I found a used (but in perfect condition) 1995 exhibition catalog for the artist Hannelore Baron at the Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway, in Manhattan, NY. I browse that store for new and used art books and catalogs. The catalog showed pristine reproductions of 19 collages and box constructions, and included an essay by Peter Frank. It was written for a two-gallery 1995 exhibition at Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York, NY and Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. The catalog was the start for this post.
The image above is Untitled, dated 1969, and constructed with paper, watercolor and ink, 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 inches (18.7 x 24.8 cm). Image courtesy hannelorebaron.net
Hannelore Baron (German/American 1926-1987) was born Hannelore Alexander in Dillingen, a small German town near the French border. Her family was Jewish. Her parents had a small fabric shop. On November 9, 1938 at the age of 12, she lived through the trauma of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) when German citizens formed vigilante groups and destroyed Jewish homes and shops. The family hid in the attic. Her home was destroyed and her father was beaten with a hammer. In the following days, when she was allowed to return to her house, she saw her father’s blood spattered on the walls in their home. Her family was fortunate to escape Germany and get to New York in 1941, but she was marked by the trauma for the rest of her life. Her works are her response to the trauma and a way to cope with depression, nervous breakdowns, fear and claustrophophia.
The image above is Untitled, dated 1977, collage, 6 ¾ x 11 inches, fabric, paper and text. This image is reproduced in the exhibition catalog I purchased at Strand. I am drawn to its geometric composition and the frayed fabrics cut as squares. It’s tiny but bold, and I can imagine it could be as big as a canvas by Antoni Tapies. (born in Barcelona, 1923-2012), whose work was heroic in scale. He was one the most famous European artists of his generation.
Hannelore Baron’s collages and box constructions are described as intimate. She said she didn’t relate to heroic scale. In the exhibition catalog essay, Peter Frank wrote that critics compare her boxes to works by Joseph Cornell and her collages to works by Paul Klee, who both also worked in small scale. Peter Frank disagreed and said Baron’s works cannot be compared to Cornell or Klee (or Schwitters) because her works are not about manipulating images – but about making marks. He said Hannelore Baron was not concerned with dream or desire, fantasy or play, but with tragedy and transcendence, personal suffering and the endurance of the soul. Her works are personal and poignant with an exquisite focus on the materials she selected. She exhibited her work from the late 1960s through 1987 (the year of her death) and built a reputation as a master of the collage medium.
The image above is Untitled (1976), fabric and other media, 7.75 x 6.6 inches. Photo courtesy Leslie Feely Gallery, NY. The gallery showcased Baron’s collages and box constructions in a 2016 exhibition. Edward M. Gomez wrote an exhibition review in hyperallergic (June 4, 2016) and asked the question: Can art born of unspeakable horror express something other than the soul-scarring pain and trauma that forever marks its creator? The images say yes.
A Video Worth Watching
You must see the YouTube video Hannelore Baron: A Collage and Assemblage Exhibition at the Jack Rutberg Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. The video (12/11/15) includes works by Baron and shows gallery director Jack Rutberg speaking about her collages and box constructions. Jack Rutberg is passionate about every one she ever made – he’s a major collector and his collection of her works became the basis for the exhibition. He talked about how she used fragile antique papers and used cloth taken from old fabrics – so that they were charged with past experiences. He said her works bring vulnerability, fragility and tenderness. They are intimate and the intimacy is heroic. Hannelore Baron had her first exhibition in Los Angeles at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts in 1984. The video commemorates her fifth solo at the gallery (2015-2016). The video is by Eric Minh Swenson and music is by Jane Brockman.
The image above is Untitled, dated 1978, mixed media collage, 10 ¾ x 8 ½ inches. Image courtesy Manny Silverman Gallery. The first thing you notice is striped fabric in the color red. There are stains on the fabric and fine line drawing in red and black ink.
Michael Kimmelman wrote an exhibition review and included this image (the NY Times (10/1/93). He said Baron’s fabrics suggest untouched, raw or burned skin – some striped like pillow ticking and the uniforms of prisoners. He said Hannelore Baron had the ability to suggest both the condition of entrapment and the possibility of release.
Hannelore Baron discovered collage in 1964
Her media included scraps of fabric, wood, string, wire, pieces from children’s games, printed labels and other discarded items – things that she said felt familiar.She was inspired by the art of Native Americans and Africa, Tantric art, illuminated pages of the Koran, and Persian miniatures. She said she gathered her materials with great care…”The reason I use old cloth and boxes is that new materials lack the sentiment of the old, and seem too dry in an emotional sense.”
The image above is Untitled, 1982, mixed media collage with paper, ink and monoprint, 10 ½ x 8 5/8 inches. Hannelore Baron described herself as a pacifist. Her works were meditations on history and the human condition – and talismans of hope and peace.
The image above is Untitled, 1982, mixed media collage with paper, ink and monoprint, 10 ½ x 8 5/8 inches, image courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY.
The image above is Untitled, box assemblage with wood, paint and nails, 8.6 x 8.4 inches (21.9 x 21.3 cm), image courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY.
The image above is Untitled, 1985, cloth, paper, ink, 8 ½ x 10 ¼ inches (21.6 x 26 cm), image courtesy the Estate of Hannelore Baron website where you can see 36 images online.
The image above is Untitled, 1981, wooden box and mixed media, 12 x 6 x 4 inches. Image courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY. Michael Kimmelman reviewed this work (1993) and wrote he thought the upright pieces of wood seem imprisoned and resembled sticks of dynamite. I suppose they do.
The image above is a box construction, Untitled, 1975, wood, paper, ink, chalk and acrylic, 10 x 8 ½ x 2 inches (25.4 x 21.8 x 5.1 cm) At the Estate of Hannelore Baron website I read: She began to make box constructions in 1961, working with damaged wood and metal, often tied or nailed together, to enclose “secrets that can only be guessed at” – materials that included scraps from her past, games without rules, and concealed objects.
Birds and Flowers
The image above is mixed media construction in artist’s frame, 1981, 9 ½ x 17 x 1 ¾ inches, paper, cloth and ink. Notice there is a line drawing of a bird in this work. Hannelore Baron used birds as a symbol for survival and song. Birds and flowers became cyphers for human fragility.
The image above is Untitled, 1982, mixed media collage with paper, ink, watercolor and monoprint, 18.5 x 14.5 inches (47 x 36.8 cm). This work has a design with squares that look like cancelled stamps that imply correspondence. I read Baron created works with an anti-war theme (against the Vietnam War).
The image above is a photo of Hannelore Baron with her boxes.
The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in NY is the exclusive representative for the Estate of Hannelore Baron since 2017.
The website for the Estate of Hannelore Baron includes a photo of the artist as a younger woman and comments about her childhood in Germany and her life in New York. See a timeline of her life here.
Read her bibliography and her exhibition resume here.
In 1973, Hannelore Baron was diagnosed with cancer and would struggle with various forms of the disease until it took her life in 1987. After her death, her work was the subject of a one-person exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2002, the Smithsonian Institution organized a national touring exhibition for her.
Each collage and/or box construction by the artist is a treasure to see. I missed seeing her work at the Leslie Feely gallery but have seen her work in person in group exhibitions, most recently at the Morgan Library and Museum in NY. I have to visit the Michael Rosenfeld gallery and see her work there. Have you seen her work also?