Learning the Unruly ABCs of Dada

P is for...
Painting, Pathetic and Passe

Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber, First Couple of Dada, said they began to promote needlepoint as an artistic medium "to avoid any reminiscence of canvas painting, which we regarded as characteristic of a pretentious and conceited world."

Marcel Duchamp, one of dada's most important figures, made his first great splash in 1912 with a cubist painting, his famous "Nude Descending a Staircase." Within a few years, however, he'd turned away from painting for good.

Francis Picabia teased the organizers of the painting-dominated Paris Salon by submitting "pictures" such as his "Danse de Saint Guy" -- a kind of anti-painting that is just a classic gold frame with a couple of strings and cryptic labels stretched across its empty middle.

Despite all this dada apostasy, painting still continued to mean a great deal to many of the movement's artists -- almost as though it were a father too potent to kill off. George Grosz and Max Ernst, though early pioneers of collage art, kept painting to the end. Picabia himself eventually repudiated dada, going on to paint in a commercial figurative style.

- Blake Gopnik, Washington Post Staff Writer


© 2006 The Washington Post Company