Monday, August 28, 2006

Dada: Paris, D.C., New York

After 12 months on the road, the much-heralded DADA exhibition comes to a close two weeks from today at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. If you haven't seen it yet, book your flight, leave your carry-on luggage behind and hussle down to West 53rd Street. I was lucky enough to see it this spring amid the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., when I visited Jeff Wassmann and his hard-working staff at The Wassmann Foundation. For all that's been said about the show, the last word goes to Charles Simic, writing in the current edition of The New York Review of Books (see link below). "In the end, the poets and the painters went their separate ways. Or rather, the artists continued doing what they had been doing all along. A distinct Paris Dada style never emerged. Man Ray's flat iron with a row of tacks glued on the bottom, his metronome with a cutout photograph of an eye on a pendulum, Duchamp's Mona Lisa with a mustache and a goatee, or Ernst's oil-on-wood construction Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale could have been done anywhere. Dada's genius was that it refused to define itself and become an art movement in an era of proliferating avant-gardes. All that its artists had in common were a few ideas about going beyond pictorial conventions, freeing art of its history in order to discover it elsewhere, as well as a sense of humor. That made all the difference—what Harold Rosenberg called 'comical questioning of appearances.' One only has to watch films like René Clair and Francis Picabia's Entr'acte, which are part of the MoMA show, to realize that their patron saint was that other mad twentieth-century inventor of visual gags, Buster Keaton. The joy of seeing this exhibition is the discovery of little-known works of art, which once were not supposed to be art, but which now look marvelously ingenious, well-made, and even beautiful." Sound like anyone we know? (exhibition catalogue cover above, Leah Dickerman, DADA. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2005.)

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