I KNOW that I am important as a factor in the development of art and always will remain so," Dadaist Kurt Schwitters wrote in 1931. "I say this with all possible emphasis so that nobody afterwards can say: The poor man didn't even know how important he was.' " The Dadaists (among them Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst) took their name from a nonsense phrase, but thought they were making sense of a kind. In the disillusioned aftermath of World War I. Schwitters used the bric-a-brac of everyday life—fragments of newspapers,...

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