The anarchic Dadaist movement is 100, so let’s celebrate in an orderly way

It seems counterintuitive to celebrate the anniversary of an art movement founded on a contempt for tradition and a desire to break with the past. Nevertheless, February 2016 marks a full century since the term “Dada” was first coined at Cabaret Voltaire, a Zurich nightclub, to describe the artwork that was being created at the time in reaction to the horrors of World War I. The original Dada artists despised the so-called sensible traditions and rational ideology that had led to the brutal war, so they decided to create a new form of artwork that was proudly meaningless and stubbornly random. The Dadaists scoffed at history, including widely held assumptions about was supposedly “good” and “beautiful” in art. Among the most celebrated of all Dada artists was French-born painter and sculptor Marcel Duchamp, who became one of the world’s greatest recyclers with his “readymades,” i.e., found objects he would repurpose and present as art. In 1965, approaching the end of his life, Duchamp discussed the readymades with Martin Friedman, employing typical humility and humor.

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Daphnis et Chloé = Daphnis and Chloe
Jean Nicolas Laugier (French; 1785–1875) after Louis Hersent (French; 1777–1860)
Etching and engraving, on chine collé
The British Museum, London | © The Trustees of the British Museum