Kevin Jackson at Prospect Magazine:
Was there more to it than mere anarchy? Yes; or possibly no; or possibly blago bung. Look up “Dada” in reference books of art history and you will usually find it mentioned in passing as a short-lived local craze that became diluted into the rather more polite (and, eventually, lucrative) rebellion of Surrealism, or into the politically engaged art of Germany in the Weimar period. You may also read that it was essentially a protest movement. Outside neutral Switzerland, the young men of Europe were blowing themselves to lumps of bone and meat in their millions; Dada was a howl of rage not only against the present War but against the classical humanist values that both sides claimed to represent—logic, clarity, harmony, order. Dada was a fart in the general direction of Western Civilisation.
Such accounts are not altogether wrong, and in later years some of the founding members began to spout the same, rather pious, party line about Dada always being at heart an anti-war movement. This, to put it mildly, does not quite tally with contemporary records. (Huelsenbeck, circa 1917: “We were for the war, and Dadaism today is still for war. Life must hurt…”) Whatever its original intent, the Dada spirit soon mutated and, like an opportunistic virus, spread rapidly around the globe, infecting New York, and Paris, and Berlin, and Tokyo. Among the big names who carried the Dada torch for at least a few years were Francis Picabia, George Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, Hans Richter, Max Ernst and, most influential of all, Marcel Duchamp.