“We envisioned meditation images, mandalas, signposts”

At the Center of the Avant-Garde: Dada & Surrealism

As central figures in the avant-garde of the early twentieth century, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp exercised a decisive influence on the forward-looking tendencies of their era. Both were members of many organizations and artistic groups. With its “sanctioned nonsense,” Dada revolutionized every dimension of artistic expression from 1916 onward, smashing social boundaries in the grand sweep of its ambition. The starting point for what would become a global movement was Zurich. Since the start of World War I, politically neutral Switzerland had been a place of refuge for intellectuals from all nations. Here, Arp and Taeuber-Arp joined creative forces with like-minded individuals against the war’s brutality and what they saw as the inherent corruption of bourgeois society, finding a resonant outlet in Dada. Much more than an art movement in the traditional sense, Dada became an attitude toward life.


Ordinary materials and techniques enabled them to combine art with everyday life, thereby collapsing the distinction between fine and applied art. The group Das neue Leben, to which they belonged, was already taking up reformist ideas in 1918 that would reach their apogee in the Bauhaus not long thereafter. Taeuber-Arp unwaveringly pursued her universal ambitions for art. In the 1920s, this could be seen especially clearly in her woven and beaded works, as well as her architectural designs. During those same years, Hans Arp was moving in the circles of Paris Surrealism. The members of that dogmatic group theorized the emergence of an undirected creative force from the unconscious, far removed from the boundaries of reason and logic. Arp took inspiration from this fantastically minded group of creators and inspired them in turn, especially in the realm of Surrealist poetry and through the poetic object-language of his prints and reliefs.

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