Duchamps, Nude Descending a Staircase #2
My Heart Belongs to Dada
The predecessor to surrealism, the 'anti-Art' Dada movement, which encompassed art, literature and design, swept to prominence in the early 20th Century on a wave of exponential modernism and change that was to reshape Western culture.

Reputedly, the name Dada meaning "hobby horse" was picked at random from a dictionary, which seems appropriate for a movement which framed its raison d'etre  in the wilfully non-sensical.

Although  art was already in a great period of transition, Dadaism was a new and radical, somewhat nihilistic movement initiated in Zurich in 1916 by sculptor, painter and poet, Jean Arp, along with Max Ernst and Alfred Grunwald and others. From there it spread and  was in large measure a reaction to the Great War (WWI) which permeated everything, including the art world and with which the Dadaists were in revolt.

Life, said the Dadaists, was largely illogical and meaningless - WWI was a dirty trick played on their generation and revealed with a startling and awful clarity just how stupid and absurd life could be. Thus the Dadaists set out to attack traditional forms of art, logic, culture etc. In other words they took the p#ss out of the Establishment- aesthetically and intellectually. They believed in the value of chance and their own imaginations but little else. Even modern art itself was not immune to the mockery of the Dadaists - in one exhibition one enterprising  Dadaist had placed a toy monkey inside a cage and framed the whole with the title Portrait of  Cezanne. Yet Dadaism grew from Modernism.

A Daschund in motion. Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of Dog on a Leash.1912
One of Dadaisms' most famous exponents was the artist, Marcel Duchamp. Cubist and Futurist influences can be seen in  Duchamps earlier works- particularly, Nude Descending a Staircase, where the form of a woman is reduced to motion and the mechanical parts of her body.  The work also echoes, only more so, Giacomo Balla's Futurist energy in Dynamism of Dog on a Leash, painted the same year. Balla, in turn, had taken inspiration from the Impressionists, who had already broken down the conventional 'logic' of painting to reveal the essence its parts - in colour, light and movement.

A few years later, as a Dadaist, Duchamp's Mona Lisa with a Moustache was designed to mock the seriousness and pretentiousness of the art establishment by defiling one of its icons. Similarly, the artist's  sculptural work Fountain, which was really a urinal, was an assertion of disillusionment with traditional forms of culture.

Duchamp's Fountain. 1917
The early 20th Century was a very vibrant, exciting period in art and each successive  movement fired off the other in various ways. Although in a formal sense, the movement was brief, the germinating philosophy from which Dadaism emerged, continued to grow and flourish in the 20th Century, culminating in the rise of anti-Enlightenment Postmodernism and the paradoxical and nihilistic belief in the truth that there can be no truths - all meanings (cultures, ideas, moralities) are equally valid and there can be no such creature as objectivity.

Dada in the Suburbs
A Young Dadaist
Australia had it's own high-profile dadaist back in the late 50s/1960s. In his university days, entertainer Barry Humphries (aka Edna Everage) was very taken with Dadaism. By mid-20th Century  Melbourne standards, Humphries was considered a radical, who enjoyed stirring what he considered the oppressively stifling 'niceness' and complacency of the comfortable, conservative middle-class suburbs.

One of his more notorious Dada-inspired stunts and a fine piece of performance art, involved ostentatiously travelling on a suburban train line and arranging for a formal waiter appear at various stations so he could enjoy a five course meal.

Humphries also  produced a body of satirical art, including an exhibit, 'Puss in Boots', which featured, among other things,  a pair of gumboots filled with custard and a phony pesticide called Platytox, designed to eliminate the protected species, the platypus.

 Bananas and the Avant-garde