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Tristan Tzara

Romanian Poet, Writer, and Filmmaker

Tristan Tzara Photo
Movements and Styles: Dada, Surrealism

Born: April 16, 1896 - Moinesti, Romania

Died: December 24, 1963 - Paris, France

"Art has not the celestial and universal value that people like to attribute to it. Life is far more interesting... Dada introduces it into daily life. And vice versa."

Tristan Tzara Signature

Summary of Tristan Tzara

Tzara is considered the founder of Dada, a nihilistic, anti-art movement formed in Zurich during World War I. Although also producing artwork, his primary contribution was publishing manifestos outlining the goals of Dada and circulating them to as wide an audience as he could solicit and arranging vulgar and shocking performances at a local Café featuring deconstructed language and outrageous acts purposefully intended to shock his audience and upset all preconceived expectation. Tzara worked hard to spread Dada, formulating the Dadaglobe project intended to catalogue Dada output across the world and introducing his own brand of chaotic spectacle to the Parisian avant-garde in the mid-1920s. By 1930 he began to break away from the destructive side of Dada and began to explore Surrealism, a movement propagated by his friend André Breton, with its combination of juxtaposition and chance. Throughout his career he strove to overcome what he felt were the evils of bourgeois society and to offer, in their place, an antidote based on a distinct lack of historical precedent.

Key Ideas

Tzara found and propagated Dada art in Zurich during World War I, determined to find an alternative to tradition, history, and the continuation of what he considered the pernicious bourgeoisie. From 1916 Tzara organized violent, disruptive, and unexpected performances at the Café Voltaire specifically meant to shock and upset his audience - all part of his effort to spread a kind of anti-art, one no longer based on any formerly understood societal standard. The artist continued his Dada activity in Paris in 1919, transforming literary gatherings and organizing performances intended, from the start, as a form of "hoax" or "trick" on his the public.
Tzara's interest in African art and poetry paralleled the interests of many contemporary European artists interested in so-called Primitive art as a way of breaking from the long-held Western tradition. His incorporation of African chants and dances into his performances added elements unfamiliar to most in his European audiences and encouraged an association common, even if problematic, among the Dadaists between Primitive arts and the subconscious.
Tzara used a particular style, which he called "cut-ups," for both his visual and literary oeuvre. In this method either a text (for a poem) or an image (for a drawing or print) was cut into pieces and then recomposed. The final work was a result of chance and juxtaposition. This technique was perfect when, influenced by Andre Breton, the artist began to explore Surrealism, allowing him to extend earlier ideas to new applications espousing an investigation of dreamlike states, ulterior realities, and the workings of the unconscious.
Tristan Tzara Photo

Tristan Tzara, born Samuel Rosenstock, came from a Romanian family with Jewish roots. A highly original thinker by nature, his early years were marked by feelings of boredom with the small, agricultural town in which he lived. While attending school in Bucharest he became captivated by Symbolism, and co-founded the magazine Simbolul with Ion Vinea and Marcel Janco. In 1915 he went to Zurich, a hotbed of revolutionary ideas, to study philosophy. His freethinking, anti-bourgeois principles led to painful clashes with his family that eventually led his father to cut him off. As he later wrote, "I was dead for him."

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