The Artist Birthday Series

Tristan Tzara

Today’s Artist Birthday: Tristan Tzara (16 April 1896 – 25 December 1963)

Tristan Tzara was born Samuel or Samy Rosenstock (also known as S. Samyro), and was a Romanian and French avant-garde poet, essayist and performance artist. Also active as a journalist, playwright, literary and art critic, composer and film director, he was known best for being one of the founders and central figures of the anti-establishment Dada movement. Under the influence of Adrian Maniu, the adolescent Tzara became interested in Symbolism and co-founded the magazine Simbolul with Ion Vinea (with whom he also wrote experimental poetry) and painter Marcel Janco.

Young and bold, Tristian Tzara
Young and bold, Tristian Tzara

During World War I, after briefly collaborating on Vinea’s Chemarea, he joined Janco in Switzerland. There, Tzara’s shows at the Cabaret Voltaire and Zunfthaus zur Waag, as well as his poetry and art manifestos, became a main feature of early Dadaism. His work represented Dada’s nihilistic side, in contrast with the more moderate approach favored by Hugo Ball.

Hans Arp, Tristian Tzara, and Hans Richter (from left to right), 1917-18, Zurich
Hans Arp, Tristian Tzara, and Hans Richter (from left to right), 1917-18, Zurich

After moving to Paris in 1919, Tzara, by then one of the “presidents of Dada”, joined the staff of Littérature magazine, which marked the first step in the movement’s evolution toward Surrealism. He was involved in the major polemics which led to Dada’s split, defending his principles against André Breton and Francis Picabia, and, in Romania, against the eclectic modernism of Vinea and Janco. This personal vision on art defined his Dadaist plays The Gas Heart (1921) and Handkerchief of Clouds (1924). A forerunner of automatist techniques, Tzara eventually aligned himself with Breton’s Surrealism, and under its influence wrote his celebrated utopian poem The Approximate Man.

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