The Dada Effect: An Anti-Aesthetic and Its Influence

March 16 – May 27, 2017

Jean Cocteau (French, 1892–1963)
Méditerranée, 1961
27″ x 20-1/8″
Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery Collection
Vanderbilt Art Association Acquisition Fund Purchase
© 2017 ADAGP, Paris / Avec l’aimable autorisation de M. Pierre Bergé, président du Comité Jean Cocteau

The Dada Effect: An Anti-Aesthetic and its Influence

Dada was an international multimedia artistic and literary movement founded in Zurich in 1916 to reimagine and, in fact, tear down prevailing forms of art that had dominated the Western tradition. As early as 1915, while proto-dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray worked in New York forming their anti-establishment philosophy of art, Zurich Dada was beginning to develop independently in the shadow of the First World War. Following in its aggressively anti-nationalistic, anti-war and anti-bourgeois position, independent Dadaist groups launched in Paris, Berlin, Cologne and other metropolitan centers.

The Dada Effect shows how Dadaist aesthetics and ideology directly influenced modern art and literature through the twentieth century in many subsequent movements, including Surrealism, ‘Pataphysique, and Neo-Dada. Thanks to the impressive collection of rare books and journals contained within the Pascal Pia Collection held at Vanderbilt’s W. T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies, the literary aspect of these movements will be on full display with first editions of works by Tristan Tzara, André Breton, and Jean Cocteau, among many others. Art from the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery Collection and several outside loans highlight the connections between various branches of “the arts” (visual, literary, musical, plastic, performance). Works by artists whose imaginations were captured by the notion of anti-art for many decades, including Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage, will play an integral role. The exhibition is also intensely pedagogical, with contributions from students in the Department of Theatre and the Blair School of Music.

Special Programs

Moveable Dada (This is Not Your Dada’s Dada!)
An evening of Art, New Music, and Conversation

March 23 at 7:00pm in the gallery

This program is an exciting collaboration between the Fine Arts Gallery and the Blair School of Music, with the performance of four original student compositions. All are inspired by works of art either in the exhibition or relating to the spirit of Dada. Recordings of these pieces are available through the exhibition audio guide.

Dada hitchhikes a ride to America! 

April 4 at 5:30 p.m. in Cohen 203

Professor Robert Barsky will discuss the Beat Generation’s affinity for all things Dada, and he will offer examples from the poetry, the songs, and the general comportment of Allen Ginsberg to show how being “beat” would often overlap with the Dada approach to art and to life.


The Dada Effect: An Anti-Aesthetic and Its Influence is curated by Daniel C. Ridge, assistant director of the W. T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies, and organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, with support provided by the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, Leslie Cecil and Creighton Michael (MA’76), the Department of French and Italian, the Department of Theatre, the Jean and Alexander Heard Library, and the Ewers Gift for Fine Art.

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