Browsed by
Tag: dadaism

LACMA: “Construction for Noble Ladies” (Kurt Schwitters, 1919)

LACMA: “Construction for Noble Ladies” (Kurt Schwitters, 1919)

img_2378

One of the more intriguing movements in the history of modernist art is that of Dadaism. Dadaist paintings were rarely just that: they frequently used different mediums, such as pieces of printed material, sand, and found objects, in their works along with paint. This creates an intricate texture, one that cannot be fully conveyed by p hotographs. Kurt Schwitters’ Construction for Noble Ladies, currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a perfect example of a dadaist found-object “painting”. This work mimics a traditional painting, and, in fact, is displayed in a room full of them. However, Schwitters’ piece is comprised of several seemingly random objects, including a wheel with broken spokes, a ticket for shipping a bicycle, a funnel, a flattened toy train, and other bits and pieces of detritus, along with paint.

The three-dimensional texture of this masterpiece is not properly conveyed through photographs. In a photograph, the effects of the layered depths of the different parts of the work is somewhat diminished, and the work develops an overall sense of unity that takes away from the experimental nature of the piece. Seeing this work in person highlights the distinct contrast within the work created by Schwitters’ use of almost sculpture-like relief. The intricacies in texture are much clearer, and give a better overall understanding of the piece.

The juxtaposition of this work and the other pieces in the gallery also adds to the avant-garde nature of the piece. Even though the paintings currently displayed on either side of this work are modernist and were experimental art for their time, Schwitters’ creation is clearly cutting edge on another level entirely. It also adds to the absurdity of the dadaist movement as a whole: you don’t typically walk into a German Expressionism gallery in a major art museum expecting to see a flattened toy and an old receipt painted to a piece of cardboard and hung on the wall. This helps the viewer better understand the context in which the dadaist movement existed, and thus better understand how Schwitters’ piece and other dadaist works were received.

Kurt Schwitter’s “Usonate” 1922

Kurt Schwitter’s “Usonate” 1922

I think Kurt Schwitter’s musical performance “Usonate” (1922) is a prime example of the Dadaist philosophy and applying this philosophy to multiple artistic mediums. This sound-poetry looks and sounds like utter nonsense, but none-the-less it achieves the Dadaist idea of creating something that means nothing, yet still contradicts itself by creating nothing that means something. Something that interests me about Dada is how it requires no explanation, yet the artists put effort into creating detailed, often convoluted, explanations that do nothing more than add to the ambiguity of their art pieces. In Tristan Tzara’s 1918 Dada Manifesto, he enforces a belief that criticism is useless and that rational explanation does not apply to Dadaist art. Even though he states that evaluating these art pieces will not amount to anything, he inadvertently encourages criticism as a way of calling attention to the meaninglessness of their artwork. Likewise, Schwitter states that he will only accept criticism from those who truly put work into understanding his poetry, however it is impossible to pin down a certain meaning or universal conclusion to what his work means. When listening to “Usonate” there is no rhythm, no music, no melody, only nonsensical vocals that convey a sense of confidence and assurance that conflicts with its sheer ridiculousness. This sort of sound-poetry, in addition to its detailed explanation, begs for the criticism that Dadaism disregards. By creating an eternal cycle of contradiction, Dadaism allows itself to be eternally questioned by the public, while maintaining a belief in NOTHING. For me, Dada is not as much an art movement as it is a philosophical way of looking at the world and human nature. If everything amounts to nothing in the end, one has a sense of freedom that extends beyond that of art and applies to how one lives their life in relation to conventional outlooks on what is rational thinking.