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Six-Word Summary: De Stijl

Piet Mondrian, Composition C, 1935

Piet Mondrian, Composition C, 1935

REDUCED. ESSENTIAL. HARMONIOUS. GEOMETRIC. PRIMARY. and ABSTRACT.

DESIGN INSPIRATION

Fragment from: Tristan Tzara, Dada, no 3, December, 1918.

Fragment from: Tristan Tzara, Dada, no 3, December, 1918.

Dada was a European art movement that started in the early 20th century in response to the first World War.  The Dadaists felt that it was an absolutely ridiculous idea to send masses of boys away to fight, and they questioned the Europeans’ claims of being “rational, enlightened, and civilized” (Eskilson, 129). In response, they made art that was absolute nonsense in order to create a sense of irony and juxtaposition against the war. This style of art manifested in many different mediums — performance, collage, painting — but all showcased a disruptive, random, and chaotic composition (see fig. 1). One medium the Dada artists used was photomontage and collage, which allowed for the destruction and protest against mainstream ideas and icons (see fig. 2). Dada artists “rejected the ideas and values that other Europeans treasured the most” (Eskilson, 129), and defacing the images with which the Europeans had a connection allowed the artists to upset the viewers (see fig. 3).

To create a sense of chaos, they used techniques such as ripping up images and letting them fall onto the canvas; letting chance take over; using different fonts and torn-out letters to create ransom note-styled wording; and photomontaging and collaging. Photomontage was a significant discovery for them as they often sought to use satire in their works. This avant-garde style was the artists’ way of taking back the control. Their anarchic beliefs were able to be expressed through this movement.

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Figure 1: Hannah Höch, Cut with a Kitchen Knife, 1919-1920.

Figure 1: Hannah Höch, Cut with a Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany, 1919-1920.

 

Figure 2: Hannah Höch, Da-Dandy, 1919.

Figure 2: Hannah Höch, Da-Dandy, 1919.

 

Figure 3: Raoul Hausmann, The Art Critic, 1919-1920.

Figure 3: Raoul Hausmann, The Art Critic, 1919-1920.

Détournement is a strategy created by the French avant-garde group known as the Situationiste Internationale. It takes mass media and iconic images and appropriates them in order change their original meaning. Détournement “literally means ‘deflection’ or ‘redirection’” (Eskilson, 339). Artists use this style in order to rebel against certain ideologies produced in popular culture. They want to “subvert the main stream” (Eskilson, 340). They produce this rebellious quality in their work by using techniques similar to the artists that followed the Dada movement.

One artist who was inspired and influenced by the Situationiste Internationale (who were inspired by the Dadaists) was Jamie Reid. He created the artwork for the Sex Pistols’ single, God save the Queen (see fig. 4). He created this work when the punk movement in Britain was at an all-time high. The Sex Pistols were a pillar in this movement; their music, ideologies, and behaviours represented everything punk. When they released one of their most anarchic, rebellious songs yet, their manager, Malcolm McLaren, hired Reid to do the art. Reid took the subscriptions of the Dadaists and applied it to his work. This was successful because like the Dadaists, the Sex Pistols felt contempt for their government, and sought to disturb and shock viewers by causing destruction to images and symbols beloved by the people.

The single’s poster consists of an image of Queen Elizabeth II vandalized on top of the Union Jack. The Queen’s eyes and mouth have been torn away and replaced with the title and band name written in a ransom note style, similar to Tristan Tzara’s Salon Dada, 1921 (see fig. 5). This seemingly random selection of letters showcased the Dadaist’s preference for the unplanned. Reid uses this technique to rebel against the orderly, forced habits of society. Reid’s choice to deface a photo of the Queen and the Union Jack (both sources of national pride) was made to “undermine the original intent” (339) of, as well as spark a flame of rebellion against, that monarchy. This destruction of familiar images can also be seen in Hannah Höch’s Cut with a Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany, 1919-1920 (see fig. 1). Both of these pieces take what people know and destroy it in order to portray their dissatisfaction with it. Both the Dadaists and Jamie Reid with the Sex Pistols wanted to point out the absurd. Both wanted to effect change. Both wanted to rebel. Inspired by the Dadaists, Reid was able to successfully portray everything the Sex Pistols stood for.

Figure 4:Jamie Reid, God save the Queen, 1977

Figure 4: Jamie Reid, God save the Queen, 1977.

 

Figure 5: Tristan Tzara, Salon Dada, 1921

Figure 5: Tristan Tzara, Salon Dada, 1921

 

WORKS CITED:

Eskilson, Stephen John. “Postmodernism, the Return of Expression: Postmodern Graphic Design.” Graphic Design: A New History, Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 339 -340.

Eskilson, Stephen John. “Sachplakat, The First World War, and Dada: Dada.” Graphic Design: A New History, Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 129 -138.

Hausmann, Raoul. “The Art Critic.” 1919-1920.

Höch, Hannah. “Cut with a Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany.” 1919-1920.

Höch, Hannah. “Da-Dandy.” 1919.

Meggs, Phillip B. “The Modernist Era: The Influence of Modern Art.” Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, Wiley, 2016, pp. 277–281.

Reid, Jamie. “God Save the Queen.” 1977. Lithograph. Museum of Modern Art. New York.

Tzara, Tristan. “Salon Dada.” 1921. Lithograph. Merrill C. Berman Collection.

Tzara, Tristan. “Dada, no 3.” 1918. Periodical.

 

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