Some cold mathematical humor

Voltaire - 1

What could Duchamp and Man Ray have had in mind when they aspired to “introduce a cold mathematical humor into life?”  I’ve been looking for examples in the dada canon, and no doubt readers will be able to point to more cogent examples, but the only one I managed to find in the Dadaglobe Reconstructed exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich is item 5 on the above contribution by Egidio Bacchi.

All human unhappiness stems from an incomprehensible truth:  2+2 = 4.  Why?

If it weren’t the case, then we would have enough wealth to sleep with the most beautiful woman of our country.

Items 2 and 6 are rather worse.   The exhibition, which is a genuine reconstruction of

the more than two hundred artworks and texts that were sent to Tristan Tzara in 1921 by artists from all over Europe

for a book project that was never completed,  will be closing in Zürich on Sunday and will be moving in June to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  I don’t expect MOMA’s curators, any more than their colleagues in Zürich, will want to draw any more attention to this specimen of Dada’s last gasp.

Since the Zürich dadaists were in communication with Filippo Marinetti, the Italian futurist and future fascist — even going so far, according to Wikipedia, as to reproduce excerpts from Marinetti’s poem Zang Tumb Tumb in the first issue of the journal Cabaret Voltaire  — I worried that Bacchi was aiming at the kind of cold humor later popularized by Mussolini:


Mussolini joking with il federale Gazzotti in the Roman Forum, May 30, 1936

It was therefore a relief to see that Bacchi, who made his name as an art critic rather than as an artist, is identified as an antifascist, even  a “dangerous antifascist” according to one source.

I made the mistake of going back to Cabaret Voltaire a second time, when the humor was warmed-over rather than cold — a cook was serving what he claimed were roasted 50-franc notes to members of the audience, who were eating them.


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