Tristan Tzara
Biography of Dada Founder, Dadaist Editor, Performance Artist.


Tristan Tzara (1896-1963)


Founder of Dada

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For an explanation, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.

Founder of Dada

Born Samuel Rosenstock, Tristan Tzara was a Romanian-French avant-garde writer, art critic, poet and visual artist who is best known as the founder of the anti-art Dada movement, which first emerged in Zurich at the height of World War I. According to Jean Arp (1886-1966), another early Dadaist, "Tzara invented the word 'Dada' on 6 Feb, 1916, in the Cafe de la Terrasse in Zurich." Tzara's shows at the Cabaret Voltaire (the cradle of Dada) and Zunfthaus zur Waag, together with his art manifestos and performance art, were a popular feature of early Dadaism. Tzara embodied the anarchistic - even nihilistic - wing of Dada, compared with the more moderate approach favoured by the German theatre producer Hugo Ball (1886-1927), founder of the Cabaret Voltaire. As well as Ball and Arp, Tzara's fellow Dada pioneers included: the poet Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1927), the artists Marcel Janco (1895-1984), and Hans Richter (1888-1976). As Dada was gradually superceded by the Paris-based Surrealism movement, during the early 1920s, Tzara was involved in a major argument over aesthetics with Francis Picabia, Andre Breton, Janco and other Surrealist artists, before eventually aligning himself with Breton's Surrealism.


Born Samuel Rosenstock/Rosenstein into a Jewish family in Moinesti, Romania, Tristan Tzara became interested in Symbolism just before the First World War, under the influence of the Romanian poet and playwright Adrian Maniu (1891-1968). At the same time he co-founded the magazine Simbolul with the poet Ion Vinea (1895-1964) and the painter Marcel Janco (1895-1984). During the war he settled in Switzerland, where as a founder of Zurich Dada he achieved overnight fame among the city's avant-garde, for his "performance art" at the Cabaret Voltaire, and for his anti-establishment art criticism. Following the closure of the Cararet Voltaire in 1917, Tzara, along with fellow Dadaist Hugo Ball, opened a new venue in the city, known as Galerie Dada. In addition, Tzara authored the first Dada texts, including "The First Heavenly Adventure of Mr Antipyrine" (1916), "Twenty-Five Poems" (1918) and the first "Dada Manifesto" (1918).

In 1919, he moved to Paris where he became a staff writer for Litterature magazine, which was published 1918-24. This reflected a slight move away from his uncompromising artistic nihilism, in favour of a more constructive set of aesthetics - and anticipated the coming of Surrealism during the mid-1920s. Even so, it took more than a decade of soul-searching and mud-slinging before he eventually joined former Dadaists - Man Ray (1890-1976), Max Ernst (1891-1976), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Jean Arp (1887-1966) - in the new movement. During the 1930s he devoted a good deal of energy to reconciling Surrealism with Marxism, becoming a member of the Communist Party in 1936. It was during this time that Tzara wrote the first of his mature works, namely his famous utopian poem "The Approximate Man" (1931). Other works included "Speaking Alone" (1950) and "The Inner Face" (1953). He died in Paris at the age of 67 and was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery.


An iconic figure within the Dada movement - itself a highly influential group within European and North American avant-garde art - Tristan Tzara influenced several generations of modern artists, notably those involved in Surrealism, Neo-Dada, French Nouveau Realisme, Macunias' Fluxus and American Pop Art. Even today, many types of contemporary art - such as conceptual art or installations, as well as happenings - owe a great deal to the revolutionary approach of early 20th-century Dada, as embodied by Tristan Tzara.


• For more about modern artists, see: 20th-Century Painters.
• For more details of 20th century movements, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.