Navigation – Plan du site

Dada 2005

Jean-Claude Marcadé
Traduction de Charles Penwarden
Cet article est une traduction de :
Dada 2005
Référence(s) :

Bize, Hervé. Dada, Paris: Cercle d’art, 2005, (Découvrons l’art)

Dachy, Marc. Archives Dada: chronique, Paris: Hazan, 2005

Dachy, Marc. Dada: la révolte de l’art, Paris: Gallimard, 2005, (Découvertes; Arts)

Durozoi, Gérard. Dada et les arts rebelles, Paris: Hazan, 2005, (Guide des arts)

Lemoine, Serge. Dada, Paris: Hazan, 2005

Lista, Giovanni. Dada: libertin & libertaire, Paris: L’Insolite, 2005

Pansaers, Clément. L’Apologie de la paresse, Paris: Allia, 2005

Pansaers, Clément. Bar Nicanor, Paris: Allia, 2005

Pansaers, Clément. Le Pan-pan au cul du nu nègre, Paris: Allia, 2005

Almanach Dada, Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2005, (L’Ecart absolu)

Dada, Paris: Ed. du Centre Pompidou, 2005

Texte intégral

1Is Dada one modern moment among others, part of the alternation of the old and the modern (new) that has been Europe’s artistic rhythm since the early 15th century, or is it part of the historic avant-garde of the 20th century (or, roughly, its first quarter)? It’s a serious question, because the organisers of the big Dada exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne aimed to show that Dada was the biggest, if not the only genuine avant-garde of the last century; and also, because an author like Gérard Durozoi can state that, “The 20th century was the century of modernity and the avant-gardes—to the extent that people readily confuse the former with all the latter” (p. 8). And yet, what happened within the modernity that emerged between 1900 and 1925 is so particular in relation to all the other modernities that punctuated the life of the arts before it (since the advent of the modern era), and after it, throughout the 20th century, that I think it is legitimate, for clarity’s sake, to refer to it in terms of the avant-garde, without an s. It is therefore pointless to contrast, as Durozoi does, a “harmonious” avant-garde (Cubo-Futurism, all forms of abstraction, Constructivism) with Dada, as the greatest subverter of values and practices. In fact, between 1913 and 1915, all the future ingredients of Dadaism could be found throughout Europe (and above all in Paris, Milan, Moscow and Saint Petersburg)—the use of assemblage, automatisms, collage, active bodies, waste material, derision, the distortion of use and meaning, the poetics of the ephemeral, staged exhi­bitions, glossolalia, manifesto-poems, readymades, scandals, tracts, tampered-with typography, face-painting and paint on all everyday objects, “happenings,” iconoclastic nihilism: you name it. One would have no trouble finding subversive features in Cubism and Futurism that would prove that Dada was not born by immaculate conception in 1916.

2It is significant that the MNAM show allots very little room to “pre-Dadaism” and tends to drum home the point that “before Dada” the main ancestors were in the US: Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. For Serge Lemoine, “before Dada” is Duchamp. As for Marc Dachy, the most exhaustive and insightful Dada specialist, whose monumental Archives Dada: chronique is an indispensable volume, he allows considerable space to “post-Dada” (p. 377-451) but nothing to “pre-Dada”.

3And yet, one of the key, defining characteristics of Dada, the oscillation between destruction and construction (“destruction through construction”, says Pansaers) is very much present in the European avant-garde before 1916. In 1921 Roman Jakobson declared that in Dada poetry and painting there was “nothing new compared to Russian and Italian Futurism” (Dachy, Archives Dada: chronique, p. 158), a point on which Tristan Tzara clearly disagreed, claiming to have “nothing in common with the Futurists and the Cubists” (Ibidem, p. 270). In his Dada: libertin & libertaire, Giovanni Lista, the chronicler of Italian Futurism, devotes a whole chapter to “before Dada”. He gives convincing details of a pre-Dadaism that was present in Parisian, Italian and German artistic circles (the Incohérents, Futurism, Parisian Cubo-Futurism, Expressionist primitivism, etc.). Unfortunately, here too the Russian School pre-1916 is totally absent, even though the polymorphous experiments of the Cubo-Futurists and the extravagances of the “Futuro-Slavs” also heralded the antics and radicalism of Dada.

  • 1  For more details, see review #226 in Critique d’art #20, autumn 2002, p. 114.

4The Dada catalogue, which features a post-Dadaist poet who somehow managed to escape the attention of Marc Dachy, the businessman François-Henri (p. 55), contains no general essays or summings-up but, as in a phone book (and even in its texture), offers an alphabetical list of names in Indian file (though there are no files or Indians). This encyclopaedic, guidebook way of presenting Dada is not unpleasant from an aesthetic point of view, but it is totally ineffective and even harmful from an epistemic one. Even the Devil would get lost here. This is all typical of the “literarisation” of the visual arts (their reduction to narrative), for which Dada and Surrealism are no doubt partly responsible. That said, La Révolution surréaliste, the exhibition put on by Werner Spies in 2002 did manage to avoid that pitfall by showing only the being of art.1 The dominant sociological, psychologising, storytelling trend has a whiff of Taine about it.

5So, what is Dada? Pansaers claims that “Dada wanted to be the watchword of a certain spirit” (Dachy, Archives Dada: chronique, p. 316). Dada was a “movement” said Tzara, laconically (Ibidem, p. 270). Clearly, what distinguishes Dada from all the other currents of the 20th century is its existential aspect. Dada was primarily something you lived. The works were an extra.

6If Dada opposed Cubism and Futurism, that is because these had a “purely aesthetic character” (Ibidem, p. 362). Dada aimed to be anti-art, which meant that it was against any kind of aesthetic. Dachy is very on message in this respect when, discussing the first International Dada Fair, he observes, “One cannot but note that Ernst did not have the acerbic quality of Grosz’s drawings and that the prettiness of his work led him straight to Surrealism [italics mine]” (Dachy, Dada : la révolte de l’art, p. 58). There you have it, then: Dada, tough; Surrealism, soft.

7There is something adolescent about Dada. But adolescence is short-lived. And old adolescents always end up “playing the game”. They get written about and shown and discussed in books, theses, exhibitions and symposia. But more than this post-pubescent revolt, there is in Dada an anarchist power that had never manifested itself with such vigour in the arts before. Anarchy of behaviour, anarchy of speech.

8From all the Dada-related events of 2005, the provisional conclusion is that the movement was not an “episode” in the historic avant-garde: it was, along with Soviet Constructivism, a vital link in that radical modernity that sought to renew all human activity, within a dynamics that would never be finished, always projecting its conquest into the future.

Haut de page


1  For more details, see review #226 in Critique d’art #20, autumn 2002, p. 114.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jean-Claude Marcadé, « Dada 2005 », Critique d’art [En ligne], 27 | Printemps 2006, mis en ligne le 13 février 2012, consulté le 23 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/critiquedart.1213

Haut de page

Droits d'auteur

Archives de la critique d’art

Haut de page
  • Logo Les Archives de la critique d’art
  • OpenEdition Journals