Classic Colors: Dadaism

Dada, or Dadaism, is a cultural movement that began in neutral Zürich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1922. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature (poetry, art manifestoes, art theory), theatre, and graphic design, and concentrated its anti war politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works. Dada activities included public gatherings, demonstrations, and publication of art/literary journals. Passionate coverage of art, politics, and culture filled their publications. The movement influenced later styles, Avant-garde and Downtown music movements, and groups including Surrealism, Nouveau Réalisme, Pop Art, Fluxus and Punk. And, the movement is notably started ‘found’ object art.

Here are some examples of color use from a few, but far from all, of the prominent artists of the movement.

Francis Picabia

Like the Futurists and like his friend Marcel Duchamp, Picabia recognized the importance of the machine in the dawning technological age. The hard-edged, evenly rounded shapes of I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie, some of them in metallic grays, parallel fusions of the mechanical and the organic in Duchamp’s painting, and anticipate more overt references of this kind in Picabia’s later work. Perspectival lines at the painting’s sides suggest a space around this fragmented body, which seems to stand on a kind of stage. Segmented tubes among the curling forms may have a sexual subtext, and Picabia himself described his art of this period as trying “to render external an internal state of mind or feeling.”

Picabia_machine pre-dada_Picabia

Jean Arp

Accounts by several Dadaists describe how Arp made “chance collages” such as this one: by tearing paper into pieces, dropping them onto a larger sheet, and pasting each scrap wherever it happened to fall. The relatively ordered appearance of Arp’s collages suggests, however, that the artist did not fully relinquish artistic control. Skeptical of reason in the wake of World War I, Arp and other Dadaists turned to chance as an antidote.

arp:_black_a._orange arp:things_on_things

Marcel Duchamp

A French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Duchamp’s output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art. He advised modern art collectors, such as Peggy Guggenheim and other prominent figures, thereby helping to shape the tastes of Western art during this period.

A playful man, Duchamp prodded thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much with words, but with actions such as dubbing a urinal “art” and naming it Fountain. He produced relatively few artworks as he quickly moved through the avant-garde rhythms of his time.

Raoul Hausmann

One of the cofounders of the Berlin Dada movement in 1917, and the creator of photomontage in the following year. Photomontage is the art of arranging and glueing photographs or other found illustrative material onto a surface. Strictly speaking it is a type of collage, and it is included here because it is a process of selection, placement and sometimes embellishment, which sets it apart from photographic record, no matter how much this ‘record’ is distorted by the photographic apparatus or by subsequent techniques of developing. Hausmann actually gave up painting in 1923 and became more interested in various experimental photographic procedures. In The Art Critic the orange brick background is probably from one of Hausmann’s phonetic poem posters intended to be stuck on walls all over Berlin. The figure over giant head and pen is stamped Portrait constructed of George Grosz 1920, and is probably a magazine photograph of Hausmann’s colleague, Grosz.

George Grosz

A German artist known especially for his savagely caricaturist drawings of Berlin life in the 1920s. He was a prominent member of the Berlin Dada and New Objectivity group during the Weimar Republic before he emigrated to the United States in 1932.

Hannah Höch

A German Dada artist. She is best known for her work of the Weimar period, when she was one of the originators of photomontage.

Sources: Dada Collection, Wiki:Dadaism,

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.