Hannah Höch

 

Photomontage

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978) was an artistic and cultural pioneer. She co-invented photomontage with then-partner Raoul Hausmann. They were both members of the Berlin Dada anti-art movement. While on vacation, they found photos and postcards at a shop that was selling memorabilia – altered photos – from World War I German soldiers. Höch purchased the photos and decided to cut them up, reassemble and glue them into what she called photomontage.

 

Hannah Höch , From Above

The image above is titled Von Oben (From Above), 1926-27, photomontage and collage on paper, 12 x 7 ¾ inches (30.48 x 22.2 cm).

Höch was an early feminist and questioned conventional ideas about women’s role in society, gender relationships, beauty and the making of art. She believed that the purpose of art was to change society and that the artist had to take a stance.

 

Hannah Höch , Balance

The image above is titled Equilibre (Balance), 1925, 12 x 10 inches (30.5 x 20.3 cm), photomontage with collage, gouache and watercolor, collection Institut Fur Auslandebeziehungen, Stuttgart. This work was originally titled America Balancing Europe.

Her collages and montages often combined male and female into one being.  Höch  was commenting on the fact that during the Weimar Republic, “mannish women were both celebrated and castigated for breaking down traditional gender roles.” Her photomontages from the 1920s focused almost exclusively on issues relating to the construction of women’s identity and gender relationships. Her androgynous characters could also have been related to her bisexuality. Her work from 1926 to 1935 depicted same sex couples.

 

Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany

The image above is Höch’s most famous work and titled Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919-1920. It’s photomontage, 44 8/10 x 35 2/5 inches (114 x 90 cm). The work includes Dada slogans and shows cut and pasted images of political leaders with sports stars, mechanized images of the city as well as satirical images of the male Dada artists.

Cut with a Kitchen Knife was shown in a group exhibition known as the First International Dada Fair that included 174 works by about twenty-seven German and foreign artists affiliated with the so-called Dada movement. Höch was the only woman represented in the Dada Fair and showed a poster, two handmade dolls, two “reliefs” and four collaged works, including the photomontage Cut with a Kitchen Knife.

In 1961 the National Gallery in Berlin purchased Cut with a Kitchen Knife and the image has become the best-known representation of Berlin Dada’s critique of pre-Nazi Weimar Republic society.

 

Hannah Höch, Vagabond

The image above is titled Vagabond, 1926, collage, photomontage, 14 x10 inches (35.56 x 25.4 cm).

Höch described what she did as remounting, cutting up, sticking down and activating. She said: “I would like to blur the firm borders that we human beings, cocksure as we are, are inclined to erect around everything that is accessible to us.” Her technique was juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is the essence of a contemporary collage aesthetic.

From 1916 to 1926, Höchworked part-time as a graphic artist at Ullstein Verlang, a Berlin publishing house where she designed patterns for crochet, knitting and embroidery that were targeted to periodicals for women, including Die Dame and Die Praktische Berlinerin.

At the same time she exhibited with the Berlin Dada group, became an activist in local left-leaning movements and produced her best-known body of work, including the photomontage Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife (above).

 

Hannah Höch, Flight

The image above is titled Flucht (Flight) 1931, collage, 9 1/10 x 7 1/5 inches (23 x 18.4 cm).

 

On misogyny in the art world:

Many of her photomontages referenced the hypocrisy of the male-dominant Berlin Dada group. Höch wrote: “They (men) continued for a long time to look on us women artists as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us any real professional status…it wasn’t easy for a woman to impose herself as a modern artist in Germany.”

The artist Hans Richter dismissed Höch as “the girl who procured sandwiches, beer, and coffee, on a limited budget.”

 

Hannah Höch, German Girl

The image above is titled Die Machen (German Girl), collage, 1930, 8 ¼ x 4 1/3 inches (21 x 11 cm), collection: the Berlinische Galerie, Germany.

With photomontage, Höch’s works became raw, jagged and deliberately ugly. It was a way to depict the brute reality of the world in which she lived. Bodies were deformed; words and actions were distorted. Because the photomontage images were juxtaposed as collage and photomontage, the authorities did not initially call them degenerate and let artists be – works were interpreted as allegory, so the content was not read as explicit or prescriptive.  However, it didn’t last.

In 1932-1933 the Nazi party canceled an important Höch exhibition before its scheduled opening. From then until the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945, Höch was unable to show her work in Germany altogether. She had to assume a low profile to survive in Germany during the war and lived as an “inner emigrant,” a term applied to artists and intellectuals who continued their work privately, without bowing to Nazi ideology.  She described those years as “twelve years of misery.” Her work survived Nazi Germany but remained unseen without critical review until the early 1960s for reasons that included sexism and the artist’s own resistance to showing it.

 

Hannah Höch, Untitled

Höch often employed dolls, mannequins, and mass media images of dancers to address issues of feminine behavior – particularly romantic subjects – love, coquetry and marriage.

The image above is untitled (Ohne Titel – Aus  einem ethnographichen Museum), 1930, collage, 19 x 12 3/5 inches (48.3 x 32.1 cm).  This work comes from a series Höch made around 1930, inspired by a trip to an ethnographic museum, and was a critique of the way male society looked at women as an exotic or erotic object. If you look at the image closely, you can see she distorted and emphasized eyes.

 

Textile Art

 

Hannah Höch, Hungarian Rhapsody

The image above is titled Ungarische Rhapsodie (Hungarian Rhapsody), 1940, photomontage, 14 x 10 1/16 inches (35.5 x 25.5 cm). Collection, Institut for Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart.

Höch was trained at the Berlin School of Applied Arts and learned embroidery and appliquè, which she used in photomontage. In 1918 she wrote a manifesto of modern embroidery, and encouraged Weimar women to pursue the “spirit” of their generation and to “develop a feeling for abstract forms” through their handwork.

She wrote: “Embroidery is very closely related to painting. It is constantly changing, with every new style each epoch brings. It is an art and ought to be treated like one, even if thousands upon thousands of sweet female hands—displaying scant skill, no taste or color sense, and not a hint of inspiration—mis’handle quantities of good materials as foolishly as possible and call the results embroidery.”

 

Hannah Höch, Grotesque

The image above is titled Grotesk (Grotesque), 1963, photomontage, 9 13/16  x 6 11/16 inches (25 x 17 cm), collection: Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart. This photomontage shows an old man’s eyes connected to female legs and facial features of a young woman’s lips and eye connected to another pair of female legs. Höch was 74 years old when she created this work.

 

Hannah Höch, About a Red Mouth

 

The image above is titled Um Einen Roten Mund (About a Red Mouth), c. 1967, photomontage, 8 1/16 x 6 ½ inches (20.5 x 16.5 cm), Collection: Institut Fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart.

 

Hannah Höch, Little Sun

The image above is titled Kleine Sonne (Little Sun), collage, 1969, 6 3/16  x 9  7/16 inches (16 x 24 cm), collection: Landebank Berlin. I learned the image for the Little Sun was part of an advertisement for a  DC-8 aircraft and the image for the red lips were cut from a photo of Marilyn Monroe on the May 25, 1959 cover of Life International magazine. That information and more are included in a wonderful resource I discovered online – a pdf of an exhibition catalog from the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, titled The Photomontages of Hannah Hoch, organized by Maria Makela, Peter Boswell, essays by Peter Boswell, Maria Makela, Carolyn Lanchner, chronology by Kristin Makholm. I found the document via the Museum of Modern Art Library. Read it here. Here is more information: the term photomontage is associated with the German word montieren (to assemble or fit). German Dadaists used this term to describe how they pieced together photographic or typographic sources, typically from printed mass media. They wanted to distinguish their process from Cubist collages. Hannah Höch used the term photomontage to describe her work.

 

portrait of Hannah Höch

The photo above shows a mature Hannah Höchwith a looking glass.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Hannah Höch was born Anna Therese Johanne Höch in Gotha, Germany. Her family was upper-middle class. Her father was the supervisor of an insurance company. Her mother was an amateur painter. Her father believed that a girl should get married and forget about studying art. Höch attended the School of Applied Arts in Berlin and studied glass design (the school closed due to the outbreak of World War I). She studied graphic arts at the School of the Royal Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin (1915). She became close friends with the artists Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters. Hausmann and Höch became lovers. They took a holiday trip in 1918 and found a shop that sold letters and photos from soldiers in World War I. This was the time Höch found media for her pioneer work with photomontage.

Women were a central theme in her work from 1963 to the end of her life. Hannah Höch died in 1978 at the age of 88.

She valued formal concerns such as composition, color and craft even as she created photomontage.

Hoch’s works combined the political and the personal, the conceptual and the formal. She blended political critique with elements of fantasy, autobiography, gender identity, queerness and craft. She produced numerous essays and gave interviews that revealed self-assurance.

 

For fun, read Alexxa Gotthardt’s artsy.net article Hannah Höch: 4 Lessons on How to Be an Artist (August 21, 2019). It includes a lot of good content.

Lesson #1: Embrace a broad definition of art.

Lesson #2: Resist boundaries imposed by the establishment.

Lesson #3: Experiment with new technologies.

Lesson #4: Be curious about the world around you.

 

 

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