In Culture, Feature

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis Dada Ball honors the creatively rebellious art movement of the early 20th century.


From 1916-1924, an art movement rocked art and fashion communities in Europe and America to the core by challenging social norms with a new form of avant-garde. The movement, known as Dada, originated in Zurich and was created organically by the forward-thinking artists and intellectuals of the day who were desperate to act out against art, establishment and common culture. Even the name deflected any sort of definition: “Dada means nothing, it’s just a sound produced by the mouth,” said Tristan Tzara in his 1918 Dada manifesto.

This month in St. Louis, Dada is making a comeback—even if just for a night—when the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis hosts its biennial celebration, the Dada Ball & Bash, on May 16.

Though the movement began across the pond, Dadaists who resided in New York were among the key players in the development of the fashion—or anti-fashion—that represented the rebellious nature at Dada’s core. Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, perhaps the most well-known of the New York set, would often parade the streets of Greenwich Village in spats and a tin-can bra, fighting convention as a performance artist well ahead of her time.

Another Dadaist, Clara Tice, has been referred to as the movement’s “it” girl. Her look: short skirts and a signature bob that channeled her feminist ideas. She also enraged conservatives with her artwork, which featured nude female forms. Her defiant attitude toward society earned her art a spot at Vanity Fair, which latched on to Dada as a new fashion revolution. Who needs rules anyway?


6145_1899.jpgSonia Delaunay, costume design for “The Gas Heart” by Tristan Tzara, 1923.


Sonia Delaunay, •À_Tristan Tzara avec un monocle [Tristan Tzara with monocle],•À_ 1923. New York, MOMA.

6144_1899.jpgAnonymous, “Sc̬ne du Coeur ÌÊ gaz [Scene from Gas Heart],” July 6-7, 1923.


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