Keywords- Photomontage, German Dadaism, Visual Arts, Female Artist, Feminism
SHE THOUGHT IT
Hannah Hӧch was a German visual artist who pioneered photomontage alongside her partner Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971), one of the founders of the Berlin Dada Group. She is also known for her textile works and paintings. She was the only female member of Berlin’s Dadaist group and her artistic contribution to the group was vastly undervalued at the time. Though she was often noted as “the girlfriend, or mistress, of Raoul Hausmann” ¹, Hannah Hӧch played an important role in the art history.
Photomontage is the creation of visual art from fragments of photographs and text, often taken from newspapers and magazines. Her main artistic tool was a pair of scissors, which she used to hand cut and glue the fragments in a disorganized way to create meaningful visual poems. Because they were created with mass-produced materials, her photomontages were initially considered anti-art. However, they ended up revolutionising the concept of art. To create these pieces, there was no need for study or practice. She was interested in challenging the boundaries between art and mechanical reproduction². In creating new images with pre-existing pictures, she was recycling common materials and giving them an artistic life.
The originality of Hӧch’s artwork lies in its hybridity. She mixed mediums to create original objects, painting on photographs and joining collage with photomontage. Her paintings drew on the same organizational method as her photomontages. By creating pieces of art through embroidery and other textile practices, Hӧch wished to validate marginalised feminine crafts as artistic practices. Through her artwork, Hӧch searched for “the effacement of all boundaries between styles and artistic points of view, between the real and the fantastic, between the admissible and the inadmissible in art.” ³
In contending with the horrors of the wars, exacerbated nationalism, and ethnic hatred in her country, Hӧch’s artwork mirrors her fight for a fairer world. Her works reveal her critical eye for the decadency of German society and the bourgeoisie mindset. Furthermore, her art is associated with a feminist mindset. Although she was never a militant feminist, her artwork problematized gender inequality and drew attention to the emancipated “New Woman” holding the same rights and responsibilities as men. She criticizes the superior position of men in society and the inferior role of female artists in the artistic scene.
Born on November 1st, 1889 in Gotha, Anna Therese Johanne Hӧch was the eldest of five children of a bourgeois family. In 1912, she started her studies in glass design at the School of Applied Arts in Berlin-Charlottenburg. With the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Hӧch had to interrupt her studies and served with the Red Cross in her hometown. In 1915, she enrolled in the School of The Royal Museum of Applied Arts where she attended several courses headed by Emil Orlik. In the same year, Hannah Hӧch met the Austrian artist Raoul Hausmann with whom she started a romantic and intellectual relationship that would end in 1922. They discovered the technique of photomontage in military pictures on a trip to the Baltic Sea in 1918, and subsequently decided to develop it into an artistic style.
From 1916 until 1926, she worked in the Ullstein Verlag, three days a week, which allowed her to be in close contact with images and texts that could be useful for her artwork. In 1918, Hausmann introduced her to the German Dada group and one year later she participated in the First Berlin Dada Exhibition with some abstract works. In 1920, at the First International Dada Fair, Hӧch exhibited some of her works, such as the Dada dolls and her famous
photomontage and probably one of the most famous Dadaist’s work “Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Epoch of Weimar Beer-Belly Culture in Germany”. George Grosz and John Heartfield, members of the Berlin Dada Group, were against her participation in the Fair.
After the end of Dadaism and the breakup with Hausmann, Hӧch travelled around Europe to promote her work and learn of avant-garde ideas outside Germany. She developed a strong friendship with the artist Kurt Schwitters and with the Dadaist couple Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber. For her, Schwitters and Arp were examples of men that knew how to “treat a woman artist as a colleague.”⁴ In 1926, during her stay in Netherlands, Hӧch met the Dutch poet Til Brugman, who became her girlfriend until 1935.
In 1929, H
annah Hӧch had her first individual exhibition and moved to Berlin with Brugman. After spending years away from Berlin, Hӧch felt isolated from the city’s artistic group. In 1931, she contributed with works on women and children to the international exhibition Frauen in Not [Women in Distress] in Berlin. This event was promoted because of the severe legislation against abortion.
In 1932, the Nazis canceled the exhibition at the Bauhaus where she was going to show her photomontages and watercolors. A critic of National Socialism, Hӧch was identified as a “cultural bolshevist” and an opponent to Hitler’s governme
nt. The Dadaist group from Berlin was included in the list of degenerate artists of the Nazi government and some were persecuted by the Nazi regime. Her Dadaist friends decided to escape from the horrors of the dictatorship. Hӧch was the only one that stayed in Germany.
In 1938, she married Kurt Matthies. One year later they moved to Heiligensee to flee the atrocities of the war and dictatorship. Thanks to her isolation there, she saved from Nazi destruction not only her works of art, but also other unique documents and artworks by her Dadaist colleagues. She hid some of these in her enormous garden. Despite her divorce from Matthies in 1944, she stayed in Heiligensee for the rest of her life. She occupied much of her time gardening, taking care of her plants as if they were pieces of art.
Hӧch was one of the first artists to exhibit her work after the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) and continued to work tirelessly in the following decades. From small exhibitions to huge retrospectives, in Germany and around the world, Hӧch did not stop exhibiting until her death. After a sixty-year career, Hannah Hӧch died on May 31, at the age of eighty-eight.
ARTISTIC COLLABORATION AND RECOGNITION
Her connection to the Berlin’s Dada movement was crucial for the development of her creative skills. From 1920 to 1931, she was also a member of the Novembergruppe and participated in the group’s exhibitions. She collaborated with Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp and Johannes Baader. She also met a lot of artists from De Stijl and was a close friend of Piet Mondrian. However, Hannah Hӧch’s artwork goes beyond these groups. She followed her own path freely and preserved her creative independence, never molding herself to a sole artistic group. Her entire work is heterogeneous and integrates the potentialities of the different avant-gardes, from surrealism to constructivism.
Despite her intense activity throughout her life, her artwork only started to be recognized in the beginning of the 1960’s. After the war, interest in Berlin’s Dadaist Group began to grow and her name became a target of interest. Despite her extensive oeuvre, the artistic scene was most interested in her Dadaist works. Eventually, she grew tired of answering questions about the German Dadaism: “I’m sick and tired of Dada; slowly, it’s becoming played out. Everything else that has developed goes unnoticed.” ⁵
In 1961, Hӧch was an honoured guest at the Villa Massimo, an art residency in Rome, and in 1965 she was elected member of the Academy of the Arts. Awarded by the Theodor Heuss foundation in 1967, she received additional grants in 1968 and in 1978. With the interest growing in her artwork, in 1968 Heinz Ohff published Hannah Hӧch, a biographical analysis of her life.
SHE SAID IT
“I am an introverted person, but my profound interest in everything that is happening during my time here on earth leads me, to this day, even in my retirement, to participate in everything that is interesting to me.”
Interview with Suzanne Pagé (1976) in Makela, Mari/; Boswell, Peter (org.) (1996), The photomontages of Hannah Hӧch, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center.
“I have always tried to exploit the photograph. I use it like color, or as the poet uses words.”
Letter to Walter Mehring (1959) cited in Makela, Maria, Boswell/ Peter (org.) (1996), The photomontages of Hannah Hӧch, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center.
“Of course, I appreciated Mondrian’s art, but I never desired such a rationalist style. I need more freedom. Obviously, I know how to appreciate a less free style than mine, but I always gave myself the greatest possible freedom. It always seemed to me that the focus of an artist on himself and on his own style could easily bring to him success and popularity. However, for me, the most important thing is to develop, modify and enrich a way of life and a working method, even if this endless evolution has made an easy success impossible.”
Interview by Edouard Roditi (1959) cited in Adriani, Gӧtz, (1989) “Documentação Biográfica” in Hermann, P. / Viola, S. M./ Erna, H. (org.), Catálogo da exposição Hannah Hӧch. 1889-1978. Colagens, Porto, Fundação de Serralves (my translation).
“I would like to obliterate the set boundaries that humans, in their arrogant hubris, have set around everything in their reach (…) Today I might paint the world through the eyes of an ant yet tomorrow I might paint it as seen from the moon and later as it will be seen by other creatures. I am a human being but thanks to my fantasy – even if it is limited- I can be a bridge. I wish to make you see what seems to be impossible as a possibility. I would like to help people experience of a richer world so that they might feel more kindly towards our world.”
Published in her exhibition’s catalogue in Franz Gallery, Berlin (1949) cited in in Adriani, Gӧtz, (1989) “Documentação Biográfica” in Hermann, P. / Viola, S. M./ Erna, H. (org.), Catálogo da exposição Hannah Hӧch.1889-1978. Colagens, Porto, Fundação de Serralves (my translation).
THEY SAID IT
“Photomontage extends throughout her work, forms the core of her work! No one has mastered it so masterfully, not even in the days of Dadaism, no one dominates it more sovereignly today.”
Heinz Ohff (1968) cited in in Hermann, P / Viola, S M/ Erna, H (org.) (1989), Catálogo da exposição Hannah Hӧch.1889-1978. Colagens, Porto, Fundação de Serralves (my translation).
“Hannah Hӧch is not connected to Hausmann for almost half a century, but in my memory she remains so. He was impulsive and she was and is calm, the little girl in his predator’s cage. (…) One of Orlik’s student, who certainly, with Hausmann’s inspiration, has followed her own path and opened a place in her own world, with conscience, talent and courage.”
Hans Richter (1973) cited in Hermann, P / Viola, S M/ Erna, H (org.) (1989), Catálogo da exposição Hannah Hӧch.1889-1978. Colagens, Porto, Fundação de Serralves (my translation).
“Hannah Hӧch was the master of the defined mixture, in other words: a “style’s collagist”. The style’s misrepresentation is intentional. She wanted to stay outside all commitments in favour of her personal freedom to choose between each style.”
Eberhard Roters (1989) “Simbolismo da imagética na obra de Hannah Hӧch” in Hermann, P / Viola, S M/ Erna, H (org.) (1989), Catálogo da exposição Hannah Hӧch.1889-1978. Colagens, Porto, Fundação de Serralves. (my translation).
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
The following is a selection of some honours awarded to Hannah Hӧch:
1961: Invited as an honoured guest at Villa Massimo.
1965: Elected member of the Academy of the Arts.
1967: The Theodor Heuss foundation awards her with a financial grant.
1969: The city of Reinickendorf pays the mortgage of Hannah’s house in Heiligensee and offers her an annual amount of money for house repairs.
1971: Asked to be a member of the honorary committee of the Deutscher Künstlerbund.
1976: Biggest retrospective before her death, organized by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Berlin Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen PreuBischer Kulturbesitz. The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Schütz, assigns her the title of “professor”.
2005- Foundation of the Künstlerhaus Hannah Hӧch e.V, an association that promotes Hӧch’s artwork and helps to maintain her famous garden. They offer workshops and cultural events in her honour.
Streets named after Hannah Hӧch:
Hannah-Hӧch-Straβe (Leverkisen, Germany)
Hannah-Hch-Ring (Wolfsburg, Germany)
Hannah-Hӧch-Straβe (Emsdetten, Germany)
Hannah-Hӧch-Straβe (Oldemburg, Germany)
Hannah-Hӧch-Weg (Gotha, Germany)
Prize named after Hannah Hӧch:
1996- Hannah Hӧch Prize, established by the Federal State of Berlin.
Besides being a visual artist, Hannah Hӧch also enjoyed writing. She wrote poems and aphorisms. Her journals are also target of attention for being great testimonials of her mindset and of the difficulties of being a woman in a male artistic world. In 1945, she published Picture Book, a children’s book illustrated with nineteen collages; in 1958, she wrote Life Overview, an autobiographical text requested by Richard Huelsenbeck for one of his books about Dadaism. Furthermore, in 1948, Hӧch contributed to educational programs carrying out conferences such as “Women and Art” and “On Regarding an Artwork without Bias: Why? How? For What Purpose?”.
Chris Lebeau (1933), Portrait of Hannah Hӧch, © Ronn, Drent Museum, Assen
Roditi, Edouard (1959), “Hannah Hӧch und die Berliner Dadaisten: Ein Gesprach mit der Malerin.” Der Monat 12, no. 34.
Ohff, Heinz (1968), Hannah Hӧch. Berlin: Gebr. Mann and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Bildende Kunst e.V.
Kühl, Siegfried (1989), Hannah Hӧch Denkmal, Tegel, Berlin (Statue to commemorate the centenary of Hannah Hӧch’s birth)
Sturm, Gesine/Bauersachs, Johannes (2010), Ich verreise in meinen Garten – Der Garten der Hannah Höch, Berlin, Stapp Verlag.
Rosenfeld, Liz (dir.) (2015), The Surface Tension Trilogy – HӦCH, The Video Data Bank (http://www.lizrosenfeld.co/portfolio-items/surface-tension-trilogy/).
WORKS BY HANNAH HӦCH
This list contains only part of her notable work:
Heads of State (1918-1920), photomontage, Collection Institut für Auslandbeziehungen, Stuttgart.
White Form (1919), collage, Collection Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett.
Dada Panorama (1919), photomontage with gouache and watercolour on cardboard, Collection Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Photographie und Architektur, Berlin.
The Beautiful Girl (1919-1920), photomontage, Private Collection.
Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919-1920), photomontage, Collection Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preubischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie.
Poem (1922), collage with ink, Private Collection.
The Lace Star (1924), collage with fabric and paper on cardboard, Collection Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett.
Imaginary Bridge, also known as Two Heads (1926), oil on canvas, Collection National Gallery of Australia, Camberra.
The Bride (1927), oil on canvas, Collection Berlinischer Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Photographie und Architektur, Berlin.
Strange Beauty, from the series From an Ethnographic Museum (1929), photomontage with watercolour, Collection Jean-Paul Kahn, Paris.
Indian Dancer: From an Ethnographic Museum (1930), photomontage with collage, Collection the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Frances Keech Fund.
Tamer (c.1930), photomontage with collage, Collection Kunsthaus Zürich.
Bon, Laurent Le (org.) (2005), Catalogue de l’exposition DADA, Paris, Éditions Centre Pompidou.
Zegher, Catherine de (1996), Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of, and From the Feminine, Massachusetts, The MIT Press.
Hermann, P / Viola, S M/ Erna, H (org.) (1989), Catálogo da exposição Hannah Hӧch.1889-1978. Colagens, Porto, Fundação de Serralves.
Makela, Maria / Boswell, Peter (org.) (1996), The photomontages of Hannah Hӧch, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center.
- Hemus, Ruth (2008), “Why Have There Been No Great Women Dadaist?” in Kokoli, Alexandra M. (ed.), Feminism Reframed, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 43.
- Hemus, Ruth (2008), “Why Have There Been No Great Women Dadaist?” in Kokoli, Alexandra M. (ed.), Feminism Reframed, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 55.
- Makholm, Kristin (1996) “Chronology” in Makela, Maria/ Boswell, Peter (org.), The Photomontages of Hannah Hӧch, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 194.
- Makholm, Kristin (1996) “Chronology” in Makela, Maria/ Boswell, Peter (org.), The Photomontages of Hannah Hӧch, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 192.
- Makholm, Kristin (1996) “Chronology” in Makela, Maria/ Boswell, Peter (org.), The Photomontages of Hannah Hӧch, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 207.