Research point: Hannah Höch

The course notes ask us to:

Do some research into the work of three important women artists of the twentieth century: Hannah Höch (1889–1978), Tamara de Lempicka (1898–1980) and Frida Kahlo (1907–54).

These artists produced some of the underpinning imagery for the feminist art movement and this is reflected in some of the art work produced today. Write brief notes in your learning log about the social and political conditions that made these artists communicate in the ways they did. How is this demonstrated in their work? How did these artists establish their own artistic identity?

Hannah Höch

Hoch was a Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage. A recent UK exhibition described her thus:

“Höch explored the concept of the ‘New Woman’ in Weimar Germany, presenting complex discussions around gender and identity in a series of both biting and poignant collages. […] Höch combines images of female bodies with traditional masks and objects and layers of block colours, capturing the style of the 1920s avant-garde theatre and fashion.”
(Whitechapel Gallery, 2014)

The Weimar (i.e. inter-war) German Republic was a turbulent and transitional era. The Dada movement was anti-war, anti-establishment and even claimed to be anti-art. It was a radical, confrontational reaction to the horrors of the war, and to the underlying social structures that led to it.

The post-war proliferation of print media and “the growing perception that mass media images were forming a common visual culture” (Marien 2014: 243) provided the perfect breeding ground for photomontage, and Höch was, along with erstwhile partner Raoul Haussmann (1886-1971), a pioneer in the form.

Photomontage allows composite images to be made from cut-out extracts from newspapers and magazines, with juxtapositions and interplay between image fragments forming new meanings – photomontages could be heavy with symbolism, sometimes easy to read, sometimes more obscure. The form itself was part of its message: “The jumbled appearance of photomontage was more than formal inventiveness; it was a token of the quick changes and disruptions of modern life” (Marien 2014: 244).

Hoch-Cut_With_the_Kitchen_Knife.jpg
Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany 1919-20 – Hannah Höch

Höch used the form to comment on gender and identity, critiquing the ‘Weimar New Woman’ presented in the magazines of the era. Photomontage allowed her to mix male and female imagery – images of ‘masculine modernity’ such as cars and machinery were juxtaposed with cliched female social role, and in later work she more overtly mixed male and female body parts – and this sexual ambiguity is one of the hallmarks of her work. Others may have used photomontage but this form of gender-play is the distinctive Höch motif.

Whilst Höch was overlooked by the art world in general, she was accepted as a key member of the Dada movement – though despite her strident gender politics being in line with Dada principles she could not totally escape ingrained sexism: another Dada founder Hans Richter (1888-1976) allegedly dismissed her contribution to Dada as “the sandwiches, beer and coffee she managed somehow to conjure up” (Makela 1997).

Sources

Makela, M. (1997). Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marien, M.W. (2014). Photography: A Cultural History (4th ed). London: Laurence King Publishing.

http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/about/press/hannah-hoch/ (accessed 31/03/2016)

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