Monday, August 14, 2023

George Grosz: An Autobiography 

Our artistic persuasion at that time was Dada." Ifthat expressed anything at all, itwas our long fermenting restlessness, discontent and sarcasm. Any national defeat, any change to a new era gives birth to that sort of movement. At a different time in history we might just as well have been flagellants.

Dada, as much as I know, came from Zurich. During the war, a few poets, painters and composers founded the Cabaret Voltaire. It was directed by Hugo Ball with the help of Richard Hülsenbeck, Hans Arp, Emmy Hennings and a few other international artists. Their program was not exactly political but rather modernist- futurist. The name Dada was conceived by Ball and Hülsenbeck by opening a French dictionary blindfolded and pointing to a word. The word happened to be dada, meaning hobbyhorse.

Hülsenbeck brought Dada to Berlin, where it immediately became politicized. The atmosphere in Berlin was different. The esthetic side was maintained, but got increasingly dislodged by a sort of anarchistic nihilism whose main protagonist was the writer Franz Jung. Jung was a Rimbaud-like audacious adventurer, not to be deterred by anything. He joined us and because he was so powerful, he immediately became the guiding influence of the whole Dada movement. He drank heavily; he also wrote books in a style that was hard to read. He became very famous for a few weeks when he captured a steamship in the Baltic with the help of a sailor named Knuffgen, had it steered to Leningrad, and presented it to the Russians, at a time when the victory of the Communists seemed imminent and there was no real government in Germany.

Jung had no real occupation; he was always surrounded by a few loyally attached vassals. When drunk, he would shoot his revolver at us like a cowboy in a Western; he made a living writing about the stock exchange; at one time, he published his own journal on the subject of economics. He was one of the most brilliant people I have ever met and one of the most unhappy.

We Dadaists had ‘meetings’’ (we used the English word) in which, for a small admission fee, we did nothing but tell people the truth, i.e. insulted them. We spoke without inhibition using plenty of four-letter words. We would say, ‘‘You old heap of shit over there—yes, I mean you, you stupid ass,” or ‘Don’t you laugh, you moron!’’ When anybody answered, which of course they did, we would shout the way they did in the army: ‘‘Shut up, or I'll give you an ass full’ and so on, and so on.

Word spread fast, and soon our meetings and our Sunday morning matinees were sold out to people who were amused and/ or angry. Eventually, we had to have police in the hall because of the constant fighting. Later on it got so wild that we had to get a permit from the local police station. We derided everything, respected nothing, spat upon everything: that was Dada. It was not mysticism, not communism, not anarchy. All those movements had some sort of program. We however were complete nihilists; our symbol was nonexistence, a vacuum, a hole. 

Intermittently we produced ‘‘art.’’... 

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