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The Dadaist

Lawrence Bush
April 20, 2017

Marcel Janco, co-inventor with Tristan Tzara of Dadaism in Switzerland, and a leading exponent of Constructivism in Eastern Europe, died in Israel at 89 on this date in 1984. Born in Romania, he lived in Switzerland after World War I, then returned to his native country and became one of its leading intellectuals and artists. Janco fled Romania’s fascist Iron Guard in 1941 and headed to Palestine, where he was a founder of Ein Hod, an artists’ kibbutz on the Mediterranean coastal plain that was built, controversially, over a deserted Palestinian village. Trained as an architect (Janco was largely responsible for bringing modern architecture to Bucharest), Janco was also a stage decorator, illustrator, and painter whose styles included Art Nouveau, Futurism, and Expressionism. He built the scenery for Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, which was “the first Dadaist meeting place, and he was one of the most energetic members of the Zurich group,” writes the New York Times. Janco was also very active in designing and preserving Israel’s national parks, and won both the Dizengoff Prize and Israel Prize.

“Born as I was in beautiful Romania, into a family of well-to-do people, I had the fortune of being educated in a climate of freedom and spiritual enlightenment. My mother . . . possessing a genuine musical talent, and my father, a stern man and industrious merchant, had created the conditions favorable for developing all of my aptitudes . . . The existence of disadvantaged, weak, people, of impoverished workers, of beggars, hurt me and, when compared to our family’s decent condition, awoke in me a feeling of guilt.”--Marcel Janco

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.