Broad Spectrum of Dadaism Illuminated in Zurich Exhibit

Article excerpt

AT the entrance to the Kunsthaus, Zurich's renowned museum of fine arts, a poster in a nonexistent language startles an unprepared visitor. Adding to the puzzler is a tape-recording of a voice uttering unintelligible words. From the ceiling in the hall hangs the dummy of a pig wearing the uniform of a World War I German officer.

Thus, visitors are ushered in to an exhibition featuring the bizarre world of Dada, an irrationalist trendsetting movement in 20th-century art that was conceived in New York and launched almost 80 years ago in Zurich, where a small group of young iconoclastic painters and writers gave the movement its name.

The more than 400 exhibits in "Dada Global," as the Kunsthaus exhibition is called, give evidence that Dada is not a style in art but a broad spectrum. They include naturalist watercolors by German-born George Grosz and Paris-born Francis Picabia's "Cure-dents," a collage of toothpicks, straws, and strings arranged in the shape of a flowerpot.

Man Ray, the late American exponent of Dadaism, is represented with a series of photographs and a rare wooden sculpture, called "By Itself, II." Ray's photograph of Tristan Tzara, a Romanian-born writer and co-founder of the movement, shows a monocled man in conservative dress - a strange contrast to the strictly nonconformist line propagated by the movement.

Legend has it that the word Dada (meaning hobbyhorse in French) was picked from a dictionary opened at random. But according to a sticker reproduced in the 450-page exhibition catalog, Dada also was the brand of a lotion marketed at the time. And arrows on a map of Siberia reprinted on the catalog's frontispiece point to a village named Dada. …


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