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Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Time Event
10:20a
Skipping ahead here ...
For those following along with my LibraryThing listings, this review is, indeed, out-of-order. I've been waiting to get "the right angle" on my previously-read book, and as this was "fresh in my head", I wanted to get the impressions down before it started to slip away.

This is part of The World Of Art series by Oxford University Press, and I have no clue of when or how it found its way into my vast to-be-read collection, but this is a 1978 reprint (so it could have been hanging around since college) of a 1965 translation of the 1964 original in German. As such, it is rather "dated" ("the future" sub-section of the "Neo-Dada" chapter refers to "happenings" performed in 1962!), but Hans Richter's Dada: Art and Anti-Art is a really remarkable book. Richter had been one of the core group of "Zürich Dada" in 1915-1920, and was on friendly terms with the various later movements in New York, Paris, Berlin, etc., and thereby is very much an eye-witness to a cultural movement which has become legendary.

Divided into sections dealing with the Dada scene as it evolved in various locations, Richter naturally paints the most detailed picture of the initial flowering of the movement, in neutral Switzerland, during the chaos of World War One. Artists from many countries (Richter himself had served in the German army, was wounded and released) found their way to Zürich and began working together in a group which echoed the madness all around them. As he knew the protagonists well here, he is able to bring the artists and actions in Zürich to a particular vividness.

In many other settings, however, he relies on the recall of others, and admits that (in several cases) at the remove from which he was writing (some 30+ years later), the specific details were often hard to determine or a point of contention between various individuals' memories. However, he does do a good job of presenting the "flavor" of the Dada movement in each of its major homes.

Towards the end of the book, the whole "movement" of Dada is placed in an over-all historical context, suggesting that the artists in Zürich, Paris, etc., had taken the tools (and much of the sensibilities) of the Futurists and set them in new directions, only to be wholly swallowed up by Surrealism within a decade, which then itself eventually morphed into what we would consider "pop art" (there is a fascinating recalling of a discussion that Richter had with Roy Lichtenstein about how he came to develop his "comic art" ... which turns out to have evolved in response to Lichtenstein's 8-year-old's reaction to his "abstract" art!).

Dada: Art and Anti-Art was quite a charming read, with the benefits of being partially a personal story (but without much "I, me, we"), in having immediate impressions of the subject, while still being a fairly objective (and reasonably well-researched, as Richter had contacted many of the artists/poets/etc. involved to clarify points and get other feedback) study of the movement. Needless to say, however, when listing "fallen comrades" there was more pathos hanging in the words than would have been noted in the writings of some random art historian.

I was glad to see that this book is still in print (in a 1997 edition from a different publisher), so it should be available through your local brick-and-mortar store. Various used copies are available as well through the usual suspects. The book is, as one would guess, well-illustrated, and is quite a nice introduction to the subject of Dada for anybody that has an interest in these things (and, frankly, reading this has set a little fire going in my head about following up on some long-contemplated art projects!). I would recommend it to anybody wishing to educate themselves on this fascinating period in Western Art & Culture.


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