Why more Dadaism? — by Charles Zigmund


The Author 




For nearly fifty years, since Pop Art began and dethroned the “high art” seriousness of Abstract Expressionism as a manifestation of elitism, the inheritance of Dadaism has ruled the art world. This philosophy, promulgated first 100 years ago by Marcel Duchamp and his colleagues, declares that art in the prior sense of a directed, purposeful activity separate from and “above” everyday reality, is an outmoded concept. Everyday reality in all its ordinariness is to be considered the same thing as art. Commercial propaganda and found objects, indeed everything under the sun including one’s own excreta, are anointed, primarily by the artist’s choice and use of them, into art. We are invited to rethink one at a time a plethora of our assumptions about reality and life through contemplation of these objects and their relations to the world as the artist re-presents them to us. Although superficially the manifestations of this idea are as wide-ranging and varied as one !

 could wish, in reality the anti-art idea unifies them under the surface into more or less one thing. 


This is a defensible and pregnant idea, but my purpose here is to question why it has become so totally pervasive in contemporary art. I can think of no other single idea in modern art which has held decisive sway for fifty years. It seems to me rather that Dada and its many heirs have become a new ossified academy, very akin to the Academy in France against which the Impressionists rebelled in freeing art for the first time from mechanical conformity and in creating the modern movement. It is a long time since I have found any excitement in seeing found objects in new contexts, because the practice has by now beome so stale and formulaic. Even were some new work in this vein now to have the undoubted impact of, say, a work by Beuys, one would question the conformity of the artist in producing a new work undergirded by such a shopworn concept. Have we not come to the point where every artist semiconsciously looks over her/his shoulder for the approval of the virtual Dada pol!

 ice before conceiving any work? Does she or he not ask whether the piece has the requisite little jolt of the “proper” anti-art concept before finishing it? And when a concept is considered “proper” and “necessary” for fifty years have we not come to the negation of the freedom and creativity which are considered the raison d’etre of art?


A mine of conceptions which has been worked over so long and exhaustively, its every conceivable vein, nook and cranny the object of the pickaxes and dynamite of hundreds of artists, has to my mind surely outlived its usefulness. 


If we look to other media besides the purely visual, we see that the idea of art as something apart from and “above” reality, something special and rare, a meaningful distillation of emotion, intellect and energy, a work of art which is seriously a work of art, not merely an anti-art comment —  does not lack force at this time, Duchamps and John Cage notwithstanding. Everything from rock and soul music to serious cinema to HBO dramatic series to dance to the Chinese Olympic opening ceremony demonstrates that art can still have vitality and meaning outside the dadaistic formula of anti-art. In architecture we see life-affirming vitality. We need not philosophise to posit this pro-art, rather than anti-art, reality in current society, since such art obviously currently, and vitally, exists. Philosophy should attempt to explain this reality, not substitute for it. We must then ask again why painting, sculpture and installation are so mired in this antiquated anti-art conce!



I have no prescription for the direction or directions art should take in the new century to shake off this dust-covered, cob-webbed influence. (In my own work, I present what I believe is a valid new path, but I would not presume to prescribe it for others.) I do believe, however, that whatever the outcome or outcomes, we badly need some new thinking which puts Dada where it belongs – in the history books.  


© 2008 Charles Zigmund

7 thoughts on “Why more Dadaism? — by Charles Zigmund

  1. Taking the piss out of someone can be big fun.
    And in art circuit both sides, artists and recipient, seem to enjoy that more than ever. It is a kid´s game, you know. Sometimes one should not take things too serious.
    But if you take things serious, the trouble starts. And then you see the art world is in big trouble. Maybe this is the nature of the game?

    I would not call myself anti-anti-art-artist. I just don´t want to be sarcastic. Because it is too easy and, Charles you name it, fashionable. No need to say that I deeply respect Duchamp and all artists he influenced. But I agree that an anti-art-concept no longer can be the challenge. Scandal is boring, and boring is boring etc..

    That we still see an “academy”, a leading opinion in art world that is repressing plurality. This is truely old fashioned. But the market needs the machinery of hipe to work well. Art needs the opposite. Irresolvable contradiction?

    I think Dada will NEVER belong into the history books. It is alive. But amongst all lines that came up since 1900 – no more “dethroning” on my behalf. One good reason for ARTDOXA is to finally live up to that a bit.
    The thinking of ideological does and don´ts belong in the history books – not only in art world. I admit, wishful thinking …

    Yes, we badly need some new thinking. The strongest limits come with the might of the major art collectors and their art dealers. Could or should we change that? Do artists really want to be free? Is the only “proper” concept to be successfull in terms of economy?

    Anyhow, beeing a nameless brother of some church could not be the alternative.

  2. Charles – did my tongue-in-cheek “industrial poetry” prompt you to come up with your damnation of Dada?

    There’s a reason I made the historical reference to objet trouvé and readymade beforehand.
    These are canonized forms.

    I didn’t mean to be original.
    I don’t think Serrano’s “Piss Christ” is a masterpiece either.

    Why climb a mountain?
    Because it’s THERE!
    Why more Dadaism?
    Because it can be FUN!
    And that’s a perfectly good reason for me!

    I wouldn’t call the approach of, let’s say, Jorden Blue&David James Doody or Heinz Schmöller “dust-covered” or “cob-webbed”.
    Rather a “meaningful distillation of emotion, intellect and energy”.

    As I’ve stated before – the problem with art is that it has hardly any “Wirkung in die Gegenwart” anymore – no effect on the present.

    I believe that art matters – but I’m not deluding myself into believing that it is on anybody’s agenda except us art geeks.

    But, Charles – keep on pontificating!
    We need more of your kind here!

  3. @ Peter: I know Charles had this text in mind for a long time … dadada

    Hey, Dada-Damnationism sounds like a cool movement. Bit Dada itself, but I would take part for a while.

    By the way, I´ll do a real big new years eve party with the motto “Revolution”. Charles you are invitet – if you are around. I´m keen to see how a Dada-Damnationist is dressed like, pope or punk?
    Yeah, I´m in a weekend mood …

  4. Well, this is fascinating stuff. I personally believe that dadaism has persisted due to three different factors.
    One: Some people just aren’t that talented and have to tear down anyone that they perceive as more talented than themselves. I think that may be the largest source for the continued making of bad art. Let’s face it, real talent and fine art persist regardless of current artistic climate.
    Two: Found objects and anti-art artworks/artists are unable to say what they want in any other media and are using the dadaist ideology to explore their own taboos and boundaries.
    this art is important more to the maker than anyone else. I liken it to someone whistling while engaged in some activity, it’s pleasant and sometimes intersting but would never be performed before an audience. We americans are especially fond of championing the individual above society. We are supposed to be diverse in our world view. Ergo, if someone says they are an artist and spewed some trash on the floor of a building and calls it art then the public doesn’t have the right to challenge the idea. Only the credentialed critic may assess the value of the work, implying the general ignorance of the public and championing the individual over all else.
    Third: I like some attributes of dadaism, a beautiful or unusual object recognized only because of the artist’s use of his own sense of esthetics collectively or singly. I love Cornell’s work and Rauschenberg’s. I don’t try to copy them, but I do include elements of their ideas in my work. I use a dadaist approach in some of my photographic work to attempt to make the photo world stop and think about their reliance on the technical aspects of fine art photography. I want them to consider their creativity because what I see is little advanced beyond the Ansel Adams/Minor White era.
    So, I think dada still has some functionality. I believe that as artists we should be willing to cry foul when we see someone or something making false claims of art. Additionally, we should applaud those who successfully include references to other overarching ideas of an art or philosophical movement.

  5. Pingback: ARTDOXA blog » Blog Archive » Member’s Voice: Originality - A Waste of Time! By David James Doody

  6. Hello,
    I wanted to know if anyone can reccomend a good book on the specifics of Alfred Steiglitz and the 291 little house of Photographs and successions.I need to know what artists he repersented and if the paintings were some times signed in a 2 or 3 panel graphic manor combining his name and the artist he represented.I recently aquired some works with a 291 logo and want to research ttem more extensivly but do not live near the smithsonaian. Thank you Brian

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