Art: Marvelous & Fantastic

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(See front cover)

Inside the front door of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art this week, oblong slabs of glass painted with black stripes revolved steadily under a six foot pair of red lips painted by Artist Man Ray. In other galleries throughout the building were a black felt head with a necklace of cinema film and zippers for eyes; a stuffed parrot on a hollow log containing a doll's leg; a teacup, plate and spoon covered entirely with fur; a picture painted on the back of a door from which dangled a dollar watch, a plaster crab and a huge board to which were tacked a mousetrap, a pair of baby shoes, a rubber sponge, clothespins, a stiff collar, pearl necklace, a child's umbrella, a braid of auburn hair and a number of hairpins twisted to form a human face. There were in addition, books, prints and paintings ranging from the 18th to the 20th Century, from Pieter Bruegel to contemporary Peter Blume. Having done its best to explain abstract art to the U. S. public last spring (TIME, March 9), the Museum of Modern Art was now attempting to explain another exotic movement with an equally important show broadly titled Exhibition of Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, or Art of the Marvelous and Fantastic.

Fantastic Art has always existed, always will as long as men have illogical minds and unruly imaginations. The Museum's walls historically carried fantastic art from the horror pictures of medieval Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, through the engravings of Hogarth, to the comic cartoons of Rube Goldberg and the frustrated drawings of James Thurber. Prominently displayed as examples of fantastic art were copies of Edward Lear's Nonsense Rhymes, Lewis Carroll's Jabber-wacky. This week's exhibition did not disdain the art of the frankly insane. There was a panel of wild designs by a crazed French banknote engraver, a drawing of something like a perverted rooster from the inspired brush of an ecstatic Czech (see p. 61).

Dada is something newer, different, a bewilderment that affected the art world of Europe for a few shell-shocked years during and immediately after the War. The object of dadaism was a conscious attack on reason, a complete negation of everything, the loudest and silliest expression of post-War cynicism. "I affirm," wrote early Dadaist Hans Arp, "that Tristan Tzara discovered the word dada on the 8th of February, 1916, at 6 o'clock in the evening ... in the Terrace Cafe in Zurich. I was there with my twelve children when Tzara pronounced for the first time this word, which aroused a legitimate enthusiasm in all of us." (Later Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck claimed: ". . . it was I who pronounced the word dada [hobbyhorse] for the first time.") In moments of harmony and logic which they affected to despise, dadaists admitted that their object was "to spit in the eye of the world."

A leader of the dadaists, later to be one of the most important surrealists, was a young German painter named Max Ernst. Cologne still remembers the dada exhibition organized by Max Ernst and Hans Arp in 1920. The entrance to the exhibition was through a public lavatory. Gallery-goers were given hatchets to smash any pictures they did not approve and a young girl in a white communion dress stood on a platform reciting obscene poems.

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