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Art HERstory: Hannah Höch

I’m a self-proclaimed magazine fiend (I literally have a hall closet full of magazines…and a very understanding roommate, hehe). Collecting imagery feeds my hunger for inspiration and fuels my creativity. I mainly use these mags to cut and paste into collage art (which I do as a form of therapy…and fun, of course!). I haven’t had the time to do it lately but thought I’d share in today’s Art HERstory post a little about the Godmother of collage art, Hannah Höch.

German artist Hannah Höch (aka “The Mama of Dada“) is best known for her photomontages. She assembled images, often taken from popular magazines and newspapers, into commentaries on gender and politics, frequently critiquing German bourgeois culture. She also made drawings and paintings (oil, watercolor, and gouache), participated in fabric and fashion design, and created dolls.

(Höch, pictured above with one of her dolls…check out that oufit! I’m thinking it’s designed by her, too.)

Hannah Höch was born Anna Therese Johanne Höch into a middle-class family in Gotha, a small town in Thuringia, in 1889. Between 1912 and 1920, she studied art at the Kunstgewerbeschule Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg School of Applied Arts) and the Unterrichtsanstalt des koniglichen Kunstgewerbemuseums (School of the Royal Museum of Applied Arts) in Berlin.

The position of women in European society changed rapidly during this period and the “New Woman” was a popular theme to which Höch responded in her art.

Between 1915 and 1922, Höch was involved with Austrian-born artist Raoul Hausmann, a married man. Although Höch wanted Hausmann to leave his wife and daughter and live monogamously with her, he refused to do so.

As members of the Berlin Dada, Höch and Hausmann developed the art of photomontage (photographic images collaged onto paper) as a tool of artistic commentary. Dada was a response to the devastation of World War I–was a tumultuous, anarchistic, nihilistic movement that flourished between 1916 and 1922 in Zurich, New York, Cologne, Hanover, Berlin, and Paris.

Hoch’s best known work is the 1919-1920 photomontage (see above) titled “Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany,” which combines images of men (military, government, Communists, radicals), images of women (dancers, athletes, actresses, artists), pictures of man-made objects (especially gears), and words (“DADA” is repeated three times).

In 1926, almost four years after her 1922 breakup with Hausmann, Hoch entered into a lesbian relationship with the Dutch writer and linguist Til Brugman.

The two women collaborated on some projects, including a book, Scheingehacktes (1935). Hoch provided the images and Brugman the text. Later, Höch would remember her time with Brugman as one of the happiest in her life, but also complained of Brugman’s possessiveness. During her time with Brugman, she produced a number of photomontages depicting same-sex couples.

During the 1930s, Höch embraced Surrealism, a movement to which her style of juxtaposing disparate human and animal parts was especially well-suited.

In 1935, while still involved with Til Brugman, Hoch began a romance with businessman and amateur musician Heinz Kurt Matthies, twenty-one years younger than she. They married in 1939, separated in 1942, and divorced in 1944. For the remaining thirty-four years of her life, the artist chose solitude over romance.

Although Hoch’s art was of a kind particularly denounced by the Nazis as degenerate, the artist managed to survive the Nazi period without suffering persecution.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Höch explored non-objective abstraction. Not only was this a popular direction in avant-garde art at the time, but it was also safer than the political and social commentaries of her earlier work. Between 1963 and 1973, she returned to images of women as her central theme.

For most of her adult life, Höch maintained close friendships with some of the leading European artists, such as Kurt Schwitters, Theo van Doesburg, and Hans Arp.

I end this week’s Art HERstory post with my favorite collage by Höch and a short description about the meaning behind the piece:

“Beautiful Girl” – 1920

“The Beautiful Girl” clad in a modern bathing suite, with a light bulb for her head, seated on a steel girder, surrounded by various images of industrialization. For example, BMW insignias, tires, gears and cogs and watches. In the right hand corner a black boxer appears stepping through the tire representing automation. In the back ground a silhouette of a woman’s head with cats eyes stares at the audience.

Being modern meant speed, consumerism, urbanization and technology, these changes promoted hope for the women. Yet amongst the hope came fear as seen in the watchful cat eyed woman who lurks behind the scenes staring out at the audience. In this juxtapositinoing of images Hoch reflects upon a certain optimism for technology and its relationship to the modern woman.

Info: Hannah Höch Photomontage Gallery

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