Dada, the legendary anti-war art movement, plays a fundamental role in the city of Zurich’s cultural history. The movement was born at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in February 1916 – a time when the nations of Europe were embroiled in the unremitting carnage of the First World War. Seeking an escape from the conflict, many intellectuals, artists, pacifists, revolutionaries and political refugees went into temporary exile in Zurich. The city thus became a favoured destination for the European avant-garde and an international meeting-place for productive exchange. After the war, Dada spread out in all directions, to Berlin, Paris and New York, before gradually being superseded by other artistic currents during the 1920s.
Dada is an art movement that, while it existed only for a limited period, has never lost its attraction and has continually been rediscovered by artists and audiences alike. Today, it is one of the few international currents in art history of which Zurich can claim parentage. In 2016 it celebrates its 100th birthday. Numerous institutions in the city, including the Kunsthaus Zürich, have taken the opportunity to investigate this key contribution to 20th-century art and reappraise its contemporary significance.
DIGITIZATION OF THE WORKS ON PAPER
There are Dadaist works in every area of the Kunsthaus Zürich collections: among the paintings and sculptures, in the Collection of Prints and Drawings, the photographic collection and the library. The Dada holdings of the Prints and Drawings Collection and library include works on paper, letters, books, magazines, flyers, posters, manuscripts and photographs. In anticipation of the anniversary, the well over 600 pieces that make up the collection have been reviewed from a research and conservation perspective by Dada expert Raimund Meyer, working closely with restorer Jean Rosston and curator Cathérine Hug. This will formed the basis for a large-scale digitization project which builds on the essential groundwork carried out at the Kunsthaus Zürich for ‘Dada in Zürich’ (Hans Bolliger, Guido Magnaguagno and Raimund Meyer, Sammlungsheft 11, 1985) and ‘Dada global’ (Raimund Meyer, Judith Hossli, Guido Magnaguagno, Juri Steiner and Hans Bolliger, Sammlungsheft 18, 1994).
Digitization by experts in the field using state-of-the-art scanning technology raises the profile of the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Dada collection in the virtual age and, at least as importantly, protect the works themselves. All the digitized works are available for use on «collections online». The technical aspects of the operation were handled jointly with the digitization centre of Zurich Central Library.
RESTORATION OF SELECTED WORKS
Digitization of the Kunsthaus Zürich’s entire Dada holdings permitted an up-to-date reassessment of each individual item’s conservation needs, allowing the necessary restoration work to be re-evaluated and specific action taken where needed. Owing to the poor quality of the paper, which is evident in the brittleness and discolouration of the material, most of the originals are extremely fragile (see Figs 1 to 4). This restricts their use and, in a few critical cases, entirely prevents it. Highlights of the Dada collection, which is much in demand for international loans, as well as some selected treasures, have been restored in recent months to ensure that they can continue to appear in exhibitions.
The project has been made possible thanks to support from the Ernst Göhner Foundation, Helvetia Insurance and the Federal Office of Culture FOC.