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Neo-Dada

Neo-Dada Collage
Started: 1952
Ended: 1970
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This everyday world affects the way art is created as much as it conditions its response.
Allan Kaprow Signature

Summary of Neo-Dada

The term Neo-Dada was applied to the works of artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Allan Kaprow who initiated a radical shift in the focus of modern art during the 1950s. Neo-Dada artists are known for their usage of mass media and found objects, as well as a penchant for performance. These artists rebelled against the emotionally charged paintings of the Abstract Expressionists that dominated the art world in the 1950s. By introducing mundane subject and emphasizing performance, the Neo-Dada artists ushered in the radical changes modern art underwent during the 1960s and paved the way for Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism.

Key Ideas

Key Artists

Overview of Neo-Dada

Neo-Dada Image

The Neo-Dada movement was initiated by the composer John Cage, artist Robert Rauschenberg, and the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1952. At the school, Cage lectured about embracing aleatory processes - the role of chance - and Eastern philosophies like Zen Buddhism in the creation of art and in daily life. A student in Cage's classes, Rauschenberg began working in less-traditional artistic processes, like using an automobile tire to create a print or painting a canvas pure white so that it would reflect its surroundings as the main subject matter. In the same context, Cunningham focused on synthesizing aspects of modern dance and classical ballet with his own natural ability and "animalistic" grace, aligning dance with performance art. While many individual works and moments contributed to the definition of the Neo-Dada aesthetic, Cage's "The Event," or Theatre Piece No. 1 (1952), performed at Black Mountain College, summarized the movement's interests in the emphasis on chance, individuality, interaction with the audience, and multiple media all combined into a singular work. After moving to New York City, Rauschenberg and Johns were neighbors and often discussed their ideas about artistic practice in their studios, further refining the aesthetic, particularly the idea that the artist's intent should not be legible or present in the final work.

Important Art and Artists of Neo-Dada

John Cage: Theater Piece No. 1 (1952)

Theater Piece No. 1 (1952)

Artist: John Cage

Cage's Theater Piece No. 1, also known as simply "The Event," was a seminal performance for the evolution of Neo-Dada, paving the way for the movement's signature collaborations and multimedia basis. Conceived by Cage, the piece involved several simultaneous, unscripted performance components including a poetry reading, music, dance, photographic slide projections, film, and four panels of Robert Rauschenberg's White Paintings (1951) suspended from the ceiling in the shape of a cross. While Cage set certain guidelines for which medium each performer used, he let each individual artist determine the specifics of their role within the performance, emphasizing the function of chance in determining the course of the event. The aspects were all integral to the development of the Neo-Dada aesthetic as well as later performance art, and were encapsulated within this one work in which many of the key artists within the Neo-Dada movement played integral roles.

Jasper Johns: Flag (1954-55)

Flag (1954-55)

Artist: Jasper Johns

Johns' use of newspaper and other media dipped in encaustic made each mark distinct and visually linked his work with the Abstract Expressionists, despite the very different processes that were involved. Rather than creating an abstract work like the action painters before him, Johns relied upon the images and signs common to American culture. He shifted the focus from the artist's mark to the interplay of emblems, language, and the media through his use of found objects embedded within the hardened wax "brushstrokes" that constitute the larger image of the American flag.

Furthermore, Johns emphasized his interest in semiotics through his use of this familiar symbol and relied upon the viewer's familiarity with the flag to imbue the work with meaning. Johns, who has referred to his paintings as "facts," does not provide an interpretation or critique of the media, language, or signs he paints - he instead relies upon the viewers to derive their own analyses. Through his revolutionary use of mass media and his focus on familiar signs, Johns moved the course of modern art away from formalist abstraction and towards Pop's attention to mass-produced objects, Conceptual art's focus on language, and, ultimately, to postmodernism's deconstruction of language.

Merce Cunningham: Suite for Five (1956-58)

Suite for Five (1956-58)

Artist: Merce Cunningham

In Suite for Five, Cunningham emphasized the movements of dancers in groups, specifically a duet, a trio, and a quintet. The program for the original performance introduced the work by stating, "The events and sounds of this ballet revolve around a quiet center, which though silent and unmoving, is the source from which they happen." The evolving contrasts between sound and silence, movement and stillness created a dynamic tension that guided the course of the performance. John Cage's Music for Piano was the score for the piece, and relied upon the composer's use of a prepared piano with felt, screws, and woodblocks fitted in and around the strings. Robert Rauschenberg created the costume designs, which consisted of earth-toned leotards. Both Cunningham and Cage relied heavily upon chance in the creation of this work, citing that both the score and the choreography were determined by random operations like counting the imperfections in a piece of paper. Cunningham's emphasis on choreography as an art form in its own right was highlighted through his development of the dance elements outside of the score, costumes, and stage set. This focus also underscored the importance of the individual movement of the artist/dancer, which initiated the evolution of performance art that directed the viewer's attention to the body of the performer rather than the narative or the theatricality of the dance.

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Neo-Dada Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Nov 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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