- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

All hearts — and stomachs — belonged to dada on Wednesday night when the National Gallery of Art previewed its major survey of the avant-garde art movement. The East Building soiree reflected the irreverent, mechanistic spirit of “Dada” (opening to the public on Sunday), by serving hors d’oeuvres from a conveyor belt and “vertical” buffets on wheels.

The exhibition traces the rise of the radical multimedia movement between 1916 and 1924 in Europe and New York, and the crowd mirrored its international profile. Among the guests were Ruth Marion Ricarda Ball

, niece of artist Hugo Ball (who came up with the name “dada”). The German-born octogenarian, who now lives in Maine, said she came to listen to her late uncle’s sound poems.

—Several guests mentioned seeing a much bigger Parisian version of the show — 1,900 objects versus the NGA’s 450 where it originated at the Centre Pompidou last year. “It was so much more frenetic in Paris,” collector Barbara Levine said. “Here, you can focus on each object.” Pompidou Director Alfred Pacquement and exhibit curator Laurent Le Bon were diplomatic about the NGA’s interpretation. “Dada is a world, and there are many possible entrances to it,” Mr. Le Bon said. “I liked it in Paris, but there’s lots of room for variation,” added lender Jacqueline Matisse-Monnier, a granddaughter of Henri Matisse and a stepdaughter of Marcel Duchamp. Vive la difference.

Exhibition co-curator Leah Dickerman said she chose vivid paint colors for the galleries after seeing last year’s Dali show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (whose curator, Michael Taylor, was also present to see the results).

Just as brilliant was the edible dada on the mezzanine outside the exhibit. Guests plucked chocolate eye bonbons and faux martinis arranged around a broken Cupid centerpiece as waiters passed lobster-stuffed tomatoes served atop golf tees on grass-topped trays.

Eric Michaels, co-owner of Occasions caterers, said he studied the exhibition catalog to devise the imaginative buffet. Also catching the dada spirit was museum trustee Diana Prince, who wore a geometric-patterned suit and earrings with blinking lights.

Amid the creative dining, there was talk of dada’s timeliness. “In raising questions about war, technology and the definition of art, it’s so incredibly relevant,” NGA President Vicky Sant— said. “All the stuff that people think is avant-garde today — video games, Web designs started in dada,” added businessman Thomas Klarner, who has donated much of his dada collection to the gallery.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he had recently visited the battlefields of World War I and could better understand the exhibit as a result. “Dada is a deadly serious movement. It’s not a joke,” he said. “Anyone who has seen those battlefields will understand these works as a reaction to that war.”

Deborah Dietsch


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