funnily enough, given the anarchic origins of the Dada movement and their insistance on not taking anything seriously, in Paris at this time they took themselves very seriously.   Following this Breton split with the Dada artists but maintained contact with those who shared his interest in surrealism and exploring the potential of the unconscious.

The text books refer to the Dada movement lasting until the mid 1920’s, a realtively short period of operation of less than a decade, although some of its main contributors continued to work in a way that could be considered Dadaist, however its influence was enormous.  It seems to me it opened up the way for pop art, performance art and more obviously neo-dadaism.