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Neo-Dada

The term Neo-Dada was first applied to the work of Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly in an unattributed comment in the January 1958 issue of Artnews magazine. It has come to be associated primarily with the work of Johns and Rauschenberg rather than that of Kaprow and Twombly, but it is also appropriate to apply it to the slightly later assemblages by Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, and Edward Kienholz.

The Artnews evocation of Dada referred to two aspects of the early-twentieth-century movement. First, there was a Dada-like sense of paradox and ambiguity embodied in Johns’s paintings of targets, numbers, and maps that filled the entire surface of the canvas. Second, there was a connection to Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, and other Dada artists in Rauschenberg’s use of junk and found objects to create “Combines”—hybrid painting-sculptures. (For one of them, the artist used his own mattress and quilt as his “canvas.”)

Neo-Dada provided a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art. Johns and Rauschenberg shared the former’s predilection for gestural brushwork and grand scale but rejected the sublimity of Abstract Expressionism in favor of everyday imagery. In this regard they influenced the development of Pop art. Neo-Dada’s counterpart in Europe was Nouveau Réalisme.

Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.