What Was Dada? Our Primer on the Revolutionary Roots of the Original Anti-Art Movement
Ready-mades” in Paris and New York. It was not about formal aesthetics or skill, unlike even such movements such as Cubism or Futurism. It was not about conforming: class, religion, war, and art itself were all under scrutiny and attack by often humorous and always incisive artists who sought to break down barriers between art and everyday life.
For post-war Germany, everyday life was wrought with anxiety and a sense of wounded loss; both Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife, by Hannah Höch (1889–1978), and The Worker Picture, by Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948), speak to this with painful eloquence. Höch used photos from newspapers and magazines to create a montage in which the placement of image and text is telling: Kaiser Wilhelm’s face appears surrounding the word “anti,” and Höch’s own face is next to a map of countries with female suffrage. The domestic kitchen knife suggests the abilities of female artists to cut through the gluttony at the heart of the war, symbolized by the male-gendered “beer-belly” of the title.
The title of Schwitters’s piece comes from a fragment of newspaper text pasted into the composition: Arbeiter (“worker”). Indicating the working class, the word is also a pun, suggesting that the picture itself might “function” with its system of cogs and pistons. However, this is no slick, well-oiled mechanism, but one created from fragments of wood, wire, and newsprint, seeming to stutter and grind; both picture and worker are vulnerable and struggling.