Zurich voters urged not to go gaga over Dada

Cabaret Voltaire is the spiritual home of Dada Keystone

The fate of the controversial Dada art movement's birthplace will be decided on Sunday when Zurich votes on a proposal to cut off subsidies financed by tax payers.

This content was published on September 27, 2008 - 10:19

The rightwing Swiss People's Party launched an initiative to pull the funding plug after a series of provocative events at the city's Cabaret Voltaire, otherwise known as Dada House.

The anti-establishment Dada movement was founded in Zurich in 1916 as an artistic expression of protest against the carnage of the First World War.

The People's Party campaign, called "Zurich's not gaga – no taxes to Dada", argues that paying Cabaret Voltaire's rent out of city funds amounts to a waste of public money. The rent will rise SFr25,000 to SFr315,000 ($289,000) at the end of the month, comprising 40 per cent of Cabaret Voltaire's total budget.

"We want to support culture, but only for places that attract a lot of people, and not by spreading the money over lots of smaller institutions," People's Party city councillor Bruno Sidler told swissinfo.

But Cabaret Voltaire co-director Adrian Notz said the campaign was misleading and did not take into account the historical and artistic significance of the Dada movement. He said that exhibitions attract 18,000 people a year, including many tourists, and generate a lot of favourable publicity for the city.

"Dada is the only global art movement to have come out of Zurich and it has had a huge impact on modern art. It is something that Zurich would profit from if it is treated properly," Notz told swissinfo.

Propaganda campaign

Dadaism is controversial by nature, but Notz believes the rightwing party is misusing some of its more provocative exhibitions as propaganda in its campaign.

One of those events was the public casting of male "sex slaves" in April for a woman's sexual therapy group. The casting had to be moved away from Cabaret Voltaire after the city authorities intervened.

A graffiti exhibition and the sale of t-shirts bearing a member of the German terrorist Red Army Faction (RAF) also drew some negative reactions. But Notz said the Dada movement is being misrepresented.

"The RAF t-shirts were actually criticising fashion labels that use these icons, such as Che Guevara," he said.

"Dada is not all about controversy. We also run exhibitions on a scientific level exploring the history of the movement."

Bleak outlook

Sidler remained unmoved, accusing Dada of stirring up bad feelings towards the establishment that keeps it running.

"Why should the city government continue to support them when they have acted against us? I have no problem with them continuing as a privately funded organisation," he said.

Notz fears that Sunday's vote could be dominated by opponents if other people find the issue too marginal to cast their ballots. In that case, Cabaret Voltaire, the spiritual home of Dadaism would be lost.

"Unless someone calls us on Monday offering to pay the rent or to buy the building then we would have to close the next day," he told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich


Dada or Dadaism was an artistic movement founded during the First World War in Zurich. It used various art forms to express its anti-war ideas and rejected established conventions of art with an anti-aesthetic and often shocking style.

There are various interpretations of how the movement got its name, with many believing it was just a nonsensical word chosen to display the movement's contempt of logic.

Dadaism swiftly spread throughout Europe and the United States and was at its peak between 1916 and 1920.

The Cabaret Voltaire theatre was set up in Zurich's old town in 1916 as a cabaret venue for the Dada movement.

The theatre ran into disrepair and was saved from demolition in 2002 by a group of artists who illegally occupied the building to prevent its destruction.

It opened for business again on September 30, 2004, complete with a subsidy from the city.

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