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Artists Hannah Höch

Hannah Höch

German Photomontage artist

Movement: Dada

Born: November 1, 1889 - Gotha, Germany

Died: May 31, 1978 - Berlin, Germany

Quotes

"They continued for a long time to look on us women artists as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us any real professional status."
Hannah Höch
"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 - mishandle quantities of good materials as foolishly as possible and call the results 'embroidery.'"
Hannah Höch
"[I desire] to show the world today as an ant sees it and tomorrow as the moon sees it."
Hannah Höch
"[She] rejected adult-world conformity in favor of youthful nonsense (which) offered a means of circumventing the strict and serious rules that govern thought, language, and meaning."
Nicole Rudick on Hannah Höch

"I wish to blur the firm boundaries which we self-certain people tend to delineate around all we can achieve."

Synopsis

Höch was not only a rare female practicing prominently in the arts in the early part of the twentieth century - near unique as a female active in the Dada movement that coalesced in her time - she also consciously promoted the idea of women working creatively more generally in society. She explicitly addressed in her pioneering artwork in the form of photomontage the issue of gender and the figure of woman in modern society. Her transformation of the visual elements of others by integrating them into her own larger creative projects evidenced a well-developed early example of "appropriation" as an artistic technique.

Key Ideas

Höch was a key progenitor of the self-conscious practice of collaging diverse photographic elements from different sources to make art. This strategy of combining formerly unrelated images to make sometimes startling, sometimes insightful connections was one that came to be adopted by many Dada and Surrealist artists of her era, and also by later generations of "post-modern" conceptual artists in other media, including sculptural installations, mixed media and moving images, as well as in still photography.
Höch also helped expand the notion of what could be considered art by incorporating found elements of popular culture into "higher" art. She was one of many Dadaists to take advantage of such means, but she was both among the first, and one of the most self-consciously explicit in describing the goals and effects of doing so.
A political iconoclast, she actively critiqued prevailing society in her work, and, implicitly, through many of her life choices. Her active interest in challenging the status of women in the social world of her times motivated a long series of works that promoted the idea of the "New Woman" in the era.
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Most Important Art

Dada Puppen (Dada Dolls) (1916)
Höch's darkly playful Dada Dolls are quite distinct from any work created by the others in the Berlin group of Dada artists with which she was affiliated early on. Given that the Berlin chapter of Dadaists only formed in 1917, these small-scale sculptural works suggest her awareness of Dada ideas more generally from its inception in 1916 in Zurich. She was likely influenced by writer Hugo Ball, the Zurich-based founder of Dada, given Höch's doll costumes' resemblance to the geometric forms of Ball's own costume worn in a seminal Dada performance at the Swiss nightclub Cabaret Voltaire.

Ball achieved notoriety for his declamation there of sound poetry, which he recited while wearing a mechanical looking outfit comprised of geometric shapes. The costume can be read as a commentary on contradictory feelings held towards developing technology. Technology was both revered and feared at this time, since it both aided social and economic progress but also threatened humanity with its destructive power. A common belief among Dadaists was that technology caused humans to become more machine-like themselves. One intent of the Dada movement was to use art as a satirical critique of such elements of culture that were both intimidating and absurd.

As Paul Trachtman has portrayed it, in a description that is apt for both Ball's and Höch's work: "When Dadaists did choose to represent the human form, it was often mutilated or made to look manufactured or mechanical. The multitude of severely crippled veterans and the growth of a prosthetics industry struck contemporaries as creating a race of half-mechanical men."
Fabric, yarn, thread, board, and beads - Berlinische Galerie. Landesmuseum fur Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
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Biography

Childhood and Education

Hannah Höch was born as Anna Therese Johanne Höch into an upper middle class family in southeast Germany. Her father Friedrich was the supervisor of an insurance company, while her mother Rosa was an amateur painter. She later claimed that her father believed that "a girl should get married and forget about studying art." She was the eldest of five children. Her education began at the local girls' high school, but it ended early when she was 15, as her parents needed her to stay at home and look after her youngest sister.

Hannah Höch Biography

Her education was only picked up again six years later, when in 1912 she joined the School of Applied Arts in Berlin. Here she studied glass design, discovering an interest in the applied arts and design that would inform her later practice. The school was closed at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, and she returned home to join the Red Cross.

She was able to return to Berlin in 1915, and studied graphic arts at the School of the Royal Museum of Applied Arts under Emil Orlik. In the same year she met the Dadaist artist Raoul Hausmann. The pair went on to have an intense and stormy romantic relationship. She also became close friends with the artist Kurt Schwitters, who reportedly added the final "H" to her adopted name of "Hannah," so that it would be palindromic.

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Early Period

Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann next to their artworks

Between 1916 and 1926, Höch worked for the magazine and newspaper publishers Ullstein Verlag. She worked in the department dedicated to handicrafts and designed patterns for crochet, knitting and embroidery. In 1918 she wrote a manifesto of modern embroidery, which encouraged Weimar women to pursue the "spirit" of their generation and to "develop a feeling for abstract forms" through their handwork.

In the same year, Höch and Hausmann took a holiday to the Ostsee, where she later claimed to have discovered the concept of photomontage that would be fundamental to her artistic practice. They found images that German soldiers sent home to their families, with pictures of their faces pasted onto the bodies of musketeers. From these she claimed she discovered the power of collage to "alienate" images - that is, to give them new meanings when placed in conjunction with new elements and in new contexts.

Höch soon started to make the photomontage images for which she is best known. During the late 1910s and early 1920s she was part of the Dada movement in Berlin. She is the only woman to have been involved among this group of creative innovators and would-be avant-garde cultural revolutionaries, but that distinction was often something of a double-edged sword. Her work was exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin, but before the show's opening George Grosz and John Heartfield tried to stop her from being included. It was only when her lover Raoul Hausmann threatened to pull his own contributions from the exhibition that they relented. Dadaist Hans Richter's only memory of her is of the food she provided, writing in his memoirs of the "sandwiches, beer and coffee she managed somehow to conjure up despite the shortage of money."

Although Höch's aesthetic of borrowing from popular culture, dismemberment and collage fitted well with that of the Dadaists, the union was an uneasy one, not least because of the inherent sexism of the movement. She also felt uncomfortable with the exhibitionist element of the Dada circle, and was embarrassed by the behavior of some of her peers. In 1922, she ended her relationship with Hausmann.

Mature Period

Hannah Höch Photo

Towards the end of the 1920s, she had moved away from the group and was starting to make connections with other artists. She became friends with Piet Mondrian, Tristan Tzara and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and was influenced by the De Stijl movement. She settled in The Hague in the Netherlands in 1926, and started a lesbian relationship with Dutch writer Til Brugman. The couple lived together for the next decade.

During the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s, Höch found herself under attack from the party as a producer of "degenerate art." She was supposed to have an exhibition of her work at the Bauhaus school in 1932, but it was closed by the local Nazi council. She had been designated a "cultural Bolshevik," along with many other Dadaists. She returned to Berlin permanently in 1936. While other artists fled Germany, Höch stayed in her own form of exile. She bought a house near Berlin and lived there throughout the Second World War, hoping that her neighbors would not guess her identity and give her away. She married Kurt Matthies, a businessman and pianist, in 1938. The marriage ended in divorce in 1944.

Late Period

Hannah Höch Portrait

After the War, Höch broke many of her pre-War ties, both artistically and socially. Her work moved away from her figurative montages and veered into the territory of abstraction, which was being explored by many artists at the time. Although she still produced work on a fairly prolific scale, her pieces from this era are less well-known and generally less well-received by critics.

Art historian Dawn Ades visited Höch in her Berlin home in the early 1970s, and found that the artist was "as interested in nature as she was in art." She recalls how "you had to crawl under apple trees to get through the front door. She incorporated leaves and twigs and other organic matter into her collages of the time."

Legacy

Höch's deliberate attempt to obscure herself during the Second World War, and the fact that she continued to live in her modest home on the outskirts of Berlin until the end of her life, may account for her relative obscurity. The art historian Dawn Ades notes that "she wasn't interested in becoming a celebrity," which perhaps speaks to her early embarrassment at the exhibitionism of the Dada group.

Nevertheless, her pioneering work in photomontage was influential for many later artists, especially for women artists. These include her near-contemporaries German-born Grete Stern and Surrealist artist Claude Cahun, as well as later artists such as Cindy Sherman. The influence of her style has also been traced in the cut-up aesthetic of the punk movement, which came in just after her death in the early 1980s.


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Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Hannah Höch
Interactive chart with Hannah Höch's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Theo van Doesburg
El Lissitzky
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Max Ernst
Piet Mondrian

Friends

Johannes Baader
George Grosz
Raoul Hausmann
John Heartfield
Kurt Schwitters

Movements

Dada
De Stijl
Hannah Höch
Hannah Höch
Years Worked: 1910s-1970s

Artists

Cindy Sherman
Claude Cahun
Martha Rosler
Hannah Wilke

Friends

Johannes Baader
George Grosz
Raoul Hausmann
John Heartfield
Kurt Schwitters

Movements

Dada
Surrealism

Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Hannah Höch

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Cut with the kitchen knife: the Weimar photomontages of Hannah Höch

By Maud Lavin

Hannah Höch

By Ades and Daniel F Herrmann

movements
The Age of Collage: Contemporary Collage in Modern Art

By D Busch, R Klanten and H Hellige

Mamas of Dada: Women of the European Avant Garde

By Paula K Kamenish

Hannah Höch: The Woman that Art History Forgot

By Mark Hudson
The Telegraph
January 14, 2014

Words of wisdom from Dada genius Hannah Höch on her birthday

By Laura Palmer
Artnet News
November 1, 2015

Hannah Höch: art's original punk

By Brian Dillon
The Guardian
January 9, 2014

Hannah Höch at the Museum of Modern Art

By Mario Naves
The New Criterion
May 1997

Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Raoul Hausmann
Raoul Hausmann
Raoul Hausmann
Raoul Hausmann was an Austrian artist and writer. He was a key figure in the Berlin Dada movement and on January 22, 1918 delivered his 'First Dada Speech in Germany.' Hausmann and Hannah Hoch were among the first artists to work in photomontage.
Raoul Hausmann
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters was a German artist who was particularly influential in the development of Dada movement and his own offshoot of Dada that he called Merz. Schwitters was heavily involved in the international avant-garde, with artists like El Lissitzky, Hans Arp, and Tristan Tzara.
ArtStory: Kurt Schwitters
George Grosz
George Grosz
George Grosz
George Grosz was a German Dada and Neue Sachlichkeit artist. He was enamored of America and highly critical of Weimar society. Grosz immigrated to the United States just as Hitler came to power and opened a private art school in Des Moines.
ArtStory: George Grosz
Hans Richter
Hans Richter
Hans Richter
Hans Richter was a German-born American painter, graphic artist and experimental most importantly, filmmaker. Associated with the German Expressionist group The Blue Rider, and later with the Dada movement and De Stijl, Richter's life work is renowned for spanning much of the twentieth-century modern canon.
ArtStory: Hans Richter
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neo-plasticism.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara was a Romanian and French poet, playwright, and avant-garde performer who played a key role in the development and founding of Dada. A proponent of pure automatic techniques, he had an at-times contentious relationship with the Surrealism's direction in Paris.
ArtStory: Tristan Tzara
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter, photographer and teacher at the Bauhaus School. Moholy-Nagy was influential in promoting the Bauhaus's multi- and mixed-media approaches to art, advocating for the integration of technological and industrial design elements.
ArtStory: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
De Stijl
De Stijl
De Stijl
Founded in the Netherlands in 1917, De Stijl was an avant-garde dedicated to isolating a single visual style that would be appropriate to all aspects of modern life, from art to design to architecture. Taking its name from a periodical, its most famous practitioners were Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, whose mature art employed geometric blocks of primary colors and vertical and horizontal lines.
ArtStory: De Stijl
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
Bauhaus is a style associated with the Bauhaus school, an extremely influential art and design school in Weimar Germany that emphasized functionality and efficiency of design. Its famous faculty - including Joseph Albers and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - generally rejected distinctions between the fine and applied arts, and encouraged major advances in industrial design.
ArtStory: Bauhaus
Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun (born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob) was a French photographer, artist and writer, whose work represents an important precursor to Feminist artists who arose in the 1960s and 70s. Cahun's work is renowned for blurring the lines between gender and sexuality, as illustrated in her Surrealist-inspired and non-gender specific photomontages and self-portraits.
Claude Cahun
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. Sherman has raised challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art.
ArtStory: Cindy Sherman
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist, who together with Piet Mondrian established the De Stijl movement. Van Doesburg's most famous work experimented with geometric abstraction and archetypal forms. He was also a prominent architect and writer.
ArtStory: Theo van Doesburg
El Lissitzky
El Lissitzky
El Lissitzky
El Lissitzky was a Russian avant-garde painter, photographer, architect and designer. Along with his mentor Kazimir Malevich, Lissitzky helped found Suprematism. His art often employed the use of clean lines and simple geometric forms, and expressed a fascination with Jewish culture. Lissitzky was also a major influence on the Bauhaus school of artists and the Constructivist movement.
ArtStory: El Lissitzky
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German Dadaist and Surrealist whose paintings and collages combine dream-like realism, automatic techniques, and eerie subject matter.
ArtStory: Max Ernst
Johannes Baader
Johannes Baader
Johannes Baader
Johannes Baader was a German writer and artist associated with the Dada movement in Berlin. Baader gave public performances wherein he decried the clergy, laity and politicians, which resulted in his brief arrest. In several of his works, he wryly declared himself the president of the universe.
Johannes Baader
John Heartfield
John Heartfield
John Heartfield
John Heartfield was an American graphic designer and political activist, most active during World War II, when he created a number of anti-Fascist propaganda photomontages in an effort to garner attention for the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Heartfield is also noted for his contributions to the Dada movement, creating stage designs, book covers, and altogether merging politics and art.
John Heartfield
Martha Rosler
Martha Rosler
Martha Rosler
Martha Rosler is an American multi-media artist and educator. Her work with performance, video and photography in particular has garnered wide attention in the so-called postmodern era for its feminist connotations, addressing body image issues and domesticity. Rosler's work has also explored the imagery of war, from Vietnam to the second Iraq war.
Martha Rosler
Hannah Wilke
Hannah Wilke
Hannah Wilke
Now seen as an iconic and path-breaking Feminist artist, Wilke's performances and photography are a crucial component of the Feminist movement in their use of the artist's own body in ways that addressed issues of female objectification, the male gaze, and female agency
ArtStory: Hannah Wilke
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