Biography of Raoul Hausmann
Childhood and Early Training
Hausmann was born to middle-class Viennese parents, Gabriele and Viktor Hausmann, during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Viktor, a professional Academy painter and restorer, was unmoved by the rise of the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) and Vienna Secession groups that were blossoming in Vienna at that time and, in 1901, relocated his family to Berlin where he continued to paint empirical studies and work on restoration projects.
In 1905, Hausmann met the violinist Elfride Schaeffer whom he married in 1907 following the birth of their daughter, Vera, a year earlier. Viktor tutored his son until he entered formal scholastic training (at the relatively late aged of 22) at Arthur Lewin-Funcke's Atelier for Painting and Sculpture, one of a number of private art studios in Berlin. Attending between 1908-11, he focused mostly on nude and anatomy drawing. He also experimented with typographical designs and assisted his father on a restoration project at Hamburg's City Hall in 1914. It was around this time that Hausmann made the acquaintance of the unconventional utopian architect Johannes Baader, a lifelong friend and future Dadaist collaborator. Hausmann later described Baader as "the man who was necessary for Dada because there was nothing which could stop him once he got an idea into his head".
Prior to the war, Germany had been alive with creative experimentation. The Die Brücke movement, which thrived in Dresden between 1905-13, and Der Blaue Reiter movement which brought together the great German expressionist painters in Munich between 1911-14, put Germany firmly on the map of European modernism. But once the First World War had started (in 1914), German art entered a phase of cultural isolation and stagnation. However, being Austrian born, Hausmann avoided the draft and was thus relatively free to pursue his artistic interests as he saw fit. He remained largely faithful to the expressionistic style associated with the Die Brucke group and also showed a keen interested in the work of Alexander Archipenko (an artist much admired - as much as they were allowed to "worship" individual artists - by the Berlin Dadaists) which was neither realistic nor idealistic. Hausmann had in fact cherished an early copy of Guillaume Apollinaire's foreword to Archipenko's solo exhibition at the Sturm Galleries in late 1913 in which Apollinaire stated that "Archipenko seeks above all the purity of forms. He wants to find the most abstract, most symbolic, newest forms, and he wants to be able to shape them as he pleases".
On leaving Lewin-Funcke's atelier, Hausmann fell under the influence of the painters Ludwig Meidner and Erich Heckel, the latter introducing him to the techniques of woodcutting and lithography. As the art historian Timothy O. Benson observed, Hausmann was "particularly close to the work of Heckel. A close friend, Hausmann was sketching and pulling prints in Heckel's studio during 1915". Unlike Heckel, however, "whose attitude at this time has aptly been characterized as tragic", Hausmann had "been interested simply in experimenting with the formal elements of the Expressionists' vocabulary". By now Hausmann had also started to compliment his painting experiments with a burgeoning career as a writer, publishing articles scolding the German arts establishment in Der Strum and Franz Pfemfert's left-wing, antimilitarist journal Die Aktion.
In 1915 Hausmann met Hannah Höch who was studying graphic arts at Berlin's Royal Museum of Applied Arts. The pair, who became lovers, forged a combustible personal and artistic partnership that lasted into the early 1920s. Also in 1916, Hausmann met the anarchist Otto Gross and the radical writer Franz Jung. The two men introduced Hausmann, respectively, to the writings of Sigmund Freud, and Walt Whitman and Friedrich Nietzsche. Hausmann began to see himself in the role of the "new man" which would feed into the Berlin Dada philosophy.
Höch had produced two "mini sculptures" - or "puppets" - in 1916 that are generally thought to have been modelled on the geometric costume Hugo Ball wore for his famous sound poem ("Karawane") recital at Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire earlier that year. But Hausmann's (and Höch's) formal introduction to the Dada movement came through Richard Hülsenbeck whom Hausmann first met in 1917. Benson wrote, "When Hülsenbeck arrived in Berlin from Zurich sometime in January 1917, he had brought with him the 'magic' word 'Dada' as well as a comprehensive set of tactics and assumptions for launching a movement - what [Hans] Richter has called the Dada bomb which had been perfected and tested in Zurich".
Benson surmised that it was the Russian Revolution of 1917 that inspired Hülsenbeck "to dress the word Dada in a decidedly political and internationalist tone in his 'Dadarede' [Dada speech] delivered at a Vortragsabend ["lecture night"] in I. B. Neumann's gallery in Berlin on January 22, 1918". His speech won over the movement's politically minded figures including Heartfield, Grosz, Herzfelde, and Jung. But Hausmann and Baader came to Dada by a non-political route and "were very much closer to Huelsenbeck's image of man as a container of pandemonium as he had expressed it in his essay, 'Der neue Mensch'".
Baader, the self-proclaimed "Oberdada" ("Upper Dada"), and Hausmann, the "Dadasoph" ("philosophical Dada"), embarked on a series of Dadaist turns together. In 1917, for instance, the pair founded Christus GmbH, its goal being to support conscientious objectors by likening them to Christian martyrs. A year later Baader staged a performance in the Berlin cathedral called "Christus ist euch Wurst" ("Christ you're a sausage") which provoked a public outcry and saw him arrested for blasphemy. An outraged Hausmann dispatched an angry letter to Berlin's Minister of Culture defending his friend's actions as an act of free speech.
In 1918, Hausmann and Höch took a vacation at the Baltic sea resort of Ostsee where, Höch later claimed, the pair had "invented" photomontage. In what was (is) a somewhat circular argument amongst Dadaists, George Grosz had claimed that it was he and John Heartfield who had invented photomontage in 1916 (in point of fact photomontage already had a commercial history dating back to the mid-1850s). In any case, Hausmann and Höch adapted the idea, not from examples made by Heartfield or Grosz, but rather by studying official group photographers of Prussian army regiments onto which had been pasted individual photographic portraits. These images were part of an enterprise by which paying customers, by having their images superimposed on the figures of smartly uniformed soldiers, could create a seamless fantasy of living a heroic military life. Hausmann and Höch saw the creative potential for photomontage to dismantle the myth that surrounded the modern art establishment. As the art historian Jeanne Willette wrote: "Taking up the scissors or a razor blade and cutting carefully around a complex printed photograph was a mechanical act, requiring dexterity but denying the individual touch of the artist's hand and eliminating the aesthetic pleasures of painting with pigment and rebuking the senses that revelled in pleasure derived from traditional 'art'". As Hausmann himself put it, "We called [the] process 'photomontage,' because it embodied our refusal to play the part of the artist. We regarded ourselves as engineers, and our work as construction: we assembled our work, like a fitter".
Hausmann, Baader and Hülsenbeck (who was, with Hugo Ball, Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco and Emmy Hennings, co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire which opened in Zürich in 1915) formed the "Berlin Dada Club" which was active between 1918-23. Complementing to their journal Der Dada, they wrote a Dadaist manifesto in which they demanded that Dada denounce aestheticism and, in a second anti-art manifesto entitled "The New Material in Painting", Hausmann proposed that Dada should produce alternatives to oil painting (which was dismissed as a bourgeois activity). He also published a piece called "Synthetisches Cino der Malerei" ("Synthetic Cinema of Painting") in which he declared: "In Dada you will recognize your real state of mind: miraculous constellations in real material, wire, glass, cardboard, tissue, corresponding organically to your own equally brittle bulging fragility".
Hülsenbeck presented the first Dada speech, on January 22, 1918, at the avant-garde Neumann gallery on Kurfürstendamm. The first Berlin Dada Club "evening" took place on April 12, 1918. It was staged at a meeting of the Berliner Sezession (a breakaway group of artists, including Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann, who formed a modernist challenge to the "official" Academy art) and featured a mixture of Dadaist performance and poetry recitals. The gathering was attended by Höch, Grosz (who read "syncopations" and poetry), Else Hadwinger (who recited Marinetti's "BeschieBung" ("Bombard-Ment") and Tzara's "Retaite" ("Retreat") to the accompaniment of drum noises supplied by Hülsenbeck), Heartfield, Jung, Baader, Wieland Herzfelde and Walter Mehring. Hausmann brought the evening's proceedings to a close by shouting his "New Materials" manifesto at the now near-riotous audience. The newspaper, Berliner Börsen-Courier, reported the next day that "The threat of violence hung in the air. One envisioned Corinth's pictures torn to shreds with chair legs. But in the end it didn't come to that. As Raoul Hausmann shouted his programmatic plans for dadaist painting into the noise of the crowd, the manager of the sezession gallery turned the lights out on him".
In 1918 Hausmann produced the "poster poem", OFFEAHBDC, a collection of randomly selected letters meant to be recited, and the "optophonetic poem" OFFEAH, which was a visual poem created out of a collage of typography. Hausmann was by now working extensively in photomontage, producing one of his signature pieces, Art Critic, in 1919 and, arguably his most famous piece of all, an assemblage called, Mechanical Head: Spirit of Our Age, which featured a hairdresser's wig dummy adorned with an absurdist collection of items including a tape measure, a tin cup, a wooden ruler, and various mechanical parts. In early 1919 Hausmann and Baader announced the formation of the so-called Dadaist Republik Nikolassee and staged a "Propaganda Evening" at Berlin's Café Austria. But undoubtedly the most famous of the Dadaist events was The First International Dada Fair which opened on June 5th 1920.
The First International Dada Fair, which followed on the back of a short, and well attended, tour of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, saw the group subvert the rules for a traditional art exhibition by cramming the collected artworks into a small gallery space. Hausmann exhibited photomontages, Synthetisches Cino der Malerei (now thought to be lost), Self-Portrait of the Dadasoph and Tatlin Lives at Home (featuring the face of the Russian artist). The cover for the exhibition catalogue, meanwhile, featured Hausmann's motorcar photomontage and collage, Elasticum. Herzfelde, Heartfield's brother, and himself an author of some note, wrote "Zur Einführung" ("For The Introduction") of the exhibition catalogue which included the following passage: "Any creation is Dadaist that is produced uninfluenced by and heedless of, public authorities and values‚ provided the depiction is anti-illusionist and motivated entirely by the urge to keep on eroding the present world, which is obviously in a state of disintegration, of metamorphosis. The past is only important and relevant in so far as its cult must be fought [...] The Dadaists take credit for being the vanguard of dilettantism, for the art dilettante is nothing but the victim of a prejudiced, arrogant, and aristocratic conception of life".
In the fall of 1921, Hausmann, Höch and Kurt Schwitters took an "Anti-Dada" show to Prague where Hausmann recited sound poems and delivered a manifesto that announced his intention to make a machine ("Optophone") that would translate audio signals into visual signals and vice-a-versa. Hausmann published his "Dadasophy" (philosophy of Dada) in several publications (including Der Dada which lasted just three issues between 1918-20), and, in 1921, contributed written pieces to the Dutch De Stijl publication, but the Dada movement was evolving into Surrealism while his relationship with Höch had also run its course. Hausmann created his final photomontage, ABCD, a poster publicizing one of his poetry recitals which showed the artist clenching the letters (ABCD) in his teeth, in 1923. Hausmann was now poised to reinvent himself as a fine artist.
Benson wrote that "For Hausmann, Dada had been a heuristic enterprise, a 'practical self - decontamination.' As Dada came to an end, he sought to transform the New Man from clown and puppet into engineer and constructor, the insider of the new Gemeinschaft [community] of functionality and practicality. Departing from satire, Hausmann attempted to probe deeper into perception and consciousness in a new activity which he proclaimed in 1921 as 'Presentism': a 'synthesis of spirit and matter' and 'the elevation of the so-called sciences and arts to the level of the present'".
In 1923 Hausmann married his second wife, the painter Hedwig Mankiewitz. This coincided with his shift towards more conventional artistic modes, namely photography. Known predominantly for his nudes, portraits and landscapes, he became a well-respected fine-art photographer and published several theoretical articles on photography throughout the 1920s. However, Hausmann's Dadaist legacy brought him to the attention of the Nazis who were persecuting "degenerate" artists. Hausmann, Mankiewitz, who was Jewish, and the couple's shared lover, Vera Broido (who was also Jewish) fled Germany for Ibiza in 1933. Once settled on the Spanish island, Hausmann developed a keen interest in ethnography, wrote about, and photographed, the island's architecture and published his work in the French-language journals Oeuvres and Revue anthropologique. Hausmann also pursued his interest in the relationship between the sound and typography and finally presented his blueprint for his "Optophone", device which he patented in England in 1934.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, and with Ibiza under military rule, Hausmann, who was a vocal supporter of Spanish anti-fascist groups, and Mankiewitz travelled to Zurich and Prague before arriving in France on the eve of the outbreak of World War Two. Despite receiving an invitation from Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Institute of Design in Chicago (the so-called "New Bauhaus"), the Hausmann's had their application to emigrate to the United States refused. Instead, they moved to Peyrat-le-Château in central France where they hid out in a rooftop cabin. Hausmann taught language lessons in German, English and Spanish and the couple also met Marthe Prévot with whom they entered into another ménage à trois relationship.
After the Normandy landings in 1944 the trio settled for good in Limoges. As one of the many artists in exile, Hausmann corresponded with Maholy-Nagy who sent him a parcel of photographic paper which he used to produce photograms, and Kurt Schwitters, with whom he published a journal entitled Pin. Hausmann pursued his interest in photography throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. He exhibited regularly and wrote poetry and articles on photography for journals including A bis Z and Camera.
In later years, Hausmann also renewed his interest in oil painting. Benson noted in fact that "This return to traditional artistic media and the application of illusionist perspective was accompanied by a demand for 'materialism in painting'" that dated back in fact to 1920 when he published his manifesto "Die Gesetze der Malerei" ("The Laws of Painting") and "presented [as] a monist interpretation of the elements of art, apparently as an alternative to Dadaism". Hausmann stated, "Painting is the visualization of material space through the relations of bodies. The concepts of bodies were discovered through the rules of stereometry and perspective, which made possible for the first time a clear conception of vision and the optical milieu".
In 1958 he published a memoir, Courier Dada, which tallied with the rise of the Neo-Dada movement in America. Artists including Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow and George Maciunas were all associated with the rise of Neo-Dadaism. Hausmann had been in correspondence with a number of American avant-gardists and, in 1962, delivered the following denouncement in a letter to Maciunas: "I think even the Americans should not use the term "neodadaism" because "neo" means nothing and 'ism' is old-fashioned. Why not simply 'Fluxus'? It seems to me much better, because it's new, and dada is historic. I was in correspondence with Tzara, Hülsenbeck and Hans Richter concerning this question, and they all declare neodadaism does not exist. So long".
Hausmann continued to experiment with photography and photograms, recorded sound poetry and making oil paintings, which he transformed into pictorial writing, up until his death in 1971. His last work, the book, Am Anfang war Dada (At the Beginning Was Dada), was published posthumously in 1972.
The Legacy of Raoul Hausmann
As a founder of the Berlin Dada Club, Hausmann was one of the great political and cultural radicals of the post-war years. As part of his artistic agenda to invent the "New Man" and to usher in a new German society it was Hausmann, with Hannah Höch (and notwithstanding the counter argument that it originated with Grosz and Heartfield), who pioneered what would become the defining legacy of Berlin Dada: the art of photomontage. Its impact on twentieth and twenty-first century modernism and post-modernism is hard to overestimate with the collage technique of cutting and juxtaposing (and blending) photographic images being adopted (and adapted) by the Constructivists, The Surrealists, The Bauhaus Schools, Neo-Dada, Fluxus, Pop Art, and by contemporary artists as diverse as Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger, David Hockney, Jeff Wall and Lorna Simpson.
Hausmann was also the leading proponent of the Dada poem through which he showed a daring disregard for semantic rules. His exploration of the overlaps between the audio and the visual in his poems, was later picked up on by Isadore Isou and the avant-garde Lettrist International (LI) movement during the mid-1940s. he pursued his goal of inventing a device for translating sounds into images (and vice-versa) throughout his career, and although his Optophone device was never realized in his own lifetime, as recently as 2018 the avant-garde musicians Geneviève Strosser and Florent Jodelet have sought to bring his Optophone to fruition. The Raoul Hausmann Fund has taken on the main responsibility for his legacy and an impressive archive of his poems, essays, photographs, letters and notebooks are held at the Musée d'Art Contemporain de la Haute-Vienne at the Château de Rochechouart - a magnificent thirteenth-century French Castle.
Content compiled and written by Esme Blair
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Content compiled and written by Esme Blair
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
First published on 21 Jun 2021. Updated and modified regularly