Notes on Hannah Höch, women and Dada

This post offers a glimpse into my personal notes from the lecture dedicated to Hannah Höch, held on May 29, 2024, by Katerina Gadzheva at the Goethe Institute, Sofia. The lecture was part of the series “Insights into German Photography.”

Women’s Rights

Women in Germany gained the right to vote in 1917, partially because men were on the frontlines during World War I. In Bulgaria, women obtained voting rights with the Constitution of 1947. This milestone created an illusion of a better life and led to the development of industries like canning and the expansion of kindergartens.

Hannah Höch (1889, Gotha – 1978, Berlin)

Born into an ordinary family, Hannah Höch left school to care for her sick sister. She aspired to study design and visual arts, but the outbreak of war forced her back to Gotha. She worked in women’s magazines, creating embroidery patterns, and often incorporated embroidery into her photomontages. Höch created “Dada dolls,” which became emblematic of her work.

Hannah Höch and Her Life

Hannah Höch continued to create throughout her life, even if she wasn’t actively taking photographs. She lived with photography, focusing on its function during those years. For example, consider the photograph of women waiting in line to vote in Berlin in 1919 during the Weimar Republic.

Raoul Hausmann and Dadaism

Raoul Hausmann introduced Höch to the artistic circles. Eccentric and rough, he was one of the inventors of photomontage. Their relationship lasted long despite his marriage, providing inspiration for her works.

The First Dada Fest in Berlin (1920)

The most visible and brilliant Dada group was in Berlin, but Höch’s name was missing from the event catalog. Art drew inspiration from dramatic moments rather than positive emotions.

Dada as a Means of Expression

Dadaists did not consider themselves artists but engineers and constructors, assembling their works. They used images from newspapers and mass culture, creating collages linked to machinery. Photography was a weapon, and Dada was predominantly anti-war, with most Dadaists being anarchists or left-leaning.

Dada Centers

  • New York (1916-1923) – Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia.
  • Paris (1920-1923) – André Breton, Tristan Tzara.
  • Berlin (1918-1923) – Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch, George Grosz.
  • Mexico, Japan, Romania, Zurich.

Life of Hannah Höch

Known as the girl who always brought sandwiches and coffee, Höch was disillusioned by men and lived for ten years in the Netherlands with Til Brugman. In 1938, she returned to Germany, where she had to hide. She concealed all her works and lived in fear and solitude, eventually marrying later in life.

Höch’s Artwork

She used machines and industrial elements in her compositions. Dada works were divided into different parts that opposed each other. In Dada style, ideas shouted and attracted attention through illogical compositional elements. Höch often used embroideries and textures she crafted herself.

Influence on Contemporary Art

Höch inspired pop art and other movements. For example, Grete Stern’s “Psychoanalysis will help you” (Idilio magazine) was influenced by Höch but used only personal photography. Cindy Sherman is seen as a modern Höch, utilizing contemporary techniques to showcase the stereotypes imposed on women. Höch’s fantastic world resonates with many people.

Höch’s Legacy

Many of her works are located in America and Berlin galleries. She incorporated textiles, cardboard, and other textures into her work. Photography was a powerful means of expression for her.

Hannah Höch’s Photomontages and Technique

Hannah Höch is renowned for her innovative photomontages, combining various images cut from magazines and other printed materials. She used this technique to create new, illogical compositions that often satirized and critiqued society. Her montages are distinguished by their precision and carefully selected elements, challenging viewers to reflect on contemporary social and political issues.

Themes and Symbolism

Hannah Höch’s work is rich with themes of feminism, social and political change, identity, and the roles of women in society. She often portrayed women as strong and independent figures, challenging traditional patriarchal stereotypes. The symbolism in her pieces is dense and multi-layered, incorporating elements such as machines, industrial parts, textiles, and handmade details.

Collaboration and Influences

Höch’s collaborations with other Dadaists and avant-garde artists were a significant source of inspiration. Her work was influenced by various movements, including Surrealism, Constructivism, and Pop Art. Despite these influences, she developed a unique style marked by originality and innovation.

Reception and Recognition

Höch was often undervalued and overlooked by her contemporaries, particularly within the male-dominated art world. Over time, however, her work received the recognition it deserved. Today, she is considered a leading figure in Dadaism and feminist art.

Legacy and Impact

Höch’s contributions have left a lasting legacy in the art world. She has inspired many contemporary artists, such as Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Her pioneering work in photomontage and visual arts has had a significant impact, and her pieces continue to be studied and exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide.

Contemporary Exhibitions and Publications

Höch’s works are frequently displayed in prestigious galleries and museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery in Berlin. Additionally, her life and art are the subjects of numerous scholarly studies and publications, enhancing the understanding of her place in art history.

Impact on Feminist Art

Höch is a crucial figure in feminist art, using her creations to critique patriarchal society and support the fight for gender equality. Her work not only depicts but also challenges social norms and prejudices related to women.

The Power of Art

Höch believed in the power of art as a tool for social change. Through her photomontages, she demonstrated how art could express social and political criticism, inspire, and provoke thought.

Important Conclusion

Hannah Höch, a pioneer in photomontage and feminist art, has left an indelible mark on art history. Her work continues to inspire and challenge new generations of artists and researchers.