Romanian Poet, Writer, and Filmmaker
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.
- 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.
Biography of Tristan Tzara
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."
Important Art by Tristan Tzara
Tzara co-founded Dada in Zurich. The Manifestos he wrote from 1916, including this one regarding "unpretention," all outlined the principles of the movement as well as its raison d'etre. "Art needs an operation." - with these uncompromising words Tzara set forth his philosophy that Art with a capital A was pretentious and that traditional artists were self-absorbed hypocrites. He called for something he called "Dada's magic revolver" to put "Art" (any work of creativity) to sleep (really, put aside) so that a new world that emphasized life and the living could be born. The Dada movement initiated a militant anti-art revolution. As Tzara explained: "Get ready for the action of the geyser of our blood-submarine formation of trans chromatic aeroplanes, cellular metals numbered in the flight of images above the rules of the hand."
This Unpretentious Proclamation, released a few years into the movement, not only outlines its precepts but also indicates its visual idiom. The typeface, a corrupted version of standard Victorian print, was purposefully chosen. Tzara co-opted typefaces from advertisements and newspapers and changed the font, orientation, and boldness in an effort to articulate his ideas. This text indicates the inherent contradiction of the Dada position: making art while simultaneously denying it.
This bulletin illustrates Tzara's "cut-up" style wherein pieces and morsels of previously printed material were gathered and juxtaposed in what seems a random manner, coming together to form an artwork as if by accident. As he specifically recommended for poems: "Take a newspaper. Take a pair of scissors. Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem. Cut out the article. Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag. Shake it gently. Then take out the scraps one after another in the order in which they left the bag. Copy conscientiously. The poem will be like you. And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming beyond the understanding of the vulgar."
This same technique was recommended for visual material and it can be seen in this Bulletin where syntax and imagery are arranged in an unconventional manner. Tzara explained "Every page should explode, either because of its profundity, or because of its vortex, vertigo, newness, timelessness, crushing humor, enthusiasm of its principles, or the way it is printed." Here text is arranged in bits and bursts on the page, some running left to right but other surprisingly running up on an angle or tipped to the side. There's no clear margin and no formal arrangement into paragraphs, instead lines wrap around in an almost random fashion. The illustrative material is squeezed into the space that remains in an almost coincidental fashion.
Tzara's efforts in these works of typographic collage share a lot with those of other Dada artists including Janco. The concept of collecting items or bits or words and arranging them on the page so that the viewer is forced to find meaning was consonant among all the artists active in this movement.
This missive, primarily instigated by Tzara, outlined the goals of the Dadaglobe project as well as clearly presenting its stylistic idiom. The Dadaglobe intended to further promote the international nature of the movement and serve as a cross-cultural guidebook to the future of art. It was an encyclopedia that included self-portraits, photomontages, collages, drawings, poems, and book designs from artists across the world including the former combatant states of Germany and France. To insure its international availability he planned to publish in French, German, and English.
Tzara worked on the project from 1920-21, collating material received from a range of artists including Hans Arp, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Hannah Hoch, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, before abandoning it. The letter illustrated, signed by Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and Walter Serner on November 8, 1920, called on artists from all over the globe to submit writings and artworks demonstrating the global expansion of Dada. Almost one hundred years later, on the 100th anniversary of Dada's founding, the Kunsthaus Zürich brought the Dadaglobe artworks and writings together for the first time and completed Tzara's original project with the publication of Dadaglobe Reconstructed.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Tristan Tzara
- The Dada Painters and PoetsBy Robert Motherwell
- TaTa Dada: The Real Life and Celestial Adventures of Tristan TzaraBy Marius Hentea
- Dada & SurrealismBy Matthew Gale
- Dada: Art and Anti-artBy Hans Richter (2004)
- Tristan Tzara's 'International of the Mind': Dadaglobe (1920-21)Our PickIn Virgin Microbe: Essays on Dada, Michael White
- Seven Dada ManifestosOur PickBy Tristan Tzara
- Approximate Man and Other WritingsBy Tristan Tzara (Mary Ann Caws)
- Dadas on Art: Tzara, Arp, Duchamp and OtherOur PickEdited by Lucy Lippard
- Oeuvres complètes of Tristan Tzara, Henri Béhar Tomes 1-6 (French)By Tristan Tzara, Henri Behar
- Dadaglobe ReconstructedBy Kunsthaus Zürich (Editor)
- DadaglobeOur PickBy Kunsthaus Zürich / 21 October 2015
- Dadaglobe ReconstructedOur PickBy Paul J Sachs / Museum of Modern Art, New York / 14 December 2015
- Documents of Dada and SurrealismBy Irene E. Hofmann / Mary Reynolds Collection / Art Institute of Chicago / 2001
- The First Two Dada ManifestosOur PickThe Art History Archive / Retrieved 20 December 2015
- Seven Dada ManifestosBy Tristan Tzara / Retrieved 20 December 2015
- Some Memoirs of DadaismBy Tristan Tzara / Vanity Fair / 1922
- WHO'S TZARA NOW?By Charlie Finch / Retrieved 22 May 2016-05-22
- From Dada to Infra-Noir: Dada, Surrealism and RomaniaBy Mark Hutchinson / Dada-Surrealism Volume 20 / 2015