In the fall of 1920 in Paris, Tristan Tzara, poet and co-founder of Dada, embarked on an epic project to compile an anthology of works created by an international group of artists aligned with his avant-garde movement. Tzara’s goal was to print 10,000 copies of the book and call it Dadaglobe. Unfortunately, his ambition far exceeded his fundraising talents, and as a result, the project, slated for publication in 1921, never reached completion.
Tzara—with help from his friend and fellow Dadaist Francis Picabia—had written to 50 artists from 10 countries asking them to submit artworks to be considered: these could be photographic self-portraits, photographs of art, original drawings, designs for book pages, prose, poetry, and other verbal “inventions.” Over the course of the year Picabia’s apartment had become jam-packed with correspondence.
Now, following six years of archival research by Dada scholar Adrian Sudhalter, many of those fragments of the never-realized whole have been assembled for the exhibition “Dadaglobe Reconstructed,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The display might be seen as either the remnants of an unrealized project or as Dadaglobe’s original intention finally coming to fruition.
Among the fragments on display is Max Ernst’s pioneering work of photomontage, Die chinesische Nachtigall, The Chinese Nightingale. It is both a photograph of a sculpture set on a lawn and a collage work. The sculpture depicts an anthropomorphic bomb (used by the British in World War I) with a pair of outstretched arms and a piercing eye—a portrait of distress.
“Had it been published in 1921, Dadaglobe would have recorded the activities of Dada at its climax and before its decline,” as Jeanne Brun wrote in the catalogue to French curator Laurent Le Bon’s 2005 Dada exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. The failure of Dadaglobe, according to Brun, seemed to lay in the “incapacity” of the Dada movement to have its “essence . . . congealed in one single publication.”
One wonders whether Tzara grasped the complicated nature of his endeavor from the start. Apart from financial issues, personality conflicts, too, also contributed to Dadaglobe’s demise. Was Tzara perhaps a bit naïve in believing that so disparate a group could achieve such a cooperative feat? Or, maybe, Tzara always suspected that Dadaglobe was destined to exist less as a Dada-defining publication than as a provocation.
Jean Cocteau, for instance, wrote above an image of himself in Self Portrait on Pablo Picasso’s Horse, “I’m not a Dada, but I’ll amble in your book.”
By bringing these pieces together, “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” represents the long-term ripple effect of the creative explosion triggered by Tzara’s invitation. More than chronicling what Dada was, these pages reflect the artistic freedom that Dada would inspire for years to come.
Another page, Portrait of André Breton at Festival Dada (with Picabia placard) is a photograph of Breton with his head poking out of the top of a sandwich board. He offers a playful sideways glance as his right hand points toward a large bulls-eye and the accompanying text (translated from the French), which otherwise obscures the bulk of his body, reads, “In order to love something you need to have seen it or heard it for a long time you bunch of idiots.”