Dada art

100 Years Old, and Still Shocking

Dada shaking up a war-torn world.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A century after the opening of the wild and nonsensical Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Dadaism continues to inspire artists today.

  • Facts


    • Hugo Ball, the founding father of Dada, fled war-torn Germany to pursue artistic freedom in Zurich, Switzerland.
    • A community of international pacifists, Dada artists promoted anti-war, anti-establishment ideas.
    • The movement served as a key influence on movements like surrealism, realism, pop art and punk.
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The European avant-garde troop Dada revolutionized the art world, but it all began with a discreet newspaper advert in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

It was a call from German artist Hugo Ball for fellow creatives artists to join his new art event.  “The idea of the cabaret is that guest artists will come and give musical performances and readings at daily meetings,” he wrote, adding that he welcomed “suggestions and contributions of all kinds.”

Mr. Ball, a German theater dramatist and writer disillusioned with World War I, left Berlin to settle in Switzerland. His goal was to become the ringmaster in a circus featuring literature, art and politics. All he needed were a few willing artists who dared to jump.

What would soon be known as the Cabaret Voltaire opened in Zurich’s Spiegelgasse on February 5, 1916. Mr. Ball welcomed guests with his girlfriend, the cabaret artist Emmy Hennings. Attending what Mr. Ball billed as a “living magazine” were writer Tristan Tzara and the painter and sculptor Hans Arp, while Marcel Janco and Max Oppenheimer joined the busy stage.

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