Progression of Art
Portrait of Hannah Höch
Having already taken inspiration from the bold outlines of Matisse's figures in a series of early watercolors, Hausmann's first encounter with German Expressionism came on a visit to Herwarth Walden's Sturm Gallery in 1912 and subsequently through his involvement with Erich Heckel with whom he became close friends. Indeed, he remained committed to expressionism as late as 1917, the same year he co-formed the Berlin Dada Club. Having joined Heckel's atelier, Hausmann produced a series of lithographs and woodcuts and, firmly in keeping with the ideology of the Die Brücke movement's political opposition to the bourgeois refinements of academic painting, Hausmann favored the more "primitive" modes of artistic expression. He also took on the role of staff writer for Walden's magazine, also called Der Strum, which gave him a platform for his polemical "anti-art" essays.
Hausmann met Hannah Höch in 1915; the pair quickly embarking on an artistic and tempestuous sexual relationship that would run more-or-less the course of the Berlin Dada movement. His portrait of Höch, who appears to be reclined in (their shared) bed, carries the same expressive energy and aggressive bold outlines that were a feature of the work of Heckel, and fellow Die Brücke group member, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. In keeping with his Expressionist colleagues, Hausmann initially welcomed the war, naively buying into the group's belief that it would help cleanse German society of its staid bourgeois ideology and instigate the birth of the "new man". He did not hold his pro-war beliefs for long, however, and, anticipating the birth of Berlin Dada, would soon publish two essays on the relationship between artistic production and human subjectivity in Franz Pfemfert's anti-militaristic Die Aktion journal.
Oil on canvas
Hausmann's phonetic poetry was designed to be "read" and performed. Featuring letters and punctuation marks in an arrangement that forms a picture rather than a poem (or prose), his formations, that do not create words or sentences, but which still might be spoken or uttered, resemble rather small insects crawling in different directions, and in different formations, across the white page. The letters are not arbitrarily placed, however, and there is a vague meandering shape that leads our eyes ultimately down to the horizontal line of letters at the bottom of the page "o n o o o h h o o u u u m h n". The interplay between text and sound opens up the opportunity for a synesthetic experience if one sees in them an innate rhythm. The phonetic poem also prompts the more meditative viewer/reader to consider the nature of semantics and the arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning (or lack of).
This was one of Hausmann's first phonetic poems. Having been constructed on a typewriter, it was very much created to be performed like a musical piece, while the visual appearance of the letters themselves turned text into image. As historian Jeanne Willette writes "The vertical-horizontal arrangement [of text on page] was invaded and dis-arranged. Rather than organization, the Dada artists stirred up disorganization, which became their contrarian design plan". The writer and Curator Timothy O. Benson adds that Hausmann's phonetic poems "were proposing a new language combining perception and articulation in the subconscious; a form of processing and expressing the world that was no longer limited to just one sense. As one of the first in his experimentation with phonetics, the aspect of performance came to be thoroughly formative for a lot of ideas later on in his life that toyed with the fusion of sound and image". Indeed, one could site bbbb as an antecedent of mid-twentieth-century Concrete Art movement in the way it offered a precise compositional structure at the expense of any kind of commitment to represent lived (or mythological) worlds.
Typewriter ink on paper
The Spirit of Our Time
With this sculpture Hausmann brought together a collection of seemingly random manufactured objects and in so doing he was in keeping with the Dadaist agenda of subverting aesthetic and artistic conventions and expectations. Indeed, The Spirit of Our Time is a classic work of Dada assemblage; giving everyday objects a new context and thereby prompting the viewer to rethink their perception of them. Hausmann said of the piece: "The everyday man has nothing but the capacities which chance has glued to his skull, on the exterior, the brain was vacant. So I took a nice wooden head, polished it for a long time with sandpaper. 1crowned it with a collapsible cup. I fixed a wallet to the back of it. 1 took a small jewel box and attached it in place of the right ear. 1 added further a typographic cylinder inside and a pipe stem. Now on to the left side. And yes, 1had a mind to change materials. 1 fixed onto a wooden ruler a piece of bronze used to raise an old antiquated camera and I looked at it. [I] still needed this little white cardboard with the number 22 because, obviously, the spirit of our time has but a numerical signification. Thus it still stands today with its screws in the temples and a piece of a centimeter ruler on the forehead".
Coming in the immediate aftermath of World War One, this piece remains probably Hausmann's most iconic work. It represents the absurdity of "the war to end all wars" and the idea that human world has been overrun by machines, and that the "machines of war" have reduced the loss of so much human life to an empty list of statistics. The title of the work could be read thus as a direct reference to the influential German philosopher Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel, who discussed the concept of "spirit" "geist" (or "zeitgeist"), as that which encompassed the human spirit at a given time and place. In any case, Historian Timothy O. Benson suggested that Hausmann's take on the idea of "geist" was ironic and manifest in "the concrete materiality of the objects used in place of raw art materials". Hausmann himself seemed to confirm Benson's reading when stating, "Dada is the full absence of what is called Geist (Spirit). Why have Geist in a world that runs on mechanically?"
Hairdresser's wig-making dummy with mixed media - Pompidou Centre, Paris
The Art Critic
The background to this photomontage is taken from a poem/bill-poster that Hausmann displayed on the streets of Berlin. The central figure, with his tongue sticking out, often presumed (given his distinctive attire and the fact he is holding a pencil) to be Grosz (or an amalgamation of Grosz and Heartfield) is comprised of a series of cut out and drawn images.
The female and male onlookers - separated by Hausmann's calling card - appear to be cut respectively from a print advertisement or catalogue and from newspaper print (possibly modeled from a photograph of Hausmann), while the triangular cut of a German banknote is perhaps an indictment of the "art industry" in which the critic - the arbiter of taste - is such a key figure. Indeed, the art critic's outsized pencil is brandished sword-like as a weapon. As Willette writes, "Cutting and pasting from anonymous sources and turning the media against itself suited the purposes of the Dada artists in Berlin and the result was a critique of the status quo of society and the new Weimar government. The photomontage was a deconstruction and a form of destruction, wiping away the last remnants of the dead hand of history in search of a new mode of marking on the walls of the present".
Benson writes, "Hausmann used photography as an integral element to present the "art reporter" in a sparse atmosphere of fashion (shoes and spats), Dada art (the poster-poem which forms its foundation), the newspaper, and the "currency" of the banknote and postage stamp. Absent are the references to high art often included in the Klebebilder [glued picture] of the Grosz-Heartfield "Konzern" ["group"] which would suggest the traditional values of art criticism".
The Dadaist's attitude to art criticism was firmly expressed by the author Wieland Herzfeld who wrote in his introduction to the famous Dada Fair exhibition catalogue of 1920: "If it [producing art] does happen, at least there should be no despotic standpoint laid down, and the broad masses should not have their pleasure in creative activity spoiled by the arrogance of experts from some supercilious guild".
Lithograph and printed paper on paper
This work was Hausmann's great scientific project. It was a proposal for a machine that could turn sound into images and vice-versa. It was for Hausmann a machine that the modern age deserved; a device that expanded the sensory experiences; a synaesthestic experience of mixing the senses. It was in fact an expansion of the ideas being explored by Wassily Kandinsky who explored the concept of synaesthesia by translating sound into abstract paintings. Hausmann looked in fact to the natural world and the example of bees whose "optophonetic" makeup consisted of six hundred tube eyes which allow for the simultaneous perception of sound and vision in a single organ. The Optophone never made it past the stage of prototype even though Hausmann received a patent for his invention in 1934.
In 1926, The Hungarian polymath Lazlo Moholy-Nagy showed Hausmann a letter he had received from Albert Einstein in which the physicist suggested that Hausmann's blueprint for the Optophone was a triumph in scientific conception. Einstein's words of encouragement were enough to push Hausmann to develop the plans into something more fully formed but his ambitions were thwarted by the onset of a second world war and the lack of an investor. In a letter dated June 23, 1963, to the French avant-garde poet and musician, Henri Chopin, Hausmann wrote: "I would like to attract your attention to the fact that since 1922 I have been developing the theory of the optophone, an apparatus that transforms visible forms into sound, and vice versa. I had an English patent - 'Procedure for combining numbers on the photoelectric base' - which was a variant on this apparatus, and at the same time the first robot. The only thing that kept me from constructing an optophone was money".
In 2018 avant-garde musicians Geneviève Strosser and Florent Jodelet presented the latest of several attempts over the years (an undertaking made easier, of course, with modern computer technology) to realize Hausmann's project through an optophone concert. Staged at Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, it featured a light show that combined images and sounds generated by the rhythm of Hausmann's poetry.
Reproduction of the original drawing accompanying the patent
Benson wrote that "What the Dadaists referred to as the Klebebild [glued picture] and the Plastik [sculpture] were to them the logical place to begin the formation of a new language and myth" and that, like "the numerous other avant-garde groups, the Dadaists worked communally, creating their own 'testing ground' in which their art works were developed". Hausmann's last photomontage stands as both an ode to the spirit of communal experimentation and also a Dadaist self-portrait.
This photomontage, with one image overlapping and partially obscuring another, suggests that the cutout elements have been almost shaken into place. The mixture of text and numbers, and in particular the repetition of the alphabet at two points in the picture, is typical of the Dadaist's interest in written language as an aesthetic device. It is also in keeping with Hausmann's own phonetic forms and sound poems. We see too a mixture of circular and linear elements that lead our eyes in a zig zag fashion across the picture plane. This adds to the chaotic bustle and "noise" of the work which is a metaphor for the idea of a society in chaos. The face is Hausmann's and the letters he grips in his teeth act as a sort of speech bubble which is confirmed with the ticket or flyer for one of his phonetic poem recitals placed just under his chin. There is a gynecological diagram (at the bottom center of the image) which, as well as creating an element of controversy, relates to the idea of creation, and perhaps even the creation of art. The tickets to the Kaiser jubilee in his hat, meanwhile, hints at banalities of a culture he and his Dadaist colleague's had fought so hard to reverse.
Indian ink and magazine illustrations cut and pasted on paper
The Drunken Sailor
From around 1927, while still living in Germany, Hausmann became a dedicated photographer, using his camera to make nudes and record land and seascapes during visits to the Baltic coast. Onced forced into exile in Ibiza (with the rise of Nazism), his photography focused on the local life and Ibizan architecture before he was forced once more to emigrate in 1936 (this time due to Spanish fascism). It was an intensive ten year period that saw Hausmann develop an individual photographic style that accommodated documentary and lyrical elements. But it was a career path that was likely foisted upon him given that it was the only artistic activity in which he could safely indulge without the threat of political persecution. From Ibiza he moved to Zurich and then Prague in 1937 before arriving in France in 1938, spending the years of occupation in Peyrat-le-Château before reaching Limoges where he settled for good. Here he lived a life of virtual isolation but kept alive active correspondences with old and new colleagues including Jasper Johns, Wolf Vostell and Daniel Spoerri.
This photomontage differs from his earlier Dada pieces inasmuch as it is composed of original (rather than found) photographic images. It depicts a sort of palimpsest face, and although the different camera angles provide us with multiple perspectives, the sailor's facial expression appears to be unchanged. It is almost impossible to separate out the images but their combination evokes a sense of pictorial movement which corresponds with the title of the work. Indeed, Hausmann has created a dizzying effect that leaves the viewer with a sense of intoxication themselves. The model is unknown, but the French auction house, Ader, described how on the reverse of the image the words "jamais deux sans trois" ("never two without three"), which is the French way of saying "third time lucky". We are able to guess from this that Hausmann printed three exposures and was perhaps inspired by the silver print photography of Man Ray, himself an early advocate of Dada.
Gelatin silver print