Dada: Why an 80-year Old Movement Still Defines Modernity in Art

This article describes, in brief, the impact and history of one of the most influential art movements of all time.

Dada is probably one of the hardest art movements to define in its entirety. Born during the fires of the second world war in such cities as Zurich, Berlin and later, New York, the Dadaists were a group of artists who began with the sole doctrine of ‘anti-art.’ This did not that the Dadaists were not artists, however. They simply began with a unified hate of all things established, and as a result of their political and artistic protests, they created some of the most prominent trends in modern and contemporary art, many of which are still going strong today.


Dada officially formed in Zurich in late 1917, when a few artists began hosting art showings at local venues, depicting art that was inherently anti-establishment and anti-war. During the year and the immediate years following it, the idea of anti-art grew to be so popular that it became a true movement. The name dada, however, did not come in to being for some time, after which the name was chosen by throwing a knife at a German dictionary and picking the word it landed on. Soon, noteworthy artists such as Marcel Duchamp, George Grosz and many more began showing influence of dada in their work and their political activism.

Trends in Art

Dada is responsible for many of the trends in modern and contemporary art that are still being seen today. Most notably, the art of found objects was brought about after a series of mundane objects were placed in to prominent art shows. Most notoriously, Marcel Duchamp’s signed and dated Urinal was entered in to a highly regarded art show in Paris, signaling the beginning of the idea that anything could be art. To this day, galleries all over the world show pieces of art made from found objects, though the impact will never truly be as radical as when it was done in the early 1920s. The reasoning behind this elevation of what some would call garbage to art was that the Dadaists truly believed that art was human creation. As such, they challenged the right of museums and art shows to determine what was and were not art. Ironically, this protest in itself has been widely acclaimed by the very institutions the Dadaists protested, and many such pieces are still highly regarded by art critics around the world.

The End of Dada

Although the movement never officially ended, the shock caused by the increasingly avant-garde submissions to galleries did wear off, and most Dadaists went separate ways. The movement would only be recorded historically after its end, and even then, the question of which artists were truly Dadaists is hotly debated. Despite the end of this movement before World War 2, Dada continues to influence art and popular culture to this day.


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