Learning the Unruly ABCs of Dada

A is for...
Abstract, Absurd and Acclaimed

It's also for Hans Arp, the pioneering abstractionist who made his mark on Zurich's dada scene. Arp is famous for his biomorphic wall reliefs, made of painted bits of wood cut into all kinds of kidney forms and playful, cell-like squiggles. They seem almost decorative, as unthreatening as any art could be.

But when dadaists like Arp first set out to break as many rules as they could find, the very idea that art could be purely abstract was so novel it had plenty of shock value. Add to that the fact that Arp's shapes and colors and materials looked as if they could have come out of a child's toy box, and that he hired a hack carpenter to band-saw the reliefs for him rather than craft them by hand himself, and you realize the radical force they had.

Arp's whole project would have seemed almost as absurd - as truly gaga-dada - as when the movement's poets declaimed a single silly text in three languages at the same time.

- Blake Gopnik, Washington Post Staff Writer


© 2006 The Washington Post Company