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Yale Celebrates the Centennial of Dada

Feb 25, 2016

The Dada aesthetic -- anti-authoritarian, absurdist, provocative, and irreverent -- was a major force in 20th century art.

Yale University Art Gallery is celebrating the centennial of the art movement known as Dada with a series of events, a major exhibition, and a Dada Ball.

It is rare that an art movement can pinpoint its inception to a specific date and location. Dada can: February, 1916, at the Cabaret Voltaire, a nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland.

"It started with performances at Cabaret Voltaire," said Frauke Josenhans, curator of Yale Art Gallery's new Dada exhibit, Everything is Dada. "The two artists that really started the Dada events were Hugo Ball and his companion Emmy Hennings, a German performance artist. They invited other artists to join them on stage to do poetry, readings, puppetry, dance performances -- but also, visual artists were encouraged to hang their artwork on the walls of the nightclub. So it really started as a wild event of all different arts coming together."

Young artists fled the devastation of World War I to neutral Switzerland, temporarily turning Zurich into a mecca for the avant garde. When the war ended, these artists returned to their home countries, and Dada spread throughout Europe and the United States, influencing generations of young artists.

The Dada aesthetic -- anti-authoritarian, absurdist, provocative, and irreverent -- was a major force in 20th century art and still resonates today.

"Dada had a huge impact on many of the avant garde movements," said Josenhans. "Surrealism, and after the second world war, pop art, and conceptual art. I'm always surprised when I talk to contemporary artists. They often mention these Dada artists as inspiration."

Yale University Art Gallery is celebrating the Dada centennial with the exhibit Everything is Dada, a collection of Dada artwork and short films, which runs through July 3.

The exhibit also has the Dada Lounge, where visitors can hear Dada sound poetry, a form of expression that often uses phonetic sounds and snippets of language.

For people nostalgic for pure Dadaism in all of it's absurdity: a Dada Ball, where people are encouraged to dress in costumes and enjoy an evening of Dada music, poetry, and photography. The Dada Ball kicks off Thursday evening at 5:30 pm at the Yale University Art Gallery.