Like everything in life, Dada is useless," proclaimed the Romanian-born poet Tristan Tzara in 1922, when the subversive art form was in its heyday. Yet nearly a hundred years later, people are still visiting the nerve center of this willfully useless movement. In 1916 the German poet Hugo Ball, who lived in Zurich at the time, opened a café-cum-theater called Cabaret Voltaire, where Tzara, Hans Arp and other nonconformist artists gathered. It was in the Cabaret's upstairs room that the group is said to have decided to find a name as incongruous as their free-form art. They randomly inserted a knife into a French-German dictionary; it pointed to the word dada, an archaic French term for a hobbyhorse. At the height of the movement, the Cabaret provided a venue for young nihilist artists to experiment, exchange ideas and make fun of conventional art.
Over the years the Cabaret Voltaire fell into disrepair. The building was occupied by a succession of nightclubs, bars and squatters until 2002, when the city parliament, spurred by local artists, earmarked $993,000 to renovate the landmark and reopen it as an informal Dadaist venue.
The newly refurbished Cabaret Voltaire, which opened at the end of September, features an archive of notes, documents and testimonials by Ball and other early Dadaists that chronicles the birth and growth of the movement, as well as works of modern followers such as the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Expectant parents take note: to mark the Dada revival, the Cabaret has launched the Gugusdada contest; it will award $8,300 to the first parents who dare name their newborn "Dada." To be eligible for the prize the baby must be born next February, the month the movement was founded.
Cabaret Voltaire, Spiegelgasse 1, Zurich
Exhibition hours: Tues.-Sat. 1 p.m-7 p.m., Sun 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
Coffee shop hours: daily except Mondays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.