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New York dada


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Marcel Duchamp (1887—1968) French-born artist

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De Zayas Marius (1880—1961)

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The independent American branch of an international nihilistic movement reflecting the malaise and disillusionment occasioned by World War I. Led by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and French visitor Francis Picabia, New York dada flourished between approximately 1915 and 1921. The movement's epicenter, Walter Arensberg's avant-garde salon, was indeed very nearly the only center. Although some dada activity occurred among peripheral members of Alfred Stieglitz's circle, New York dada directly touched relatively few Americans. Nevertheless, numerous artists occasionally reflected its spirit of irony and world-weary disrespect for traditions and established values. Aspects of New York dada preceded the formal establishment of the European dada movement in Zurich in 1916. Inherent in a pessimistic strain of modern thought, it had occasionally surfaced in New York as early as 1913 in work by Picabia (who left the United States permanently in 1917), Marius de Zayas, writer Benjamin de Casseres, and a few others. It was not until 1921, when the American movement was about to dissolve, that the dada name was directly appropriated in New York. In that year, Duchamp and Man Ray published the sole issue of New York Dada. Several other magazines in the same spirit, including The Blind Man and 291, which were nearly as short-lived, had anticipated this publication. When Man Ray and Arensberg left the city later in 1921, the movement deflated. Duchamp's departure in 1923 signaled its demise.

In general, American dada remained jauntier than its European counterpart. Abroad, artists such as George Grosz and John Heartfield produced art of extreme bitterness and cynicism. In New York, the dada artists valued a light touch, which may have reflected Duchamp's sensibility as much as it did the greater distance from the killing grounds of war. Like their European counterparts, the participants in New York dada used non-art materials to distance their work from traditional fine art, explored the metaphorical similarities between human beings and machines, de-emphasized emotional expression in art, made use of chance as a creative tool, and willfully provoked outrage. They also remained firmly committed to having a good time. These characteristics have enjoyed a long if intermittent afterlife in the history of later American art.

Subjects: Art.


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