The Road To Psychedelia: The Most American Art Genre Pt. III

L.H.O.O.Q. Marcel Duchamp 1919

Part III: Dadaism

After the outbreak of World War I, a group of artists in Switzerland began a wildly strange art movement they called Dadaism. Compiled mostly of defectors from adjacent European countries, they fled to Switzerland due to the neutral stance the country took to avoid the war. It was their view that the capitalist systems of the world were at fault for the war. Their response was an art movement that was anti-art, anti-aesthetic, anti-logic, and anti-reason. It was described as, “A reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide” and, “An opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time)
Raoul Haussman, 1920

Dadaism was a collection of anything that the artists labeled as art. Poetry, collage, cut up writings, sculptures, and found objects like Marcel Duchamp’s “readymade” pieces were all considered Dadaist. It was the mission of the artists within the movement to reject any kind of dogmatic relationships between art, artists and society. This angsty worldview promoted some contradictions from the start. It caused founding father of Dadaism Hugo Ball to reject the movement and leave it 6 months in. Citing the fact that “Dadaism is anti-Dada.” From a philosophical stance it is impossible for a movement to be anti-everything as it would mean you are only pro-nothing, and therefor not a movement. But the Dadaist were anti-logic, so this didn’t stop them for a moment.

Boundry Dissolving Art

Despite a commitment to nonsense, some Dada pieces did have an emotional resonance with direct criticisms and implications about the structure of society. Hannah Hoch’s amazing photomontage “Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany” is a critique of Weimar Germany through a feminist view. Along with many leftist ideas promoted in the piece are the infantilization of many of her fellow Dadaists.

Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany
Hannah Hoch, 1919

The immediate expression depicted in the piece is Weimar Germany being defined by chaos and fragmentation. At the very center of the piece is the head of artist and contemporary feminist Kathe Kollwitz. Near the bottom right corner is the head of Hannah Hoch. Shes pinned to the corner of a map of Europe in which the countries where women had the right to vote are highlighted. Surrounding Hoch are images of her male contemporaries fixed onto infant bodies.

In the upper right we see a mocking image of Kaiser Wilhelm II with a mustache made of two wrestlers. Just below him we see the head of Von Hindenburg attached to the body of an exotic dancer. In the upper left corner there is an image of Einstein seeming to contemplate Dadaism. In the lower left are images of mass gatherings where communist leaders are promoting Dadaism.

While the piece is dripping with sarcasm it maintains a sense of strength and wit. All while wrestling with the chaotic backdrop of cobbled together images.

Anti-Art For The Sake Of Art

While Hoch’s piece is representative of some form of linear thought, Marcel Duchamp’s famous piece The Fountain is an extension of the through line we see in all of these hedonic movements. Art for the sake of art, or in this case, anti-art. 

The Fountain
Marcel Duchamp, 1917

The piece is very simple to interpret; It’s a urinal. Duchamp’s thought here was that he is an artist and whatever an artist says is art, is art. Meaning that the intellectual act of deciding what is art and what is not is the true definition of art. This had a very big impact on art world wide. It made a lot of traditionalists very upset, which was the whole point. But it also kicked the door down for an entirely different mindset. In a continuation of the attitude we saw with the Impressionists, conceptual art continues to take shape and grow into form through the Dadaists. The intentional weirdness of Dadaism was a game changer for 20th century art and something that we will continue to see proliferated throughout the century.

While it was at its peak, Dadaism had factions of practitioners across the globe. From New York to Paris and Tokyo, Dadaism had become a global art movement. However, by the 1920s most of the Dadaists had transitioned into Surrealism which is the next brick in the road to Psychedelia.

One Wave Crashes Into The Next

Like Art Nouveau, Dadaism was a short lived movement hyper focused around a specific set of anti-establishment ideals. It’s impact is still felt today in art all over the world. Pieces like Maurizio Cattelan’s controversial work “Comedian” or the performance art of Marina Abramovic wouldn’t exist without the contributions to conceptual art made by the Dadaists.

In the next installment we will dive into the movement that shares the belt with Art Nouveau for most visually influential on Psychedelia, Surrealism. This is where hedonic art and intentional strangeness meet the third pillar of Psychedelic art, the psyche part. Stay tuned!

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