The Dada movement was an artistic revolution that took place in the early decades of the 20th century. It changed the face of contemporary art, introducing a wide range of new techniques, styles, and aesthetics. While Dada originally emerged as an anti-war movement, it was also in many ways an anti-art movement, characterized by aspects of surrealism, whimsy, and irrationality. Many famous artists produced work during the period, and others were heavily influenced by the work of the Dadaists.
Dada emerged in Germany in 1916 as a collaboration between artists of several nations including Germany, France, and Switzerland. Initially, it was conceived as an anti-war art movement, and much of the early work takes the form of protest art. The movement chose the name “Dada” by inserting a slip of paper into a French dictionary and choosing the word it landed on, which happens to mean a hobbyhorse or child's toy. The movement also appeared in New York, centering around Gallery 291.
Many artists of the Dada period went on to be associated with Surrealism, the artistic movement that followed. Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Sophie Taeuber, Max Ernst, and Pablo Picasso are all representatives of the Dada movement, along with many others. It represented an artistic union between several warring nations, and was in many ways a remarkable achievement.
The work of the period is extremely distinctive, and the techniques and styles used have become so pervasive in modern art that Dada is not often given the recognition it deserves. Collage, borrowing from native cultures, avant-garde film and literature, performance art, confrontational art, and surrealist elements are all legacies of the movement. Many artists of the period created large format pieces that were designed to confront the viewer, and often forced interaction of some form or another. The Dadaists also played with typography, guerrilla theater, minimalism, and advertising techniques.
Many of the artists in the Dada period felt that European art was corrupted, and sought to purify it by mocking it. Therefore, many pieces are extremely playful and teasing, such as Marcel Duchamp's famous portrait of the Mona Lisa with a mustache. Almost all Dada artwork inspires a reaction, which was the intended goal. The movement was very short lived, being essentially over by 1923, but it left a lasting legacy to modern art, advertising, and society. Without Dadaism, it is unlikely that Surrealism and other modern art movements would have occurred.