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Dadaism (1916-1920) was an art (or anti-art) movement that began in Switzerland with a small group of young artists and poets escaping the war in Western Europe. The group was disillusioned with the war and with moral and societal conventions (in the form of the bourgeoisie), as well as with the strictures governing art and literature at the time.

They created a style that reflected their spirit: anarchic and nihilistic. Seemingly random words were strung together to form verses; geometric shapes were used to depict everyday objects. Conventional structures were taken apart and reassembled in what appeared to be nonsensical forms. Tristan Tzara's Dada Manifesto states: "By giving art the impetus of supreme simplicity – novelty – we are being human and true in relation to innocent pleasures; impulsive and vibrant in order to crucify boredom."

The concept that Dadaism was all-encompassing, found everywhere and nowhere, is key to understanding the movement. Its practitioners were not bound by previously existing rules, but could create forms previously unseen in art and literature. Francis Picabia, one of the more noted Dadaist painters, described it this way: "Dada speaks with you, it is everything, it envelops everything, it belongs to every religion, can be neither victory or defeat, it lives in space and not in time."