Cabaret Voltaire

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Jean Arp (1886—1966)

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A club founded in Zurich in February 1916 by the German poet, musician, and theatrical producer Hugo Ball (1886–1927); it was one of the chief breeding grounds of the Dada movement. A press announcement on 2 February read: ‘Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has been formed with the object of becoming a centre for artistic entertainment. The Cabaret Voltaire will be run on the principle of daily meetings where visiting artists will perform their music and poetry. The young artists of Zurich are invited to bring along their ideas and contributions.’ It opened on 5 March. Among the leading figures were the singer Emmy Hennings (later Ball's wife), the poets Tristan Tzara and Richard Hülsenbeck, and the artists Jean Arp, Marcel Janco, and Hans Richter. The Cabaret Voltaire was, in Richter's words, ‘an overnight sensation’, but it was forced to close early in 1917 because of ‘the complaints of respectable citizens outraged by the nightly excesses’. An account of a typical night was given by Georges Hugnet, a Surrealist poet: ‘On the stage someone thumped keys and bottles to make music until the audience, nearly crazy, protested…A voice from beneath an enormous hat shaped like a sugarloaf declaimed Arp's poems. Hülsenbeck bellowed his poems, while Tzara emphasized the rhythms and crescendos by banging on a bass drum.’ After the closure Ball and Tzara rented a gallery, opened in March 1917 as the Galerie Dada, to which they transferred their activities.

Cabaret Voltaire was the name of the first Dada publication—a pamphlet edited by Ball issued on 15 June 1916.

Subjects: Art.

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