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Posted at 1:23 PM ET, 02/14/2006

More Than Meets the Urinal

By Julia Beizer

For me, the dada art movement of the early 20th century brings to mind one iconic image: Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (1917), a store-bought urinal the artist wished to display at a New York gallery.

But clearly, as National Gallery's new exhibit, "Dada," is quick to point out, the movement produced much more than the well-known readymade pieces. Nearly 450 artworks created between 1916 and 1924 will be on view in the gallery's East Building when the exhibit opens Sunday. They range from intricate marionette puppets to assemblages made from discarded train tickets and candy wrappers. Abstract paintings, needlepoints and wood sculptures are also on display. Recordings of the artists' sound poems -- essentially awkward pairings of syllables -- play in listening rooms scattered through the galleries.

Walking around the press preview this morning, I was amazed at the scope of the exhibition. Dada's all-stars -- Duchamp, Man Ray, Hugo Ball, Max Ernst, Hans Richter, etc. -- are represented, of course, but so are so many other artists like Kurt Schwitters, who wasn't considered political enough to join Berlin's dada movement, so he started his own "Merz" movement in Hannover.

The exhibit is a first-class survey of a movement that has profoundly influenced the course of contemporary art. Leah Dickerman, the curator of the show will give an overview of the movement at 2 p.m. on Sunday for those who could use a little brush up on Dada history. In March, the museum will put on an elaborate musical performance piece. Dreamed up by American composer George Antheil in 1924 and never executed in his lifetime, this score will be performed by 16 player pianos, a siren, two xylophones, three airplane propellors and other mechanical devices. I'll definitely be back for that.


By Julia Beizer  | February 14, 2006; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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