DADA: “Artistic and literary movement launched in Zurich in 1916 but shared by independent groups in New York, Berlin, Paris and elsewhere. The Dadaists channelled their revulsion at World War I into an indictment of the nationalist and materialist values that had brought it about. They were united not by a common style but by a rejection of conventions in art and thought, seeking through their unorthodox techniques, performances and provocations to shock society into self-awareness. The name Dada itself was typical of the movement’s anti-rationalism. Various members of the Zurich group are credited with the invention of the name; according to one account it was selected by the insertion of a knife into a dictionary, and was retained for its multilingual, childish and nonsensical connotations. The Zurich group was formed around the poets Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara and Richard Huelsenbeck, and the painters Hans Arp, Marcel Janco and Hans Richter. The term was subsequently adopted in New York by the group that had formed around Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Marius de Zayas (1880–1961) and Man Ray. The largest of several German groups was formed in Berlin by Huelsenbeck with John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch and George Grosz. As well as important centres elsewhere (Barcelona, Cologne and Hanover), a prominent post-war Parisian group was promoted by Tzara, Picabia and André Breton. This disintegrated acrimoniously in 1922–3, although further Dada activities continued among those unwilling to join Surrealism in 1924.” The Grove Dictionary of Art.

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Marcel Duchamp

“French painter, sculptor and writer. The art and ideas of Duchamp, perhaps more than those of any other 20th-century artist, have served to exemplify the range of possibilities inherent in a more conceptual approach to the art-making process. Not only is his work of historical importance—from his early experiments with Cubism to his association with Dada and Surrealism—but his conception of the ready-made decisively altered our understanding of what constitutes an object of art. Duchamp refused to accept the standards and practices of an established art system, conventions that were considered essential to attain fame and financial success: he refused to repeat himself, to develop a recognizable style or to show his work regularly. It is the more theoretical aspects implicit to both his art and life that have had the most profound impact on artists later in the century, allowing us to identify Duchamp as one of the most influential artists of the modern era.” The Grove Dictionary of Art.

In 1912, under the influence of Cubism as well as chronophotography or photographic sequences, Duchamp created one of his best known works, “Nude Descending a Staircase”.

"Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" (1912)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“A few months after it was painted, Duchamp submitted ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2’ to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, but the hanging committee, dominated by Cubists, including his brothers and a number of friends, objected to it and particularly to its title, inscribed directly on the canvas, which they thought too provocative and not in keeping with the more traditional subjects they determined appropriate for serious Cubist painting. Duchamp withdrew his submission, an event that became the turning-point in his artistic career. Before the end of the year, however, the painting was given two public showings: first in May at an exhibition of Cubism at the Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona and in October at the Salon de la Section d’Or at the Galerie de la Boétie in Paris . It was only when it was shown in New York, however, at the Armory show in February 1913, where it became the cause célèbre of the exhibition, that Duchamp’s name and reputation became forever linked to the notoriety of this picture.” The Grove Dictionary of Art.

Duchamp’s Readymades

“A readymade is defined as a commonplace prefabricated object which - with or without alteration - is isolated from its functional context and elevated to the status of art by the mere act of an artist's selection. Duchamp, who introduced the concept in 1915, appropriated the term from its use in the clothing industry (readymade garments were those that could be purchased off the rack, as opposed to those that were custom made). His first readymade, ‘The Bicycle Wheel’ (1913), consisted of nothing more than the rim of a bicycle wheel mounted on to the seat of an ordinary kitchen stool. This was followed a year later by his ‘Bottle Rack’ (1914), a metal stand with projecting prongs commonly used in France for the drying of wine bottles. Whereas these items generally went unnoticed in Duchamp’s studio (indeed, at first, by all accounts, he dismissed their significance as works of art), his most controversial readymade, ‘Fountain’ (1917) – a simple white porcelain urinal – seems to have been selected with the intention of provoking a great deal of public attention. Duchamp purchased the prized artefact from a plumbing supply store in Manhattan (the J. L. Mott Iron Works Company…, signed it with a false name (‘R. Mutt,’ clearing punning on the famous cartoon characters, Mutt & Jeff) and, in an effort to further protect his identity, asked a female friend of his (probably Louise Norton, then married to the vanguard poet Allan Norton) to submit it for display in the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists (a newly established organization that was devoted to the open and free display of art). Years later, Duchamp explained that he did not sign the sculpture with his own name because, to some, it might appear to be a conflict of interest, for he was one of the founding members of the independents and, at the time of the exhibition, served on its board of directors. […] It seems that the urinal was never shown, its display refused by an emergency meeting of the society’s board of directors.”                   

"Fountain" (1917)
Part of an edition of 8, produced in 1964.

One “Fountain” was sold by Sotheby’s in 1999 for $1,762,500 US.

Another is in the National Gallery of Canada.

"Mona Lisa: LHOOQ" (1919)

Another way of challenging art is to take a well known image, such as the Mona Lisa, and to give it a title which brings high art down to a very basic level. The letters LHOOQ, if read in French, come out something like this: “Elle a chaud au cul” which, literally, means “she is hot in the genital area”, a rather irreverent reading of a famous painting.

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