I had to queue almost 45 minutes to buy a ticket and then another 20 minutes or so to actually get into the exhibition on the top floor of the Centre Pompidou, but it was well worth the wait, if only to see Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even set against the skyline of Paris. Had I known this in advance I would have gone sometime during the morning and not late in the afternoon, when it was already getting dark.
Dada is usually associated with the destruction of art and aesthetic values. This exhibition shows that Dada was in fact a highly productive movement. Passing along the many displays, looking at the collages, ready-mades, poems, paintings, photos and videos, you get a sense of the freedom many artists experienced when suddenly anything and everything seemed possible.
The exhibition is at once inspiring and a reminder that, yes, nearly a century ago someone else thought of this or that too and then quickly moved on to another idea. To be sure, not every work on show is great or even good. Indeed, quite a few works are simply bad, because in the creative rush many artists couldn’t be bothered to care much about a work’s execution. This was also Dada, the idea mattered more than its execution.
One wall is entirely dedicated to different versions of one of the most (in)famous Dadaist works of art, LHOOQ (1919), Marcel Duchamp’s drawing of a moustache and a goatee on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. Everyone who has ever drawn a moustache or whatever on a billboard or some photo in a magazine is indebted to Marcel Duchamp.
Apart from the sense of freedom, what struck me most, was the sense of urgency in the work of George Grosz, Otto Dix and other artists belonging to Berlin Dada. In their work art and the call for freedom and revolution is intimately linked to the outrage and despair of post (first world) war Berlin.
As a movement Dada was only short-lived. Its beginnings can be traced back to the first performance by the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. By 1924 most Dadaist groups had dissolved. But perhaps more than any other avant-garde movement, the spirit of Dada lived on and is still alive today.
The exhibition is overwhelming, if not obsessively archivist in its attempt to show each and every page from a notebook, but it's a must see.
Dada is at the Centre Pompidou, Paris until 9 January 2006 and from there will travel on to the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC from 19 February till 14 May 2006 and MoMA, New York from 18 June to 11 September 2006.
Making It New. A lengthy review by Charles Simic in The New York Review of Books (Volume 53, Number 13, August 10, 2006) of the catalogue to the exhibition.