On the night of 5 February 1916, half a dozen wild-eyed young bohemians took to the stage of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire nightclub with a bizarre vaudeville act of expressionist dance and slam poetry that bordered on gibberish. It didn’t go down spectacularly well with the audience but, like it or not, they had witnessed a pivotal moment in art history: the birth of Dada.
A subversive reaction to the folly of the First World War, the movement became a collective of avant-garde luminaries including Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Wassily Kandinsky.
It may seem odd that a radical art movement was founded in a city better known for its staid financial efficiency, but 100 years on, Zurich is very proud of its moment of artistic frenzy, and it’s celebrating the centenary of Dada’s creation with a series of events and exhibitions.
The Cabaret Voltaire — reopened in 2004 and now a public arts space — is hosting 165 soirees until 18 July, each honouring a different artist. As well as a dance festival in a train station, a farcical opera and, on 8 July, a fittingly absurd closing symposium, the Dada Africa exhibition (Museum Rietberg, until 17 July) looks at the group’s obsession with non-European culture, and the Kunsthaus Zurich hosts a retrospective of Francis Picabia (3 June-25 September).
By June, the Dada frenzy will segue into Manifesta 11, a biannual European art show that has this year chosen Zurich to host. dada100zuerich2016.ch
Published in the May 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)