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Tuesday 04.18.06

« Bill Daniel at PSU | Main | Artist Ops Galore »

To Dada or not to Dada, that is not the question?

Everyone should read Tyler Green's absolutely spot on post on Dada from yesterday. I'm glad somebody else gets pissed off that anything nonsensical is automatically justified as a descedent of Dada, despite the fact that it was a reaction to W.W.I. Plus this aspect of Dada has plenty of resonance today, we've still got wars and some artists and collectives are rebelling against bourgeois agendas.

The historical facts are it was an artistic reaction to perceived "bourgeois agendas" that many saw as the enablers of that incredibly bloody war. People actually thought it was going to be glorious (we've never heard that before eh?). Artist weren't immune to it either and great artists like Franz Marc and August Macke both died early on in the war.

No, Dada wasn't an excuse to party and it was subversive precisely because artists found the social contract between the individual and their so called civilization could no longer be trusted as mechanized warfare essentially became a factory of human attrition and misery. Ever wonder why there is so much machinery in Dada? There's your answer, modern warfare (not that the non modern kind was better). If you really want to get a little more familiarity with that war and its effect on artists psyches' get yourself a copy of The Lost Voices of World War I: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights by Tim Cross.

*Update here are five Portland artists and collectives who have some legitimate ties to Dada:

David Eckard & Podium at the Affair @ the Jupiter Hotel Art Fair 2004

David Eckard, whose kinky mechanical contraptions just keep getting better. His best work to date is his Podium which allows him to broadcast tactically composed, suggestively demigogish absurdist prose to the gentry.

Next there is Scott Wayne Indiana, whose Horse Project has become probably the single most effective bit of public art in recent Portland history. It eviscerates all of those art cow and art pig projects while highlighting gentrification's effects without being purely reactionary... all change is not negative, yet something is always lost. Still, this is nowhere near as toothy as the original Dada movement. Nonetheless, the class conscious wink makes The Horse Project more than just "funny stunt art".

Then there are those wonderfully passive aggressively perforated water bottles by Brad Adkins. Not only are they useless but bottled water has become a bourgeois accessory... not to mention a phallic one that Adkins feminizes somewhat. An artist definitely related to Tom Friedman and Martin Creed's somewhat entertaining relationship to Dada.

Also there is the Red 76 collective which has been discussed ad nauseum here.

Last but not least there is The M.O.S.T. which tries to make things like overwhelming bureaucracy more benign.

All have a certain critical class consciousness to them that keeps them from being merely trite and amusing.

*Note Tyler's Dada post has a part II here.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 18, 2006 at 0:49 | Comments (5)


I don't think any of these artists have much to do with DADA. My understanding of the "bourgeois agenda" is that it requires acts of individual genius, while the avant garde reponds with a negation of the category of individual creation. If we can identify the people and their acts, then we're probably not talking about DADA. It seems to me that DADA left the art world a long time ago and resurfaced in the work of groups (not individuals) like Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass, and The Diggers.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2006 09:51 AM

No the perception of bourgoise agendas often has nothing to do with a notion of individual genuis. (sushi bars, wearing J Crew and using a lot of balsamic vinegar.... no indiviual genuis there just a general pervasive yuppiness which is not a crime at all).

When somebody buys a Hummer (the automobile and general pro-war "use more oil" statement) no individual genuis is involved... but a Dale Chihuly edition Hummer might make it an even more hellish flaunting of bourgeois values (consume first ask questions later at its worst).

Now I must clarify, Im not a marxist at all and dont think everything bourgeois is inherently bad... I just think the Hummer is taking things a bit too far.

As far as all of these artists, Im simply picking ones with stonger ties to Dada through their use of readymades, absurdist public interventions etc... yet there is a certain class conscious critique present in each one... often with a bit of fetish that both critiques and celebrates.

Actually, Dada's influence is difficult not to find in the work of most serious artists... Hirst's pills, and Tara Donovan's cups. That said, actual Dada itself and its influence are somewhat different and we should all be conscious of the difference.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2006 01:08 PM

It's hard for me to believe that Dave Hickeyites are any different than people who wear J Crew, drive hummers, or use balsamic vinegar. Someone has an agenda and other people follow it.

Donovan making a landscape from coffee cups is not a protest of any sort. Yesterday, people made pirate ships from soup cans at Pioneer Place Mall. Which is way more absurd than Donovan decorating a blue chip gallery with a fantasy landscape so cleverly constructed from everyday materials.

DADA does not work as protest when showcards are made, prices are determined and art magazines rather than the local news report about the shows.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2006 01:28 PM

Of course artists are influenced by many movements of the past and DaDa may be the biggest.

But I think I agree with Joe in that the real DaDa was a long time ago. Just like the real punk was a long time ago. Sure, there are 'punks' all over the place, but it is not the same at all as the orginal.

Still, I like these art history lessons in Dada, because the real thing was wonderful and can never get enough press!

Posted by: lsd [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2006 02:59 PM


You are missing the point... my point being that Dada had some very serious ties to the history that preceeded it and those conditions although resonant today are very different. Dada was a reaction and what it reacted to no longer exists, therefore the same reaction can't exist. Nobody stated Donovan was a Dada artist, but there is some influence (similar to the way Judd channeled some Dada and some of Matisse's aestheticism). Also, I'd argue she is less influenced by Dada than Adkins is though they both have a relationship (a mitigated one I might add, but an undeniable relationship none the less). Donovan is aesthetic, Adkins is more absurdist and passive agressive (his strongest card).

Also, tin can constructions for a benefit downtown aren't even comparable, that's a paper tiger argument. As for Hickey, he is more related to Mattisse and irrelivant here but you'd be surprised, he's more legitimately bohemian than boho yuppie culture, his background and position is more post WWI Berlin angst than Cannes style liesure.

Also, as any sane person with a reasonable amount of historical knowledge knows Dada happened in response to WWI and that era has come and gone, nobody has argued otherwise. There are new battles and arguments that need to be made and there are lasting effects that influence artists today.

It is absolutely essential to see the orignal Dada as very different than those influenced by it. Thomas Hirshhorn, Matthew Barney, Jessica Stockholder and Tom Friedman etc all have a relationship to that movement but they are fussier and draw more attention to what they are making. For them the construction is more of a focal point.

Dada was in essence a greased pig let loose on culture and its slipperyness at that time is more important than whether any of the pigs were eventually caught or gave birth to other pigs that may or may not have been greased as well.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2006 03:48 PM

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