Art 101

Meet the Neo-Dadaists

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Meet the Neo-Dadaists
Robert Rauschenberg's Monogram (1955-59)

In the late 1950s, as Abstract Expressionism waned and restless artists searched for something new, a flowering of strange artistic experiments began to appear. A 1958 Art News article coined the term "Neo-Dada" for this burgeoning movement, just six years after the magazine announced the arrival of "The American Action Painters." Including Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Claes Oldenburg, and other artists, this new group was creating provocative, in-your-face art that took the emotive "action" off the canvas and brought it into the world.

In the Art News article, the historian Barbara Rose presented these artists as the heirs of the original Dadaists—Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Kurt Schwitters among them—who embraced all manner of visual art as well as theater and literature in an attempt to make sense of the ravages of the first World War. But while the Neo-Dadaists drew on a similar taste for paradox, psychological intricacy, and the absurd, they were generally less concerned with politics than with the artistic liberties found in making freewheeling work that ran across the full spectrum of art and technology.

Under the broad umbrella of Neo-Dada arose radical, revolutionary work that followed Duchamp's example of eliminating the boundary between art and life. Rauschenberg and the Happenings artists Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg, and Jim Dine brought performance art to American audiences, while Fluxus pioneers like Nam June Paik branched into video art and Joseph Beuys blazed a trail for participatory art with his famous "social sculpture."

In this collection, we've pulled together work by key Neo-Dada artists as well as a wide variety of their artistic followers, from the legendary figures Bruce Nauman and Laurie Anderson to younger artists like Liz Magic Laser and Olaf Breuning. Explore these works to learn more about a vital strain of contemporary art.

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