Art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors and folly of the war. The art, poetry and performance produced by dada artists is often satirical and nonsensical in nature

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  • Marcel Duchamp, 'Fountain' 1917, replica 1964

    Marcel Duchamp
    Fountain 1917, replica 1964
    Porcelain
    unconfirmed: 360 x 480 x 610 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999 Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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  • Man Ray, 'L'Enigme d'Isidore Ducasse' 1920, remade 1972

    Man Ray
    L'Enigme d'Isidore Ducasse 1920, remade 1972
    Sewing machine, wool and string
    object: 355 x 605 x 335 mm
    Purchased 2003 Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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  • Kurt Schwitters, 'Opened by Customs' 1937-8

    Kurt Schwitters
    Opened by Customs 1937-8
    Paper collage, oil and pencil on paper
    support: 331 x 253 mm frame: 523 x 421 x 29 mm
    Purchased 1958 DACS, 2002

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Dada artists felt the war called into question every aspect of a society capable of starting and then prolonging it – including its art. Their aim was to destroy traditional values in art and to create a new art to replace the old. As the artist Hans Arp later wrote: 

Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts. While the guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might.

In addition to being anti-war, dada was also anti-bourgeois and had political affinities with the radical left.

The founder of dada was a writer, Hugo Ball. In 1916 he started a satirical night-club in Zurich, the Cabaret Voltaire, and a magazine which, wrote Ball, ‘will bear the name ”Dada”. Dada, Dada, Dada, Dada.’ This was the first of many dada publications. Dada became an international movement and eventually formed the basis of surrealism in Paris after the war.

Leading artists associated with it include Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Kurt Schwitters. Duchamp’s questioning of the fundamentals of Western art had a profound subsequent influence.