The Museum of Modern Art
Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries, second floor
June 12 — September 18, 2016
MARK BLOCH, FEB. 2017
Happy Birthday, Dum Kopf. 2016 was the 100th anniversary of Dada, the international art movement that is an acknowledged starting point for much of what was to follow in the century: Surrealism, Situationism, Visual Poetry and Lettterism, Fluxus, Conceptual Art, Performance Art, Mail Art, Punk, DIY, Relational Aesthetics and now Social Networking, which all owe a debt to Dada. So it should not be surprising that Dada’s prescient original participants themselves once undertook an effort to capture what had become an international avant-garde, even as it was still unfolding, and make it clear for the world to see.
What is surprising is that the heroic effort ended in apparent failure, collapsing just short of the finish line and that all this took a century to come to light, in a comparatively tiny art world not good at keeping secrets.
In Paris in late 1920, almost five years after the movement had been initiated, Tristan Tzara, a.k.a. Samuel Rosenstock, a Jewish-Romanian poet and a co-founder of what had become Dada, created a proposal for an ambitious anthology to manifest the energy and unpredictability of five years of shenanigans in a volume of visual and verbal creative manifestations. With a book to be called “Dadaglobe,” commercially published in an edition of ten thousand copies, Tzara imagined 300 pages of photographic self-portraits, photographs of artworks, original drawings, and designs for book pages combined with prose, poetry and other verbal “inventions” to be collected by him from the widespread “dadas” or “dadaists” themselves spread across the world.
Dada had exploded as a critique of World War I—its savage violence, jingoistic patriotism, and oppressive political regimes— led by an unlikely cabal of expatriate multi-media-ists out of politically neutral Zurich, Switzerland in sharp contrast to the traditional cultural “norms” that were tearing the world apart at the time.
It makes sense that this Do It Yourself anti-art movement wanted to create such a large project documenting its activities for an unsuspecting public, but it is even more fascinating that not only did the endeavor never happen, but that despite a century of art scholarship, this promised grand self-portrait of the absurdist movement remained almost completely unknown and was mentioned only a handful of times—until last year.
One hundred amazing works by more than forty 20th Century artists were on view at MoMA last summer that had in common that they had all been submitted to Tzara for this well-planned but unrealized 1921 project. This re-creation was a fitting tip of the hat to the 100th anniversary of the movement that has so many parallels to the uncertain, unfathomable world we live in today. So to me, Dadagobe Reconstructed also means, “Dada revisited,” or “Dada re-appreciated” in an apt “Auf Wiedersehen” and “merci” after a year of scattered Dada centennial tributes around the world.
The exhibition, also previously shown at the Kunsthaus Zürich, was assembled by a team of researchers from the two museums as well as the Collection Chancellerie Des Universités De Paris, Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, in Paris led by Adrian Sudhalter, the show’s Guest Curator and acknowledged chief detective. It was Ms. Sudhalter, a now-independent ex-MoMA curator, who helped dislodge Dadaglobe from obscurity and trot it out for the world’s perusal just in time for Dada’s much-needed centennial revival during the past year.
MoMA and Dada in NY
The Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques-Doucet is a public library in Paris established upon its namesake’s 1929 death. Doucet was a French fashion designer and art collector armed with no less than Andre Breton, Surrealism’s founder, as his personal advisor on art. Thus did Doucet amass an important collection of art and related ephemera from Cubism to Surrealism and beyond. The Paris institution that bears his name also played a key role as the place where most of this Dada “loot” was stashed for the past 96 years.
Sudhalter spent six years of her life piecing this show and this story together there, painstakingly retracing Tzara’s steps after a routine clean-up mission at MoMA led her back to the Doucet archive in Paris. Sudhalter and others at MoMA had been assigned the task of doing an appraisal and inventory of the various Dada works MoMA had in their possession in preparation for the Dada show at MoMA in Summer 2006. “We inspected every inch of them,” Sudhalter recounted in an interview last June. “We unframed the works….” And that unframing led us all directly to Dadaglobe.
Though the Dadaglobe project itself was largely unknown, Tzara and MoMA have always played a central role in the history of Dada in the United States and in particular, New York. Unbeknownst even to MoMA, the Dadaglobe project was part of it. The first show to feature Dada works at MoMA started out as “The Fantastic in Art” shown December 7, 1936 to January 17 of 1937 and put together by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who ran MoMA starting in August 1929. The show would eventually be called “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism” after a heated correspondence the previous Autumn between Barr and Tzara—about the show’s title and contents, with Tzara worried that his rival and former protégé, the aforementioned Breton, would one-up him with the result being that the en vogue Surrealist movement would usurp its precursor, Dada.
In the end, Barr’s show was only 15 per cent Dada, even after Tzara lent some 50 works of various types. Barr himself carried 36 of those from Tzara’s house in Paris on July 21, 1936, with the artist threatening to pull them from the show two months later. Eventually 14 Dada works would be shown and now we are aware that five of them came directly from Tzara’s unrealized Dadaglobe treasure trove but, presumably, that distinction was not discussed. In the end, Barr’s “Fantastic Art” show was a success, packed with works from ceiling to floor including on the ceiling, and became the first of only a surprisingly few shows to ever heavily feature Dada in New York. But it established Barr, Tzara and MoMA as Ground Zero and New York’s institutional home base for Dada and Modern Art going forward.
Cut to 1945-51 when the painter and collagist Robert Motherwell compiled his book “The Dada Poets and Painters” using only two of Tzara’s Dadaglobe images but continuing an overdue revelation of the existence of Dada. That book was a huge influence on the artists of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, reestablishing Dada’s importance just as the center of the international art world hopped from Paris to New York.
Finally, from April 15 to May 9, 1953, a show called “Dada 1916–1923” occupied Manhattan's Sidney Janis Gallery, with at least 12 and possibly 16 works from the Dadaglobe collection on hand, which Tzara had provided to the curator, Marcel Duchamp, who also designed a memorable poster.
Finally, the first recorded use of the term “Neo-Dada” was in reference to the May 1957 “Castelli Group” exhibition. Some of the art movements that followed and established a course for art in the second half of the 20th Century such as assemblage, correspondence art, Happenings and Fluxus were briefly identified as Neo-Dada in the late 50s, before they acquired their own unique names. Duchamp, Richard Huelsenbeck and other original Dadas attended Happenings and other fringe-y art events downtown in the early 1960s, sometimes even offering advice and collaborating with the young up and comers.
The first actual mention of Tzara’s project and the collection of works that eventually ended up in the Doucet library was not until 1966 in Michel Sanouillet’s piece called “Le Dossier de Dadaglobe” in “Cahiers de l'association internationale pour l'étude de Dada et du Surréalisme, no. 1” which discussed only the many literary works that Tzara had been sitting on in Paris. In 1965, Sanouillet had written a book called “Dada In Paris” and then a year later, the 12-page essay specifically on Dadaglobe—two years after he had completed a monograph about Francis Picabia. As you will soon learn, Picabia played a big part in the Dadaglobe story and thankfully MoMA has featured him in a blockbuster exhibit all his own that followed Dadaglobe Reconstructed. But it was Sanouillet who uncovered the “dossier” of literary Dada in the Jacques Doucet collection and deserves credit for being the primary scholar to really shine light on the existence of Dadaglobe until now. Sadly, Sanouillet (1924-2015) died last year but an essay by him and his wife appears in MoMA's catalogue/book/remake, “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” recognizing his contribution to the unearthing of the mystery.
Lesser mentions of Dadaglobe in books followed Sanouillet’s in ‘77, ‘82 and finally 1994 when a small essay on Dadaglobe and Dadaco (another unrealized publication which preceded Tzara’s) appeared in a catalogue of the major dada exhibition “Dada global” at the Kunsthaus Zürich, August 12–November 6, 1994.
Finally, an article, “Dadaglobe,” appeared in a Center Pompidou catalogue written by Jeanne Brun in 2005. “Had it been published in 1921,” Brun said, “Dadaglobe would have recorded the activities of Dada at its climax and before its decline.” The failure of Dadaglobe, according to Brun, seemed to lay in the “incapacity” of the Dada movement to have its “essence… congealed in one single publication.”
But just as Dada revered chance, it is my feeling that what sunk Dadaglobe was no such "incapacity" but rather a series of random and not-so-random events that most artists have dealt with at one time or another: a general lack of necessary resources, a lack of funds to manifest a brilliant idea, jealousy between individuals or factions, missed opportunities, poor communication, acts of sabotage and self-sabotage and excessive secrecy, to name a few.
Art professionals seem to wonder whether Tzara grasped the complicated nature of his endeavor from the start. They might ask, “Wasn’t Tzara perhaps a bit naïve in believing that so disparate a group could achieve such a cooperative feat?” Or they accuse Tzara of creating not a bold attempt at a Dada-defining publication but an intentional failure as artistic provocation. But simple financial issues and a couple of personality conflicts appear to have brought on Dadaglobe’s demise. To me this is a sad cautionary tale for scholars, collectors and bureaucrats, not an occasion to question the quixotic scope of grand artistic visions. To everyone with means to support the arts: Show us the money!
So let’s return to the beginning. What exactly did happen to Tzara’s collection of Dadglobe works and how was it amassed? What happened to the planned Dadaglobe publication?
While the “dossier” of literary manuscripts discussed by Sanouillet remained more or less in tact in Paris, much of Tzara’s collection of visual, not literary, artwork spread out over the globe like the Dada ideas and participants themselves in what I have always thought of as a vast Dada Diaspora. Tzara retained most of the visual contributions to Dadaglobe during his lifetime, but following his death, in 1963, what was not in the Doucet collection was dispersed in public and private collections worldwide.
In 1965, the Kunsthaus Zürich, in the Swiss city where Dada began, realized in preparing a 50 year anniversary show that they owned nothing and remedied that situation via Arturo Schwartz, the legendary Milano collector known for the Marcel Duchamp catalogue raissone. As a result, the Kunsthaus now owns 11 works from Dadaglobe.
Meanwhile, Dada’s association with MoMA went all the way back to Barr’s show when MoMA acquired several important works. Some of these were the same pieces that Adrian Sudhalter was examining for the Dada show ten years ago in 2006. “It started with these numbers that I came across…this was the first indication of anything to do with Dadaglobe.” She did not know then that those numbers written with a distinctive tool were about to occupy the next several years of her life.
“We came across these numbers on the backs of some of the works that had formerly been in Tzara’s collection,” Sudhalter explained. Doing further research in Paris, she discovered, “at the Doucet… came across a list among Tzara’s paper in the same sort of waxy black oil crayon… I saw, ‘Oh they correspond…’ ”
The list she uncovered was the reproduction list from January 1921 created after Tzara chopped his original 300-page project in half to a more manageable 160. Here was Tzara’s itemized plan for his Dada overview. Following six years of archival research, many of those listed elements of the never-realized book finally were exhibited last summer at MoMA as both the remnants of an unrealized project and as an artist’s intention finally coming to fruition—97 years later.
This exhibition re-gathered the photographs, drawings, photomontages, collages, select manuscripts along with related archival material sent to Tzara through the mail for reproduction on Dadaglobe’s pages. “The postal service offered a means of communication and surrogate mobility,” said MoMA’s press release for this show that became the first time most of these works were ever seen together.
The First Mail Art Show?
Furthermore, Dadaglobe was probably the world's first “mail art” project.
Using the postal system as an artistic medium has a long history, including Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Italian Futurists, who employed it extensively for for one-to-one communications. But exhibitions devoted exclusively to the genre, known as "mail art," "postal art," or "correspondence art" did not become common until the late 1960s.
Yet, the week of November 8, 1920, Tzara, along with Picabia and two others, gathered to send letters to 50 artists and writers in 10 countries, soliciting artworks in four categories and inviting them to contribute by mail to “an important book” to be called Dadaglobe.
Because travel across international borders at the time was tightly regulated, the post offered a communication option and a way to be mobile without leaving the house, let alone one’s country.
Artists weren’t easily able to travel after the First World War. Germans, in particular, were restricted. The artworks themselves that came in were transcending borders and the book, had it come to pass, would have then gone back out into the globe, into the world, thus manifesting what Sudhalter called one of the prime characteristics of Dada as a “movement”—internationalism. She pointed out that the title, Dadaglobe, already contains the concept of the whole earth.
“They used the term International… what really defines the many artists that contributed to Dadaglobe,” Sudhalter said, was their “…commitment to international exchange right after the first World War where nationalism had never been so prominent.” She cited what neo-Dadas, punks and DIY practitioners have admired for years: “Even the word, "Dada" (contains) two syllables that belong to all languages and to no language.” She explained, “Not French, not German, not English. Dada is internationalism.”
Samantha Friedman, MoMA’s assistant curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints, then went on to illuminate the huge part that the mail played in this project and the subsequent Tzara collection:
“These archival materials are these letters that accompany works when they were mailed or the envelopes in which they were sent. We really hope that the viewer has this sense of these things traveling thorough the mail.” Friedman then went on to explain the very essence of the activity that today’s mail artists know so well. She describes the curators’ desire to convey the excitement “of them arriving with Tzara. And opening up these envelopes. And really that kind of immediacy, of these things traveling in that way,” finally adding, “There’s this very physical, material quality to the mail.”
Indeed, that physicality is something that attracted mail artists from the mid-1950s to the late 1980s and that continues today, even in the shadow of social networking and cyberspace.
In 1970, Marcia Tucker of the Whitney Museum asked Ray Johnson to use his New York Correspondence School mailing list to invite his contacts to send in a piece of mail that was then exhibited at the venerable American institution. This show is generally acknowledged to be the first “mail art exhibition” and the collagist Johnson (1927-1995), who started a “mail art network” as early as the mid-1950s, later credited Tucker for developing the prototypical “rules” of what was to follow: work must be sent by mail, everything received was shown and that documentation would follow, also sent by mail. "For accuracy's sake, Marcia Tucker should be credited with the policy of the New York Correspondence School," Johnson told me in Jaunary 1992. "She took over as an institution. I was merely the person inviting 116 people to be in that show."
Johnson had mentioned wanting to create an exhibition comprised only of mail as early as 1968 in a letter to the Image Bank in Canada. When Joseph Raffael, a member of Johnson’s network, was invited to be a teacher at Cal State Sacramento a year before the Whitney endeavor, Raffael then organized “The Last Correspondence Show” with Johnson in attendance to lecture and perform and then issued a catalog featuring a heart-shaped Ray Johnson snake button bearing the title, dates, and name of the show's gallery that was sent to all the participants.
For almost fifty years, thousands more mail art exhibitions and other projects have been conducted, continuing to this day, using the international mail system as the means for both soliciting contributions and distributing documentation when the projects were complete. Again, it is an activity that continues despite the invention of the speedier and cheaper vehicle that is the Internet.
But despite the unplanned secrecy of Tzara’s Dadaglobe effort, mail art has always been heavily influenced by Dada, regardless, and so it is ironic and fitting that this exhibition of Dadaglobe is, in fact, evidence of the earliest example of a project initiated and executed by mail and follows many mail art traditions whether established by Tucker, Johnson or the developing cast of characters that followed. The works seen at MoMA—all having emerged from envelopes—show what happens when artists in many countries join together around a common vision to collectively create for the same, imagined project.
Like mail art and today’s social networking, in the World War I era, Tzara’s appeal pierced linguistic and geopolitical fragmentation with communication between isolated individuals.
Friedman offered, “In addition to these works of art, most of which are scaled to the post… sometimes you can see the folded lines where they were folded up to be put in an envelope.” Regarding the overcoming of long distances and the attention to detail in the kind of ephemera essential to this show, she added, “We hope that’s a texture that comes across in the exhibition.”
The curator Sudhalter summarized, “The idea was the book would go out into the globe and transcend all barriers through the mail.”
When Dadas React
Tzara was new to Paris, living at the Hotel Boulainvilliers nearby and then the Hotel des Ecoles from 1922-1925 with the Dadaglobe replies addressed to him at the apartment of Picabia’s companion, Germaine Everling, who later accused Tzara of “installing himself” there. Picabia described it this way: Tzara “gets up at 5 o’clock, goes to see Francis Picabia, says that he is too tired to work, goes to the movies and comes back home.”
Everling also recalled, “The mail brought an avalanche of letters from all countries.” Over the course of the year, Everling and Picabia’s apartment had become jam-packed with correspondence addressed there. All but a few had arrived by mail. Some submissions arrived too late to be assigned a page number. Several black and white photos of color work that appeared in this show from Marcel Duchamp’s brother in law, Jean Crotti, were hand delivered by Crotti or his wife Suzanne Duchamp in mid-January 1921 defying Tzara’s letter that had requested, “All submissions should be received by December 15.”
Tzara’s postal outreach was a bold attempt to create a freeze frame, a group selfie of an emerging international avant-garde at the precise moment it was coming into focus. In retrospect we can say he helped propel it forward. When he was done, he had manifested a vision of an artist collective reaching across borders at time when the international world stage elsewhere seemed to be falling apart.
Word quickly spread of the project. It is fun to imagine word of Tzara’s requests criss-crossing the globe among the excited Dadaists.
Johannes Baader wrote to the collage master Hannah Hoch about the “detailed,” “good” and “very clever” letter. On November 15, 1920 Sophie Tauber, still in Zurich following the original Dada Cabaret Voltaire activity, wrote to her future husband Hans Arp in Cologne, “Today the enclosed note by Tzara arrived…. I will have myself photographed and the wooden head too.”
Indeed, her painted wooden Dada sphere provides one of the highlights of the show and anchors it, against a partition that features both a painting of its surface and a photo of her posing with it. On the opposite side of the partition was a 3-D object by Brancusi, who is not strictly associated with the Dada movement but invited by his friend Duchamp and included by Tzara. In fact, the show featured non-Dada “suspects” from Brancusi, Joseph Stella and Jean Cocteau to lesser-known Italians like Egidio Bacchi, Gino Cantarelli, and Aldo Fiozzi.
The participants were “not necessarily self-identified dadaists” but they “were writers and artists who shared” a “commitment to avant garde exchange across borders.”
Cocteau said at the time, “What Tzara does often touches me profoundly.” While admitting “Dadaism makes me intolerably uneasy” and saying to Tzara by letter directly, “I’m not a dada but I’ll amble about in your book.” He pasted his own face over Picasso’s horse costume for “Parade,” the important avant garde “happening” and film on which he collaborated in 1917, and submitted it to Dadaglobe.
In retrospect, we can see that while some Dadas and anti-Dadas sent previously executed works, several—moved anew by Tzara’s missive—enthusiastically created new untried Dada executions for the volume, making Dadaglobe into that era’s premier driving force for the making of new works, inciting a regeneration of the movement’s precepts.
“Its not a style…(but) about breaking from every tradition…artistic and literary… every new avant garde approach” said the curator Sudhalter about Dada.
With their origins in Tzara’s book previously forgotten, the works received for Dadaglobe opened up new avenues of artistic experimentation, as contributors created works specifically for photomechanical reproduction, 16 years before Walter Benjamin’s 1937 book on unique art objects and how images of them might be regarded.
Precursors to Dadaglobe
The early 20th century was a time when many nuanced art movements bubbled to the surface, mostly on the European continent, and including Russia. The vision of a book of the emerging avant garde movement was first explored in 1912 when an almanac of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group was proposed in Munich, Germany. Dada itself began when, in 1916, a piano player named Hugo Ball created the Cabaret Voltaire, the venue where he founded Dada with his future wife, the puppeteer Emmy Hennings. Cabaret Voltaire: A Collection of Artistic and Literary Contributions was the title of the first Dada publication, edited by Ball and published in May 1916.
During the group’s four years in Zurich, the widely-published poets Mallarme and Apollinaire served as role models to Tzara’s magazine Dada, beginning in 1917 in Zurich. The first two issues featured a consistent format, but number 3, and then 4/5 show variations and contributions in several languages. French censorship prevented the importing of any German literature at the time so Tzara issued alternative editions of no. 4/5 (aka “Anthologie Dada”). On June 24, 1918, Tzara told his colleague Paul Dermée he wanted to do a Dada Almanac of 36 pages that may have been the first inklings of the nascent Dadaglobe idea.
In November 1918, Tzara wrote Picabia informing him that he was leaving Zurich for Paris. Picabia told him later by letter, “What you’re doing interests me.” By March 1919, still in Zurich, they met where Picabia paid for Dada 4/5, which featured not only the Zurich Dadas but also includes the Germans Richard Huelsenbeck, Hans Richter and Raoul Hausmann. Picabia, who would later promise to fund Dadaglobe, told Tzara about the magazine, “I dispatched the money despite your wishes.”
Then on August 9, 1919 Huelsenbeck asked in a letter for Tzara to secure some work for a publication envisioned as Dadaco, a Dada World Atlas, to be filled with the faces of “energetic and intelligent people.” John Heartfield would be responsible for Dadaco graphic design. It looked promising but it is said that German inflation sank it.
In 1920, the year before Dadaglobe was scheduled to appear, Huelsenbeck published several books documenting Dada. Of several major Dada anthologies planned in various cities, Huelsenbeck’s Dada Almanach was the only one to reach fruition.
By January of 1920, Tzara had relocated to Paris and a month later was informed of Dadaco’s demise. He then released the first Parisian issue, Number 6, of his magazine Dada, which features 76 artist’s names in alphabetical order (including 15 women) he was associating with in his Dada travels.
By March and April of that year, Picabia and Tzara created the elaborate Mouvement Dada stationary funded by Picabia’s money setting the stage for the Dadaglobe letters calling for work.
The Invitation amd Categories
Requests were sent on Mouvement Dada letterhead the week of November 8, 1920 by Tzara—accompanied by his friends and fellow Dadaists Francis Picabia, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and Dr. Walter Serner and signed by all four. It was said the “Dr.” was left in Serner’s name because it “lent an air of mock authority.”
The letters began, “You are hereby cordially invited to participate” with mentions of a “friendship which binds you to Dada” and “the work of dadas from all over the world” and an assurance to each that “you will have many agreeable surprises.”
When they were done they had written to 50 artists from 10 countries asking them to submit artworks to be considered for a book to be issued the following March 21. French speakers received hand-written letters; Germans received typed form letters. Both groups were informed that a Dada book was to be published by the important Paris publisher La Sirene. “We are obligated to meet this deadline by our contract with the publisher.” The book would be 300 pages long, 25 x 32 centimeters, with a selling price of 20 francs in an edition of ten thousand, a very large number for such a book at that time.
The content, recipients were told, could be photographic self-portraits, photographs of art, original drawings, designs for book pages, prose, poetry, and other verbal “inventions.”
In precisely the same month that Tzara put out his call, was it a coincidence that the League of Nations had issued a demand for the standardization of passports across Europe which they called a “fixed identity?”
With their insistence on uniformity, it could be that Tzara’s letters were creating a mockery of these identity cards. For the first time many countries called for a portrait, signed and citing distinct characteristics in ways that had not been the norm before. This created a kind of international standardization in addition to date and place of birth, profession, family info and current residence.
Tzara requested, “clear” photographic self-portraits of “your head (not body),” with the important dada addendum “which you can alter freely” adding, “although it should retain clarity.” It was this criteria in the letter that drew the greatest number of new responses from around the planet with artists using the query to create irreverent, gender bending alter-egos that were anything but “fixed,” instead transcending logic as well as time and space. The response also created some of the classic dada imagery that would define the movement throughout the next century.
Their responses accentuated two innovative features of dada, radical at the time but taken for granted today: extensive combinations, for the first time, of images and text into discordant new genres and secondly, a deliberate pooh-poohing of national boundaries during Europe’s descent into a frothy state of war and bloodshed provoked by the Great War’s isolation of Germany.
Tzara’s correspondence promised “collaboration with foreign authors from all countries” with “one poem per author in the original language.” In the draft of that promise, Tzara crossed out the provocative words “including Germany.” He knew what a slap in the face his request was to the paranoiac in-fighting of the European authorities as well as where to draw the line.
Besides portraits and texts, Tzara asked for images including two or three photographs of artworks. Many artists responded with postcards and photographs on hand while others staged photo sessions just for this purpose. Most were black and white but the letter asked, “One drawing can be colorful but containing no more than two or three colors.”
The MoMA show organized the exhibition according to the artists response to these particular categories with the previously existing works and eagerly created new ones combined into sometimes awkward or confusing groupings and wordy wall texts that attempted to minimize an admittedly difficult task: to somehow use a museum space to unite mailed contributions to the project, the framed works they represented and the invitation that inspired them. Viewers were thus forced to read between the lines to discern Dada’s pioneering, unifying principles, relegated to a secondary idea, including the embrace of “automatic procedures,” and chance or experiments such as the use of rulers, typewriters and tracing—techniques commonplace now but that fine artists did not use at the time.
The back-story of the Dadaglobe project also reveals familiarity by Tzara, as well as some of the participants, with state-of-the-art printing and photographic techniques of the time. Max Ernst, the master collagist and early maker of artist books using repurposed Victorian imagery, wrote to Tzara in his reply, “Can you show the engraver how to hide the seams?” regarding at least one of his submissions. In other cases it is suspected that Tzara may have traced over measured pencil lines with ink or made other savvy adjustments.
Lists of what would comprise every page of the book were found on weathered pieces of paper in Paris, as well as on the backs of works, indicating one of two delineations for the treatment of artwork in Tzara’s own code. “Simili” indicates similigravure (a process later replaced by “halftones”) that allowed for continuous tones or shades of grey in photos. Tzara especially reserved this technique for the “artist portraits,” his own printed rogue’s gallery that we might compare to a “Facebook” in the digital age. In his letter, Tzara specifically promised “portraits of all the contributors.” Meanwhile, Tzara scribbled “line block” for unmodulated linear imagery or other high contrast etching that would boldly penetrate the printing plates with pure black with the negative space providing the “white.” In the end there were 29 “line block” and 75 “simili” treatments delineated.
Other worn, yellowing papers found in Paris reveal included Tzara’s handwritten biographical sketches, the brief preliminary specs and list of contributors to accompany the portraits that were created in the first week of November 1920 and reproduced in the exhibition on wonderful digital touch screens along with the aforementioned January 1921 Tzara reproduction list created when he dropped the size of the project almost in half. The number had to be a multiple of 16 due to printing requirements so Tzara downsized his ambitious project, estimating between 160 and 220 pages.
Finally, in his invitations, Tzara, Picabia and the others requested “new ideas, no matter how unexpected, whether for the layout or for anything else.” With a “subtitle to be determined” for the book and “color papers interspersed” promised in the letter, as well as in the pages of his magazine Dada 4/5, Dadaglobe was a vision for a ground-breaking publication that would shake the public and a burgeoning international creative community to it’s core.
Of the 10K edition run, Tzara promised 30 “deluxe” examples of the work, with 5 “extra deluxe” and 1 “ultra extra.” He requested prose, poetry and other verbal “inventions” with instructions that some faithfully followed while others “radically upended” them.
Idea vs. materialization
Between late 1918 and Mid 1921 Dadaglobe went from an idea that wasn’t yet formed to a camera-ready book to a mission abruptly abandoned for mysterious reasons. A quick run down of some key moments tells the tale:
In November of 1918, Tzara writes Picabia from Zurich where they later meet, saying he wants to come to Paris. In March 1919, Picabia paid for Tzara’s Dada 4/5, which heavily featured the German Dadas. On August 9, 1919, Huelsenbeck asks Tzara to secure work for Dadaco in a letter. Six months later Dadaco itself would meet its demise. In between, Tzara moved to Paris, arriving January 1920. A year later the mail for Dadaglobe would be rolling in. In February, Dada 6, the first Parisian issue of Tzara’s magazine appears. Between July and October that summer, Tzara visited Bucharest and made a return visit to Zurich.
On October 27 or 28 of 1920, Arp, Tzara’s old Zurich friend, met on Tzara’s behalf in Munich with people involved with the publishing of Dadaco about materials they had collected. The following week the letters were sent out requesting work for Dadaglobe. In the new year, by the end of January 1921, Tzara compiles a detailed list of everything he has received and says so in Man Ray’s and Duchamp’s New York Dada magazine, making it public and announcing that the issue is on press at La Sirene, apparently an exaggeration. In March 1921, Tzara becomes ill with shingles for a month as he approached the promised publication date, now behind schedule. But in early April, Tzara orders the ill-fated Dadaco printing blocks from Germany to add to his own publication; now back on track, and by mid-April Theo Van Doesberg visits a healthier, recovering Tzara in Paris.
But things turned between mid-April and May 11th, when Picabia announces in the magazine Comoedia that Dadaglobe has died, blaming it on money and opportunism and “nameless people” trying to profit on Dada. Was that a reference to Tzara? Were those feelings the influence of Huelsenbeck? In a second article in a second publication, Breton and internal dada squabbles were blamed.
Thus Dadaglobe became an idea that was never realized.
The Realized and the Unrealized
When can an artist’s project be considered done? Duchamp asked this question in his talk “The Creative Act” given in April, 1957 in Houston Texas, referring to “this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal ‘art coefficient’ contained in the work.” The conclusion that he came to was that even the artist might fall short when it comes to realizing his intentions and he goes on to explain that it does not matter. But to me, another Duchampian concept, that of "inframince," comes to mind. The inframince or infrathin is a microscopically thin difference between two things—such as a realized and unrealized project—something that artists deal with all the time. It has been said that a great artist is one that simply knows when to quit. If Tzara was going for a Spring 1921 publication date and that effort was postponed to Summer 2017, was his project realized or not?
Ideas pop into our minds all the time—creative people as well those who do not see themselves as creative. How does one decide what is worthy of starting, let alone finishing? Who gets to call a project “done?”
MoMA published a book called, like the exhibition, Dadaglobe Reconstructed.
It is a valuable document with the first half of the book telling the story that you read here and the second half, with different sized pages actually showing what Tzara had in mind. In it, two people who worked on the book, Manuel Dimitri and Adrian Krebs, call the second half, “the reconstruction.” How well did the staff and publishers do?
The publishers made their edition 80 per cent of Tzara’s physical page size. They also had to imagine certain details Tzara left out. Several steps were taken by Tzara to allow chance to create a random feel to the publication. For example, Tzara compiled odd pages and even pages separately to be put together later. Furthermore, he had a plan for the artist’s portraits to be interspersed every few pages, about every four or so, but never opposite the artist’s own work and not arranged alphabetically or geographically. So while there is much data suggesting his intentions and the curators have done an amazing and admirable job in compiling and executing it, what remains is the fact that “Tzara left no layout for Dadaglobe” and so the editors of the book admit “we have made a series of decisions” to create the final product.
One of the unintended effects of Tzara’s project being brought to fruition a century later was that it has shed light on the battle between academia and art that was also part of Dada’s own process and is evidenced in the work.
When the final pages of the book were created, Tzara’s ambitious hope for a document that would manifest “new art in an open air circus” may have fallen short. I understand that attention to detail in the documents and measurements Tzara left behind had to inform the layout of this publication yet this is where it probably lets us down as it provides an important service. But it is a laudable testimony to the missing power of the mysterious and magical X-factor that artists bring to the table.
Can any amount of painstaking recreation by scholars and graphic designers assembled by the world’s great museums come close to successfully creating the excitement and intuition of a true work of art, especially one of the huge scope Tzara had imagined? I cannot help think that with Tzara at the helm and not his safely interpreted chicken scratching on the backs of the works, the result might convey a bit more zing. While I am grateful that more license was not taken in the imagination of the art directors, the result is that the “re-creation” of something that never existed in the first place except in its author’s mind, feels a bit flat and reserved. The academics that created this exhibition and this book deserve an enthusiastic standing ovation for their careful piece-by-piece, page-by-page reconstruction of the project’s “whirling, dizzy, eternal new atmosphere” but my complaint is that when I finally viewed the finished pages of the “reconstructed” book, Tzara’s promise of a survey in which “every page must explode” does not deliver, despite the extraordinary delivery of art works that Tzara and Picabia received by mail in the first weeks of 1921. It could be the result of a lifetime spent looking at Dada, it might be the particular works this project attracted or it could simply be the absence of that mysterious X-factor that Tzara might have provided.
Zurich Dada vs. Paris Dada
Finally, I noticed that not represented in the exhibition or Tzara’s lists were Janco, Ball and Hemmings. You aficionados of Dada’s beginnings might wonder, like me, what happened to these artists Tzara had collaborated with in Zurich? While Tzara later established Dada as a school of thought and became its main promoter and leader, even to the point of fearing his Paris protégé Andre Breton once Surrealism kicked into gear, it was Hugo Ball and his partner Emmy Hennings who founded the movement. But they separated themselves from Dada after only two years. Why didn’t Tzara, once he moved to Paris, “keep in touch?”
The Cabaret Voltaire closed four months after it had opened, in February 1916. Regular exhibitions at Galerie Dada at Bahnhofstr 19, followed until it too closed in June 1917. The Dadaists next rented a room for one night at the Waag Hall in Zurich to hold their historic July 14, 1917 Dada Soiree, where Ball and Tzara recited Dada manifestos, Huelsenbeck read a phonetic poem, and audience and on-stage chaos ensued. Dada was still anti-art, and these final performances were still considered very unusual and made audiences uncomfortable, much like the war around them.
But the ambitious Tzara next headed to Paris while Hennings and Ball returned to their humble roots with a performance tour of mostly hotels in Arabella, their own ensemble troupe, with Hennings taking the name Dagny. Hennings did puppetry, sang and danced to music composed by Ball. The couple married on February 21 1920, around the time Tzara moved to Paris and Huelsenbeck’s Dadaco collapsed. They had no children together but Hennings had a daughter, Annemarie, from a previous relationship. Ball then worked briefly as a journalist in Bern. After their marriage, he turned to Christianity and retired to Ticino and then Sant’Abbondio, Switzerland where he contributed to an occasional publication and lived a poor life until he died of stomach cancer on September 14, 1927. Hennings outlived Ball by two decades, in Magliaso, then died at a clinic in Sorengo, Switzerland. Presumably they were not even invited to participate in Dadaglobe. Ball’s diaries and memoirs were published later as “Flight Out of Time.”
Meanwhile Marcel Janco, born May 24, 1895 in Bucharest to an upper middle class Jewish family has been mentioned as a possible contributor to Dadaglobe but was not part of MoMA’s show and it got me wondering why. Janco, the oldest of four children, joined Dada with his brothers Iuliu (Jules) and George as well as their countryman and pal Tzara. The Janco sister, Lucia, was born in 1900. Marcel stuck with the Dadas longer than his brothers but as early as 1917, began taking some distance from the movement. His woodcuts and linocuts continued to be used as the illustration to Dada almanacs for another two years, but he was often in disagreement with his boyhood friend Tzara's taste for "bad jokes and scandal" and torn between mockery and something more reverent that he felt was needed.
He made his final contribution in April 1919, when he designed the masks for a major Dada event organized by Tzara at the Saal zur Kaufleutern, and which degenerated into an infamous mass brawl. Janco parted ways with Tzara but the two would ignore (or quibble with) each other for the rest of their lives while both continued to associate with Hans Richter, Viking Eggerling and Arp.
A month later, Marcel Janco was mandated by Das Neue Leben to create and publish a journal, the first of several he would be associated with. Then in 1922, he and another lifelong Romanian colleague founded the influential political and art magazine, Contimporanul, eventually also taking charge of its business side. Janco was one of guests at the First Constructivist Congress, convened by the Dutch artist and Tzara colleague and Dadaglobe contributor Theo van Doesburg (a.k.a. I.K. Bonset) in Düsseldorf. Janco, as well as his wife, impressed Andre Breton when the couple left to build some of the most experimental buildings in Romania. Eventually, Janco started an art commune in an abandoned Palestinian village in Israel that remains today. Marcel Janco died April 21, 1984.
It appears to have been Tzara’s quiet clash with Huelsenbeck that sunk the imagined publication Dadaglobe. Picabia, 14 years older, withdrew for financial reasons after a “sibling rivalry” developed after Huelsenbeck’s Dadaco failed, even though Tzara went out of his way to include the German. When Huelsenbeck submitted nothing to Dadaglobe, Tzara put in a portrait and three poems for him anyway. Nevertheless, the future New York doctor Huelsenbeck seemed to have influenced Picabia negatively, resulting in the latter's announcement in Comoedia publically denouncing Dada. By September of 1921, Tzara’s final issue of Dada was also published and suddenly not only Dadaglobe but Dada itself seemed close to death. In 1924, Picabia’s farewell issue of his own magazine 391 attacked Breton.
Indeed for the next three years, Picabia, Tzara and the upstart Andre Breton were jockeying for position during a series of events around Paris with Picabia travelling intermittently to Barcelona. By October of 1924, Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism had gained a readership and Dada had a successor. Tzara had been working carefully to not let his protégé, Breton, get an edge, just as he had been careful not to jeopardize Dadaglobe by publicizing it too much in Europe. It appears, in hindsight, Tristan Tzara's efforts were off-target regarding both of these crucial matters. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
view all articles from this author